The risky business of parenting
Posted on June 11th, 2013
n an e-mail home to parents, the director of Roy and Peaches’ summer circus camp reiterated the program’s commitment to learning through a series of disciplines including (but not limited to): work, fun, practice, encouragement, collaboration, imagination and risk.
I know about the stilts and the aerial work and the one returning camper whose parents have supported their love of the circus arts to such an extent that they purchased some theatrical implement that can be set on fire and twirled like a mace to the amazement of onlookers (sorry—as of this writing, still no officially sanctioned fire at Circo Latino!), but risk is a dirty word to contemporary parents. Just reading it in print puts a twist in my stomach, a reminder of the daily uncertainties inherent in an activity for which we paid money for our children to participate.
My reaction to the word in connection to my children put me in mind of a link to a piece that raised the question of whether we are raising a generation of ‘wimps.’ If my discomfort at the idea of putting my 10-year-old on three-foot stilts in a controlled environment is any indication of the general parenting zeitgeist, I’d venture to say there are more than few among us who might gladly pay you Tuesday for the unqualified assurance of our child’s safety—even if it involves a hermetic seal of some nature—today.
But on Sunday, I heard a young father preach on the spiritual work of raising children. He quoted a theologian who said, in part, that children serve as a reminder of all that is worth loving while being tenuous in the world. Essentially, it is risky to love anything. The very nature of being alive is to walk through our days, eyes ahead, while our fingers are entwined with everything we can’t control.
We try to minimize risk, as well we should. But let’s be honest: some of what we try to protect our children from is as much about shielding our own hearts, exposed to injury by our love for them, as it is about keeping them safe. It is only through calculated risk—the small ones that allow us to open our front doors onto the world and the larger ones that expose our hearts through partnership and, Lord help us, childrearing—that allow any of us to realize our best selves.
Stilts it is.∗