Giving Kids the Space to Fall

As parents of multiple kids know, picking your favorite child is an impossible task. It is just not done. Now you may have a favorite kid in your head but you don’t voice that preference out loud.

The famous Indian-Canadian comedian, Russell Peters, however, seems to think he has the perfect solution. He rationalizes it thus – If you hear one of you children falling down and  crying for help, the difference between whether you run or walk to answer your child’s cry for help will reveal whether that child is your favorite or not. Hmm…I don’t know. Depending on the severity of the sound of the fall, I may walk to help either of my kids.

My rationalizing is based on the fact that I would much rather, they pick themselves up and move on (assuming there are no major injuries or blood!). In fact, I have ingrained it so well into little TJ, that a few weeks ago when he was at least 200 feet from me at a park, running around in circles while I watched, and fell down, in answer to his, “Mommy…help“, I coolly shouted back, “Honey…you know what to do!”. Guess what! He did. He got up. Brushed his behind. And verbally said, “Go” as he started running again.

That’s the mantra I have taught him. In no uncertain terms, I have told him that should he fall at a playground or anywhere else in life for that matter, he simply needs to get up, dust his behind, and keep going.

It is no different with Baby E. As a baby going through many different milestones (she picked up sitting up by herself from a rolling position to crawling to pulling herself up to stand within a matter of days between each step), she has had a fair amount of bumps. Adding to her bumps are the many times her brother knocks her over – accidentally or not is debatable – because she was in his way or took his toy or took back a toy of hers that he took from her in the first place or just because she exists in the same space as him.

Depending on the specificity of her bump, I sometimes choose to do nothing. I sit or stand right next to her letting her know that I am right there should she need me but then go on to encourage her to simply get up. I tell her the same thing I tell her brother – that she’s going to get knocked down in life a few times but that she just needs to get up and keep going. Yes, I actually say this to a 9-month-old. And again, guess what, whether she understands me or not, probably the latter, she pulls herself up and sits back or rolls away or does whatever she needs to do to emerge safely out of her situation.

My mantra notwithstanding, I sometimes wonder if I even have the quintessential mother’s instinct that I am supposed to have. This instantaneous switch that goes off in my brain when my kids are in imminent trouble, a sixth sense to feel out potential dangers lurking around them of which they themselves may not be aware, a premonition of sorts that warns me ahead of time when they are going to fall or bump their heads or have food snatched away from their hands by aggressive goats at a Zoo…not quite sure I have it.

In at least two instances with TJ, I have been reactive instead of proactive and failed to protect my child.

The first one was at Happy Hollow Park & Zoo. One random visit we decided to go see the goats at the petting zoo part of the Zoo. TJ had previously enjoyed feeding these goats and even brushed the hair of one. This time too, in I marched with TJ while Baby E watched us from a safe distance beyond the fence, cozy in her stroller. We went to the goat-food machine and put our quarter in but even before I could complete the process, goats came hopping over in our direction. TJ was standing cross from me. As soon as I put the quarter in and turned the dial to get the food to come out, the goats rushed in with their mouths straight at the opening where the food comes out and scared the daylights out of TJ. I wasn’t scared but instead of pulling TJ aside from the advances of the goats, I stepped back myself, hands held up by my ears, letting the goats in while TJ moved back and ran around to get to me, crying. It was only then that I picked him up, calmed him down, and left the goat area.

Why didn’t I rush to pick TJ up as soon as I saw the goats advancing a little too aggressively toward the food machine? I stepped back to let the goats get ahead without thinking about my kid who was right next to them. Why did I do that? Rather, why didn’t I do what I should have done?

The second time was when we were climbing down the few stairs by TJ’s school – the steps between the garden and the parking lot…some 4-5 steps. Having completed my alighting, I was on the ground with Baby E on me in her baby carrier. TJ was behind me jumping from step to step like he usually does when he jumped too close to one and started crying, “Aao Aao aaaoo.” Instead of rushing toward him, I walked to him and held him, comforting him. This was his first major scrape.

Why didn’t I hold his hand while climbing down the steps? Why didn’t I react quicker while he was in the process of slipping a step? 


Are my reflexes really this slow that they let my child injure himself while I watch? In an emergency, would I be saving myself instead of my kids? Is my wanting my kids to learn to take a few bumps, literally, along the way, a little too much? Am I taking it too far?

Similar things have happened with Baby E too. I have seen her in the process of hurting herself. Once while she was learning to crawl and laying on her tummy in the threshold between the hard kitchen floor and the carpeted dining area, I knew she was going to bump her head if she lost the strength and stamina to hold it up at any second. Instead of picking her up to help her avoid the bump, I turned away to attend to my son, and within seconds, I hear crying….and I knew…and I could have prevented it but I chose not to.


