Everyday Christian: Embracing risky business

50 Risks to Take With Your Kids is recently published book that has made me think again about my parenting style.

Written by Daisy Turnbull (daughter of former PM Malcolm Turnbull and his wife Lucy), 50 Risks helped me to see I’m not a helicopter parent. I let my kids roam unaccompanied in the patch of bush near our home, and they have made their own way to and from school since around the age of seven.

But neither am I a risk-encourager. I’m a just-in-case type of person. I pack both an umbrella and a hat. I choose the beaten tracks on a bush walk, and park in the first available car parking space rather than going for pole position.

When it comes to my kids taking risks, I’m the mum with a hand clenched around my child’s shirt while admiring the view from a clifftop. I yell ‘Be careful!’ for good measure when they climb trees. And I constantly sprout road-toll statistics at my 16-year-old with her learner driver’s licence.

Even though it doesn’t come naturally, I have tried to support the kids as they engage in risky business. On our annual summer holiday, I try to act enthusiastic on ‘jetty jumping day’. Each year, the risk factor increases as the kids get older. They have gone from jumping off the jetty; to jumping from the short, round pole just above the jetty; to jumping from the long, skinny pole, way above the jetty.

One year us mums showed our support by joining in one of the jumps (from the jetty, not the poles!). Hand-in-hand with our kids, we launched from the wooden platform into the water a couple of metres below.

I knew on impact that I’d hit the water at a weird angle. And then a searing pain in my ear confirmed it. A few days later on our return to Sydney, a doctor confirmed it – I had burst my eardrum.

Since that experience I have reverted back to my risk-averse ways. Perhaps subconsciously, I have also taken to turning a blind eye to my husband’s ‘harebrained’ adventures with our kids. When he suggests another mountain bike adventure, I grit my teeth and try to block out the memory of my daughter limping in with grazes and a shoulder strain after the last ride.

What a vivid reminder of the way in which our loving, heavenly Father parents us.

However, a more recent experience has reminded me not only of the importance of risk-taking for children, but that it is a great gift to children when their parents support and encourage them to challenge themselves.

We were canoeing at a nearby national park when we bumped into friends from church. They were also paddling around with kayaks, and one of their teenage children with autism was learning to do this for the first time.

When we arrived, she was sitting on the kayak paddling nervously near the edge of the river. But by the time we were leaving, our teen friend had been across the river and come back again. She was smiling and confident.

It was a privilege to watch her parents guide her wisely, as they gently encouraged their daughter to go out a little further by sending a friend to stay alongside her. Their daughter then felt safe and secure enough to journey out into the deep, trusting in the wisdom and love of her parents that this was a risk she could handle, and one worth taking.

What a vivid reminder of the way in which our loving, heavenly Father parents us. It brought to mind Jesus’ interaction with Peter in Matthew 14, where he encourages Peter not to be afraid and invites him to “come” – to do the seemingly impossible by walking on water.

This passage also reminds us that it’s OK to fail, and that God will be there when we do. When Peter doubts and then starts sinking, Jesus immediately reaches out a hand to catch him. A take-home message from this interactoin – that failure is not to be feared and that we are there if and when needed – is surely one that also needs to be reinforced to our children.

So, following these prompts about the value of risk-taking – for kids, as well as parents – I’m re-examining my aversion. Perhaps it’s time to push myself and the kids out of the comfort zone again – although, unlike Peter, next time I might do this on dry land.