Parenting Lessons: Fetching Sticks and Chasing Squirrels

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Parenting Lessons: Fetching Sticks and Chasing Squirrels

The hardest part of raising a child is teaching them to ride bicycles. A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time needs both support and freedom. The realization that this is what the child will always need can hit hard.
– Sloan Wilson

When My Dog Captain and I go Hiking, we like to take a trail that sides up against a local lake.

There are lots of little offshoots with paths that lead down to the water’s edge.

Captain loves to swim, so whether the temperature’s “right” or not, he takes every opportunity to follow these paths into the water. Sometimes, he goes right in and looks back at you, for direction. “What next?” he implies. “Were you going to throw me a stick?” he ponders.

Sometimes I throw him a stick, and off he swims, eager to retrieve; eager to demonstrate his keen abilities, and his willingness to please. This happens again and again and again as we walk the trail. Every opportunity he has to stray from the path, to get down to the water, he takes. Sometimes he fetches the stick, but sometimes in his eager pursuit, he can’t see where I’ve thrown it or it sinks.

Sometimes he’s left swimming in circles, unsure of where it went.

Sometimes I keep walking, and sometimes I’ll stop, and converse with him a while.

“Where’s your stick?” I’ll ask him.

Or I’ll suggest, “Go, ahead, take a swim, you don’t need your stick to swim.”

Either way, his eyes are locked on me, awaiting my direction.

He’s always observing me, even when he’s taking the lead.

He’s always aware of my position, whether I’m ahead or behind, and if he strays to chase a squirrel, he always returns to check my position; to see where I am in relation to him, and to encourage me to keep following close behind, cause there’s “so much more to see, and to smell and to respond to up ahead.” When we round the fork, and we’re nearing the gravel road that leads back to the parking lot, I raise my palm upward and tell him to sit since it’s the time and place now for his leash, and he, being fairly well versed now, knows the drill, and is much more willing to comply, although most times he’d rather run leash-free, experiencing things as they come, untethered.

As he’s very keen at doing, Captain’s always teaching me about something. This time it’s about raising kids. What I’m noticing, as I parent teenagers of both genders and various stages is that

There are lots of little offshoots along the path. Lots of challenges and quandaries as they seek out independence, in an attempt to find their own way.

As nature has it, They need to swim off, and their idea of “the right temperature” might not be the same as ours. But the truth is, whether we realize it or not, they’re diving in, but they’re still looking back for direction; by their actions or inaction they’re asking “What next?” “Were you going to throw me a stick?”

They might not always like the stick you throw. It might be a different stick than their friends parents are throwing.

Sometimes, when we throw the stick they are eager to retrieve; anxious to demonstrate their keen abilities and willingness to please. Other times in their eager pursuit, they can’t see where the stick went, or the stick has sunk, and they end up swimming in circles.

That’s when we need to improve our aim, or choose our stick more carefully. Maybe we need to choose a completely different stick.

And at some point, we need to know when they no longer need the stick we throw, but must go out and fetch their own. We’ve shown them what a stick looks like, so they’ll recognize it when they see it, but ultimately, they’ll choose their own stick. But they’re always observing us, always aware of our position, to see where we are in relation to them, even if they stray to chase the “latest squirrel.” They’re always desiring us to keep following close behind, because there is “so much more to see, and smell and respond to up ahead.”

Although they may rather run leash free, experiencing things as they come, untethered, There’s a time and a place for the leash, and they will be well versed, will be much more willing to comply, if we regularly stop to converse.

“In spite of the seven thousand books of expert advice, the right way to discipline a child is still a mystery to most fathers and mothers. Only your grandmother and Ghengis Khan know how to do it.”

~Billy Cosby