As soon as the summer holidays started, my twelve year daughter took her first independent flight to Delhi to meet her Nani. Needless to say, I consider this as a big milestone for all of us. Her maiden, independent flight is a sign that our little bird is ready to fly out of our safe nest. I was scared, nervous, apprehensive but most of all extremely proud of her. A few of our friends and family who knew about the flight were skeptical. Isn’t she too young? Isn’t the world a bad place for little girls travelling alone? Are you not being an irresponsible parent?
These are good questions for sure. Yes, she is quite young. Yes, I am aware of the crime statistics, especially against women. But No, I am not being an irresponsible parent. For me, protecting my child does not mean keeping her safe inside the home. For me, protecting my child means enabling her for her own safe flight. Having said this, I completely understand the sentiment of all those parents who are scared of letting their daughters out of the house alone. I was there in their shoes 8 years ago. This is the story of how I learnt to switch my parenting shoes from being a protective parent to an holistic parent.
When my daughter was born, I protected her diligently. I carefully observed her friends, bus drivers and teachers. I watched over her in the playground. I did whatever responsible parents are supposed to do to ensure safety and well being of their wards. In her fourth year, one beautiful evening, a few days before Diwali, my daughter met with a freak accident at the park, injuring her right arm. Hours that followed, changed my outlook about life forever. She was diagnosed with a third degree supra condylar humerus fracture which had damaged the nerve of her right arm. She underwent a complex surgery to reconstruct the elbow, but doctors were not sure if the movement of the arm could be restored. As we celebrated Diwali in the hospital, I questioned God. Why did He make my little child go through this? What lesson was He trying to teach me through this? Couldn’t He have chosen an easier method?
It was years later, after my daughters arm had completely healed that I understood the lesson from God. The lesson was clear. It was not my responsibility to protect my daughter. No matter what I did, I could not guarantee her safety 24×7 for the rest of her life. As a parent, it was my responsibility to teach her to protect herself. The only person who could keep her safe for the rest of her life was she herself.
Since the time I realized this, I have invested time, energy and money to enable my daughter to be able to protect herself. It started with open communication, talking to her about what are the possible dangers in the world out there. I did not sugar coat any facts, but I did not try to scare her either. After all, for every bad human out there, there are many more good humans as well. She took classes on self-defense for a couple of years. She was encouraged to step out to the neighborhood shops on her own. Small baby steps over the years, coupled with her resolve, confidence and personality brought us to the day where we stood outside the departure gates that hot summer afternoon.
Again, in spite of my confidence in my daughter, and her confidence in herself, there are no guarantees that life will not hurt her again. That is the fact that humbles us and makes us plan for her future. While we plan for the worst case scenarios, we also ensure that we enjoy each moment for what it is. She still goes to the park regularly. She still gets bumps and bruises. Over the years she has learn to catch her fall most of the times. In addition, she has also learnt to apply first-aid when she needs it. In my opinion, this is the best protection we can give our child.
I do not consider myself a perfect parent. As I said above, I learnt this lesson an extremely hard way. As I write this blog, I realize, maybe God made this lesson so hard for me because He wanted me to share this lesson with other parents.
The only thing that can keep our children safe is their own knowledge, awareness and physical ability. I learnt this the hard way. I sincerely pray that none of you have to learn it the same way.