When Holding On is Holding Them Back


A few years ago, we bought into the balance bike trend – small bikes without pedals or training wheels – and it proved to be a fairly smooth transition for our oldest son to his “big kid” bike.

Our youngest son got his matching “big kid” bike for his fourth birthday, a little earlier than his brother and maybe a little soon. We often asked if he wanted to try the big bike, but he stuck with the comfort of his hand-me-down balance bike for a few months after his March birthday. He cruised confidently and nearly as fast as his brother around the cul-de-sac, practically running on the pavement with the balance bike between his legs.


In mid-August, he announced he was ready to give a big bike a try. “Sure, buddy!” I said while wondering how my weak lower back was going to handle weeks of jogging and bending over to grip a bike seat.

After several brave but unsuccessful attempts over the next week, I felt like I was holding up the entire weight of the bike and my son. Our efforts seemed to be pushing against each other. Why didn’t we get training wheels? That would’ve been much easier. He’s too young. It’s too soon. We’ll try again next summer.

My back ached. He was discouraged. But he got back on, one more time, and this time, I loosened my grip. He pedaled forward, keeping his balance, and I let go. He soared.

I didn’t know I was holding him back until I let go.

I began to wonder how often this happens in parenting.

It can be hard to find the balance between being hands-off and helicoptering when it comes to helping our kids. We face dozens of these decisions each day, and the answers change as they age. Are they old enough, strong enough, coordinated enough, educated enough to figure this one out on their own?

Will this be the moment he lands on his feet or in the emergency room? Should I sit beside him and help with the math worksheet or let him try it on his own?

It’s hard for me to sit back when I can give them the answer, the path, or a hand. I want to save my boys from the struggle and the pain. But I know they won’t truly learn until I let go, until they fail, and until they get back up with a new plan.

I’ve watched them go underwater at swim lessons and held my own breath as they fought their way back up. I’ve quietly clenched my fingers while they practiced stirring a bowl of flour with abandon. I’ve stood back as they scaled a rope net over my head.

And I’ve seen the confidence that shines on their faces when they figure it out, when it finally clicks. In those moments, I can’t help but be a little proud of both of us, one for holding on and one for letting go.


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