It had all started out like a Norman Rockwell painting. We had just moved into a new neighborhood, and after living on a busy street for years, we were so grateful to be able to head out the door and take an evening walk. Charlotte was a new baby, and Bobby was a bright-eyed five-year old. Our trusty dog, Bailey (yes, the one of Super Glue fame), needed a little exercise, so she got to come along, too. We set out, and I breathed in the fresh air, so grateful for this simple and satisfying moment.
Bobby wanted to hold the dog leash, insisting that he was big enough, and since Bailey was walking so calmly by our side, I handed it over. All was well until we got to the top of a hill. Bailey saw a squirrel and took off at breakneck speed. It happened so quickly…Bobby's little legs couldn't keep up…he waited too long to let go of the leash…and he took a fall that threw me into a total panic.
I raced to him as quickly as I could and gathered him up in my arms. Between gulps and tears, Bobby looked into my face with fear in his eyes and asked, “Am I dead?” Of course, I assured him that he was not dead, that he would be ok. And he was. Scraped up? Oh yes. Many bandaids and kisses were applied. But he would fully recover.
In his book Safe House, author Joshua Straub makes the case that emotional safety is the key to raising kids who live, love and lead well. He writes, “Our children's brains are wired for relationships that provide an emotional safe haven when they are stressed (that is, hungry, angry, tired, injured, lost, alone, ill, feeling threatened, and so on).” Even in the face of danger, our children need to know that no matter what happens, broken bones or not, there is nothing to fear. They are emotionally safe.
Parents of this generation are called “helicopter parents,” and this isn't meant as a compliment. It's said that we hover and do all we can to protect our children from discomfort, disappointment and dismay. We are right to want to protect them-that's one of our primary responsibilities. But what if in the process of protecting, we are making them fearful? Don't we want to raise children who are brave and strong? This will only happen if we take some risks, and risk-taking means they will fall sometimes.
When they do, what they need to know is that they are emotionally safe. The core part of who they are is untouched by physical distress. They can take risks-they can step out and try new things, and falling is not the end of the world. Falling and failure doesn't spell death-it is something we recover from.
Bobby looked into my face for reassurance that everything was ok. Whenever possible, I want to be there for my kids when they fall. I want them to be able to look into my eyes and see my calm confidence that they can and will stand back up again. That this is not the end of the road. A fall is always an opportunity to learn.
At the heart of Bobby's question were ones that we all ask-children and adults alike. “Am I emotionally safe?” “Am I secure?” “Is everything going to be ok?” When this is what we feel, we can turn to the face of our heavenly Father for reassurance. He will acknowledge the pain involved in the fall, but He will quickly assure us, it is well with our souls. No matter what obstacles we face-regardless of the depth of the disappointment-even when everything seems to be bottoming out-our souls can rest secure. Who we are remains unaltered because of whose we are.
Let's keep our eyes on the face of our Father