Story by Sarah Fiddaman
Risk always seems bigger when the person in question is so small. As a new parent I was pretty anxious, and although I might have been that way with any baby there was definitely an added element having a baby with Down syndrome.
The fiercely overprotective desire to bubble wrap baby Charlie mostly came from fear. And some of that fear was probably warranted – with a heart condition, a challenging feeding journey, and hypotonia. Of course I wasn’t going to play rough and tumble with my baby! Of course I was going to freak out about every infection!
Now that Charlie is a big (not so big) four-year-old I still feel my knuckles whiten as she attempts to descend a flight of stairs.
Piece by piece the tightly wound bubble wrap has started to deflate. Our daughter is strong and capable and now I find myself having to encourage others (and myself) to let go a little. To provide opportunities for her to try and fail. To give her a chance to speak, to listen carefully when she does, and to trust her to make decisions in her own time. As I begin to trust my own parenting a bit more, I can hand over some of that trust to Charlie.
Take scissors. For whatever reason I decided to use a pretty minimal amount of intervention when learning to use scissors. She did cut herself (and was an accomplice in cutting a treasured book) – but she didn’t cut her finger off, she didn’t poke her sister’s eye out and she didn’t require a trip to emergency. Trusting her gave her confidence and expedited the learning process. Charlie has proven to be our greatest teacher.
Sometimes I think I push too hard for Charlie to learn skills that will help her grow into an independent young woman. Things take longer and sometimes I’m impatient. I have to remind myself that total independence is not the goal. I want my daughter to be able to do things for herself as she grows, if it’s available to her, but I also don’t want to undermine the value of dependence and interconnectedness. Dependence on others for comfort, support, friendship, guidance. In cultivating independence, I want to make sure what I am really allowing opportunity for is self-determination, choice, agency. For her to have a voice.
Sarah’s article is available in the following formats to download: