In Which Parenting IS an Act of Courage

ID-10076298There’s a tree on the property behind our house that’s perfect for climbing. Perfect. Low-slung branches that graduate, ladder-style, to higher branches that reach right up to the sky.

My kids beg to go there. Beg and beg.

“Can we PLEASE go climb The Tree? PRETTY PLEASE? We’ll give you anything you want.” 

And, of course, this is one time they can deliver, because what I want is ten minutes of no more begging.

But I have reservations. Concerns. Worries that plague me. Because I haven’t installed a harness system on that tree. Or prepared the inflatable crash pad beneath it. Or had the time to bubble wrap each branch.

The problem with kids is that they want to do unreasonable things.

Like learn to eat food. By choking.

And learn run. On concrete.

And play with toys. At the doctor’s office.

And wipe. Themselves.

And go to school. With children. Who sometimes act like children.

And ride bikes. Downhill.

And use the public restroom. Alone.

And swim. In the deep end.

And drive. Me crazy. My car.

And leave. Me. The house.

These things make me crazy. I don’t like them at all. As Anne Lamott says, “I hate this! So resent this! I want my money back!”

But there’s no way out of the danger of life. Just none.

“The bottom line is that you should never turn your back on the ocean,
but what do you do?”
Five Kids reader, Jennifer Corbett Lones

Exactly. We know that constant parental vigilance is neither realistic nor healthy after a time. But what do we do? Well, we hold our breath, say a few prayers that sometimes sound like, “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God,” and hope the wave doesn’t wipe us out. And we think, “I hate this! So resent this! I want my money back!”

And you know what? That is courage. Because…

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.*

Now, whenever I hear that quote, I think of the huge heroic acts. Firefighters who rush into burning buildings. Men and women in combat who drag both friends and enemies to safety. Teachers who shield their students from the storm with their very own bodies. I am swept up in the terrible, beautiful examples of radical love.

But I will tell you what; our everyday acts of courage – our acts of freeing our children to live full lives – are no less radical. Because we parents triumph over fear with every breath. That is courage. That is love.

And so when my kids beg beg to climb The Tree, I sometimes say yes.

And then I spend my No Begging Break worrying.

Because I am a mom. And that is my act of courage.


What was your act of courage today?


Hey – thanks to all of you at the Five Kids Facebook page who helped me source the list above.

*I’ve seen the courage quote alternately attributed to Mark Twain, Nelson Mandela, and Ambrose Redmoon. (Thanks, Internet.) Anyone know definitively who said it?

(And, psst… who is Ambrose Redmoon?)


“Leaves” photo credit tungphoto via

Don’t miss a post. Subscribe here

30 responses to “In Which Parenting IS an Act of Courage”

  1. We have a tree in our garden. It’s quite a small tree, but my daughter is quite a small girl. Yesterday she was 2 and could only climb about a foot up into it. Today she is 3 and can climb right up it, higher than my head.
    It’s scary, but I’m happy to let her, because she’s a very competent climber for her age (including climbing back down), and because my parents wrapped me in bubble wrap all my childhood and I do NOT want the same for her.
    Unfortunately, because it’s her birthday, said parents were here today to witness her first climb up the tree and my uncertain, this-is-new-and-I-haven’t-figured-it-out-yet response to it. They didn’t approve, and I’ll probably receive a long email tomorrow detailing exactly why.

  2. This post was spot on. And you know what, every time my Mom tells me to drive safe, or says goodbye to me at the airport, or explains how to deep fry something, I know she’s probably having her own little act of courage, by letting me go, letting me do it. I know because I can see it in her eyes, I recognize it because that’s how I feel about my kids. The little acts of courage never really stop, I think, no matter how old our children are.

    • Bonny your comment reminds me of my mother, watching over me at the hospital while I delivered my first baby. She told me she just wished she could do it for me. She was scared, but she put on a brave face to help me be brave. A few hours later, as I held my child for the first time, I had this incredible epiphany where I truly understood for the first time how very much she loves me, because I felt that for the child I held in my own arms. For the first time I understood the fear, the protectiveness, the desire to never let go, the realization that I would love and protect this life at absolutely any measure. It was a moment the three of us shared that I will NEVER forget. Thanks for reminding me of that. Isn’t a mothers love a truly beautiful awesome thing? 🙂

  3. we just rearranged our three bedroom house to move the 3 boys into the basement family room and software the 13 and 6 year old girls into their own bedrooms. that took and continues to be an act of courage and trust- to have the boys two floors away and out of my supervision at night. it is even harder when one is at a sleepover and so the other is alone…

  4. Let her (not) remember to put sunscreen on. I just sympathized with the sunburn and now she remembers.
    Sending her away to camp for the first time.
    Leaving her home alone for a few hours.
    And, number one scary, starting this fall she’ll be coming home to an empty house, where she’ll stay til I get home from work three hours later.

  5. I JUST READ THIS TONIGHT. At Red Hills Market, where I was eating my Margherita Pizza and reading East of Eden.

    (Is everyone impressed with my hipsterness? K.)

    I don’t know if it’s the one you’re thinking of, but it’s good anyway.

    “Olive had great courage. Perhaps it takes courage to raise children.” -steinbeck. so good.

  6. I feel like you, and am always cringing over the things I have to let my kids learn how to do on their own. My daughter is learning how to eat completely on her own right now, and she’s doing the whole choking bit in the process (and it freaks me out!!!) I have two boys who like your kids love to climb the tree in our yard (luckily my five year old wears his helmet (his choice, I’ve never insisted on it.)
    The other day we took my all the kids swimming, and Zeva (my 1 year old) decided she didn’t like Mommy holding her in the water and she wanted to go dive into it head first. We hadn’t had the chance to get her an actual life jacket…so of course, I didn’t let her go. However, she had no fear what so ever of the pool. It made me glad the pool wasn’t in my yard. (We are getting her a life jacket out of our next paycheck!!!)
    Kids will be kids, and it’s so hard to let go when we want to protect them from harm. Your right it does take a lot of courage from us to make it happen.
    Great post!! (As usual)

  7. My parenting act of courage today was handing my 16 year old daughter the car keys & sending her off with the road test guy after she failed yesterday after running a red light! She passed…

  8. Running on concrete! That is the worst! They run so hard and so fast and when the DO eat it, it’s hard too.

  9. Beth, it’s like you’re in my head or something. My act of courage daily is watching my 2-year-olds walk down the front (concrete) stairs by themselves–I know they can do it; they have done it a hundred times, and I still have to keep myself from hyperventilating or hovering.

    This is what I remind myself: these little beings are the most precious of all things in this world, but they are not my possessions. And growing to be who they fully are means they will have scars. The scars are not defects. They mark the beauty of a life fully lived.

  10. Courage: parenting a teenager with health problems without nagging, overprotecting, holding on to. Acts of love to “cover with love” her inability to properly care for herself. Do what I can and let the rest go. Everyday a wrenching part of my heart wants to take over. But she has to own this. She has to be the one who wants health. I can hope, but I can’t seem to fill her with hope. So I pray. And wait. And trust the One who can work in places of her heart I can’t reach. Thanks for your post today. It always touches a place in me that validates and encourages.

  11. I went into the doctor’s office and asked for help with depression/anger. Took me 10 months to get up the courage to do it, but it definitely was a case of “something else is more important than fear.”

    With the kids directly, a lot of kitchen stuff, like using knives, stirring pots on the stove, putting things into the oven (I still insist on taking things OUT, since remembering to be careful of the hot oven AND the hot cookie sheet seems too much of a risk).

    When I was young, I knew a girl who was terrified of everything, because her mom was so protective of her. It really showed me what damage can be done by trying to shield your child from all the possible dangers.

  12. It’s like you knew I needed this post right now. I’m so trying to let go of the anxiety, and I’m pretty sure God is tired of hearing, “please keep my baby safe!” I asked him once, (or 327 times) and He is good. That should do it.

    please God, keep my baby safe.

  13. Excellent article Beth. Keep on freeing them. Our children need to know we have confidence in them. It IS a different time from when I was a kid. I rode my bike for “MILES” to the library by myself, climbed to the top of the tree in our front yard and made it sway–just cuz I could. Roamed our neighborhood.
    But my kiddos aren’t allowed to do most of this. So I try to find other ways to “free” them. I live just down the street from the State Hospital with Group Homes several blocks from us. Just letting my kiddos ride bikes to school in middle and high school was nerve racking for me. But failing health required it. So I prayed for extra guardian angels to go with them. THEN, they learn to drive.
    I have an agreement with my 26 year old son that he WILL NOT tell me about all his close calls while driving. Then I can live in the unreality of my mind that he is observing all the traffic laws and rules. Told him that if he ended up in a trauma room, God would give me grace then–and until then, I didn’t want to hear it.
    So grow in courage. Fill your mind with thought of hope, rest, faith in God and in your children.

