Having spent the last couple of weeks on the coast of South Carolina, I’ve had several opportunities to people watch, and one morning I witnessed less than a minute of a family’s life that spoke volumes about their dynamic. I think it might be good material for a Human Growth and Development discussion board topic.

Anxious to begin reading a new novel and just “chill” for a while, I was walking down the beach heading back to the chair when I noticed a teenager in the water. He had a different look about him that captured my attention, especially when I saw him angrily gesturing “go away” to a woman standing in the surf, probably his mother. The teen’s facial features, posture, movements, and expression all indicated some physical and mental challenges. A man, presumably his father, was standing in the ocean beckoning him forward at the same time the mother was stepping closer and closer to him.

“You’re going out too deep!” her manner seemed to say.

“Go back. Leave me alone,” the young man’s body language said. “Let me breathe!”

“Come on, Son,” the dad’s gesture said. “The water’s fine.”

As the son was angrily pushing his mother back towards the shore with his behavior, his father noticed and also waved his arms at her in a frustrated manner as if to say, “Go back!”

I understood perfectly what was going on in a matter of seconds and was saddened for all concerned. At the same time I recalled something I’d read years ago about the need for both mothers and fathers in a child’s life.

Both parents recognize that the world is fraught with danger. Undertows threaten to knock us over, slam us down, shake us up, and maybe even take our breath away. There are scary animals that bite and attack, some of them disguised as nice people. We could go out too far and lose our way back to the shore.

Both parents see the same thing, but they handle it differently. Moms want to nurture and protect. “Be safe,” they say. “Be careful.” Dads, on the other hand, say, “Yeah, it’s a tough world. Let’s get you prepared for it.”

This is an overgeneralization but there’s some truth in it too.

As I came up directly beside the threesome, the boy was continuing towards his father, trudging as fast as the heavy water currents allowed. Determined, he pressed on. The father was smiling. The mother began taking baby steps towards them both.

I wanted to yell, “Leave him alone,” but that inclination was replaced with a thought of how touching it was to see both parents on either side of the child they loved. Children deserve and need nurturing, security, direction, nudges, and encouragement. At the same time, keeping them too close, too safe, can do more harm than good.

I walked on, turning back only once for a quick glance. The boy was within arm’s length of the father; the mother, although she had walked out a bit farther, was standing still as watched the pair just a little beyond her, waves crashing all around them.

As a parent, have you ever had that conflict between hanging on and letting go? Come on, I know you have. Question is, how did you resolve it?

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