***I received compensation for this post courtesy of Similac, but all opinions are my own.
What do you see when you look at this picture?
Do you see how the boy has slipped? Do you notice his white knuckle grip as he struggles to hold on and avoid falling? Can you see the slight blur of his feet as he kicks his legs profusely to avoid dropping to the ground below?
If you’re like many people, this picture probably makes you think about more than just the boy dangling from a piece of playground apparatus. After all, someone is behind the camera and that somebody is probably a parent. Do you find yourself thinking of all the playground parents you’ve seen “ignoring” their kids in favor of their cell phones? Is the voice in your head judging the parent and saying “PUT DOWN YOUR DAMN PHONE AND HELP YOUR KID?!?”
Pictures can be worth a thousand words, but words said absent knowledge are folly.
The boy is my son and the photographer is me. It was taken a couple of years ago on a playground when he was 5 years old. And just a few moments after I took it, a mother I never met before decided I was a bad parent. She made it her business to step in and “save” my son, even though I was standing close by in plain sight and watching him intently. Not content to helicopter her own child to the point of absurdity, this snapshot of my more hands-off parenting style was apparently too much for her to bear.
You see, I believe in calculated risks.
In this instance, Will was struggling with a climbing structure and not trusting his abilities. I knew he could do it, but he hadn’t proven it to himself yet. So I took stock of the situation, which included a safe place to climb, being no more than a couple of feet off the ground, and a mulch surface that would provide a soft landing should he fall. Knowing all this, when he slipped and yelled for help I simply told him he could figure it out himself if he didn’t panic and just used his head a bit.
Unfortunately, that’s when Captain America Mom decided it was her job to come to the rescue. Mainly because she saw the snapshot and not the bigger picture.
I believe kids are far more capable than we give them credit for, and not nearly as fragile or helpless as we think. Do I like watching my son struggle and fail repeatedly when trying to master something? Not particularly. However, I believe failure is necessary to achieve and appreciate success. I believe kids are stronger when they overcome their obstacles instead of snowplow parents always clearing the way. I believe just as many lessons are learned in defeat as in victory.
So when Will politely declined her offer, righted himself, and made it across the platform by himself, I smiled that much bigger.
The bottom line is there’s always more to consider and more to the story. This wasn’t a situation where he was in danger or being ignored/abused, but the mom on the playground wasn’t interested in seeing past the snapshot. She didn’t consider the possibility that a different parenting style other than her own could possibly be effective.
If she had, she might’ve seen the importance of parents knowing their kids and acting accordingly. She might’ve noticed there is more than one way to successfully raise a child other than her own. And maybe, just maybe, it would’ve dawned on her that not all risks are bad and letting kids experience a bit of failure helps them in the long run.
So next time you see a snapshot frozen in time that looks bad, make sure you consider the context.