  14. Ambrose Redmoon is actually James Neil Hollingworth who was a writer in the 60’s and his quote is this: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” I like your quote better, although I’m not sure who gets credit for it.

    Love this post though. Mine is currently my 2.5 year old wanting to play outside….by herself. Eek!

    • I like this quote. Something else is more important than fear.–Our children learning to be confident and competent. Freedom to explore (supervised as much as we unobtrusively can 😉 ).

  15. Every day is an act of courage with three kids! I am anxiety ridden by nature and I really struggle with freeing them to explore the world without constantly holding them back with my own fears. This post is a great reminder of how important it is!

  16. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this. It hits me in all kinds of soft places. Right now, my daily act of courage is NOT picking up the phone and cancelling that terrifying, quickly-approaching developmental assessment for my 4.5 year old. I don’t know what will come of it, but pretty much all possible outcomes terrify me. So I put one foot in front of the other, fill out the paperwork, find childcare for our younger child, hurry up and wait, and ignore the comments of “Why would you want to diagnose your kid???? Then she’s got that hanging over her head!”

    • Right there with you. You don’t need to give ANYONE an answer for WHY you are doing something. I’ll tell you after about 30 years of mothering “special” kids– you will be blamed no matter WHAT you do. If the child turns out ok, it was the teacher or the aide or “And you were soooo worried about them.” (Didn’t take into ANY account the countless hours of early intervention and constant work.). If the child still has “problems” the teachers, aides, etc will say “Mom let’s him/her get away with everything.” (Worked as an aide in 3 different schools in special ed classes.).
      So you get them evaluated so you know what you are dealing with. And then you begin. Have heard everything from “I don’t want to label them.” (HELLO??? the kids on the block and at school have their own labels for your child and you might not WANT those ones!!). So take a deep breath, face the thousands of sheets of paperwork they make you fill out, get the eval, and then live one day at a time. KNOWING you are NOT alone.
      THAT is courage!

    • A diagnosis can also give others compassion for the child who is awkward, unknowingly rude, unable to sit still, and so on. That thing that you find so annoying about my child? It is a symptom. I find it annoying too but it can’t be corrected with a harsh word, only covered by love.

    • Having been through this with my son a few years ago I will say to you…ignore all those people. All of them. Even me if you want. Do what feels best to you, for your family and your child. And don’t waste a lot of time second guessing yourself. I “didn’t want to label” my son so I waited to check anything out till he was in 3rd grade, and already behind in reading and starting to have the beginnings of some aggressive behavior. Now he’s diagnosed, on good meds, and best of all…I know now what to look for, I know what types of advice to listen for, because I know my kid, just like you know your kid. But, I don’t spend a lot of time beating myself up about not having it looked at sooner, because I was doing what I thought best with the information I had at the time. And who can do more then that?

      Also, my son in 10 now and he totally owns his ADHD. He’s not embarrassed, doesn’t feel labeled, and is learning to tell the difference between good/bad choices vs symptoms. Knowledge is empowering, even if it scares the crap out of you.

  17. Exactly. Last year my 8 year old learned to climb trees from older kids who loved to go to the verrrry top. Scared the heck out of me, but he was so proud. And I remember that feeling from being his age, so…to heck with the hospital bills!
    Tonight we had a cooking lesson, taught him to use a large sharp knife…trying to be totally nonchalant while waiting, heart in throat, for him to cut his fingers off. We both survived.

  18. My little guy is in that limbo time between mastering crawling and wanting to learn to stand/walk by himself. My moments of courage have been letting him pull to a stand without interfering and catching him when he inevitably plops down on his tushie. He’ll never learn if I do it for him, so I have to hold my breath and let him do it 🙂

    • I am in the same place! I have to let my baby learn to walk the hard way-by falling. I cringe every time he bumps his head or face plants into the carpet. I held my breath the first time he crawled up the stairs. My knuckles turn white as he picks up those cheerios and puts them in this mouth all by himself.

      • My middle daughter (12 at the time) cried the first time “her baby”, my son, took his first step. She scared him so much (what he had done must have been something awful! lol) that he didn’t walk for another 2 months!

  19. Absolutely dead on. Those tiny moments of courage on the part of parents (or perhaps those momentary lapses in judgement) add up to so much more. As an elementary teacher, I’ve taught children who live their lives wrapped in bubble tape, and those poor kiddos may have missed out on a few ER visits, but they are missing so many more life skills. Sometimes the only way to learn to live is to learn how NOT to live. 🙂 And thanks for quoting me! That made my day! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.