Despite my self-doubt and some ambivalence, I have decided to simply accept my shortcomings while keeping a very vigilant eye on the kids. From afar. I want them to grow up strong. I don’t want them to run to me for every little thing. Yes, it warms my heart when they do, do that. It makes me feel wanted. As a SAHM, there are very few validations of the self such as when a crying child only wants her or his mommy for comfort. It makes up one of the perks I enjoy as a SAHM – to be there for the kids when they need me. I love taking care of them and kissing their boo boos away and letting them believe that a magical kiss will make their pain go away. Still, I want them to be able to fend for themselves.

I want them to literally get up, brush their behind, and go when life pulls them down, because much as I don’t ever want the dark clouds of failures, stresses, fear, or any kind of negativity to hover around them, fact is, of course they are going to experience these things  and when they do, I want them to know they’ll get over it, on their own. That while they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help should they need it, the majority of the work is theirs to be done. That, only they are responsible for their own happiness and that the world does not owe them a damn thing.

Is this too much of a philosophical and convenient justification for my own possible lack of a mother’s instinct, or more seriously, a mask for my own shortcomings? Am I doing the right thing here by “letting” them literally, fall and bump their way to independence and strong minds? Only time will tell.

One Messy Mama
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A former Communication Studies professor turned a somewhat reluctant stay-at-home-mom (SAHM), I blog about my adventures raising two multiracial kids. I write about parenting and living a multicultural Indian-Canadian-American HinJew life with honesty, a few tears, lots of laughter, and gallons of coffee.
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  1. This is such a great post as I struggle with the same thoughts. I’ve definitely left my kids (even 8 month old baby) to ‘fend for themselves’ now again just to prove that they don’t need to be ‘rescued’ by someone. Ultimately that’s not real life. My daughter is a bit of a hypochondriac too and really wants the attention if she falls over or sees a scrape on her knee. I just try not to make a fuss – I acknowledge it and may kiss it better, otherwise I just say ‘well, just dust it off and up you get’. My 2 year old is also at that age where she’s doing everything she can to potentially injure herself. Wanting to walk down the 42 steps from our flat on her own every day. Wanting to jump off heights. You name it. I could explain all day long that it’s dangerous or she has to be careful. But ultimately, she needs to learn that some things can result in a little scrape and she has to assess danger herself. It’s a valuable life lesson for every child I think. You’re doing a great job, don’t change a thing!

    1. What a thoughtful vote of confidence! Thanks, Ruth. On most days, I feel like a hamster running around forever in a trap of self-doubt, no matter what I do. Reading your comment validates my experiences a little so I truly appreciate it.
      Your 2-year-old surely is an adventurous one. It’s the age too! You are so right. We just have to let them be, fall, and learn from their falls, the good, the bad, and everything in between. Thanks, again

  2. It gets harder and harder as they grow, Suchitra.
    Just yesterday, my 13-year old tells me that she is going to tell her crush that she likes him. I was dying to tell her not to, because I know she is going to get hurt (come on, which 13 year old boy would let that go without ragging the girl?) but I had to force myself to shut up because well, she needs to learn the lesson herself, and know what it is like to be hurt…I can’t protect her forever. And I don’t even like that boy…but….I am not my kid, am I?
    It is so hard to not do anything when you know that the child is going to get hurt….

    1. I didn’t even think that far. You are so right, of course. Arrghh….I am not sure what I’d do in your shoes or even in my own shoes if or when I encounter such a dilemma. Sigh. On another note, I love that your daughter shares these kinds of feelings and thoughts with you.

  3. Yeah, it’s a tricky situation. We definitely need to teach our children to become self-reliant / independent / bear the consequences of their actions etc etc, but where we draw the line and at what point do we stop spoon-feeding them is a slippery slope. Great post.

    1. Indeed! Ah the dilemmas of parenting. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  4. It’s so tempting to cover our children in cotton wool so they don’t get hurt but I understand they need to learn that life is one big roller-coaster. #GlobalBlogging

    1. Absolutely right. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I really love your mantra of get up, dust yourselves off and carry on! I think we live in a society where we are too afraid to let them fend for themselves because of what some “Mom-Trolls” might attack us with. But if we really think about it, we have to teach them how to deal with life’s difficulties and in reality we won’t always be there to protect, so it’s our job to teach them how to protect themselves! We are moms, we know when something is serious and we need to jump up and run!! But sometimes, in my opinion, they need to be encouraged to become more independent!#globalblogging

    1. You’re so right. I have my own ambivalences with my own mantra but for the most part, it seems to work. Of course, wisdom lies in modifying things as they serve the kids’ needs and I see that happening to whatever degree. Thanks for your comment.

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