Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Unnecessary risk"

"If I did say yes, I would be awake the whole time.I would likely just worry about tired drivers, distracted teens behind the wheel, other people leaving bars and driving, carjacking and a host of other scenarios that would sound to my teen like I was trying to be a killjoy. But there are things that are just more dangerous in the middle of the night. Not to mention the environmental impact of driving around in a gas-guzzling van for fun.It all seems like an unnecessary risk to me." 

Someone left the above comment anonymously on my "Real Trust - no strings attached" post.  For the past week I have been mulling over the idea of "unnecessary risk."  What is unnecessary risk?  Who gets to decide what qualifies as unnecessary risk?  What is unnecessary risk for one person may be a whole lot of fun for another person.  It seems that to a certain degree increased risk taking equals a more meaningful life. 

We drove to my in-laws for Thanksgiving.  The roads were snow packed and icy.  For me, driving on icy roads qualifies as unnecessary risk.  However, it was very important to the grandparents and the children that we visit.  We discussed the risks.  We checked the road reports and the weather forecast.  My in-laws offered to rent a more reliable vehicle that would fit the chains we had in the garage.  For me it was an unnecessary risk, but for the rest of my family it was acceptable risk.  I took every step possible to increase my comfort level.  We drove a rental, carried chains, had blankets and water in the car and my husband drove.  Fortunately my husband is an experienced winter driver, having driven the passes between Montana and Washington a ridiculous number of times during his college years.  We made the drive safely.  We had a wonderful visit.  The girls were thrilled to be able to go sledding.  When it was time to return home the forecast was calling for freezing rain and the road conditions were dangerous.  We decided that it was too risky.  We called our pet sitter and made arrangements to stay for another day.  When we did head home, the roads were clear of all ice and snow. 

In families different members may have very different levels of comfort with risk.  We must be respectful of the differences and be willing to explore creative solutions so that everyone is comfortable with any potential risk.  When we have a child whose comfort with risk far exceeds our own we may find ourselves grasping for control when we need to let go.  Our relationship with our child can help us find peace in this situation.  When we have a connected relationship, with a firm foundation of trust, our child will more likely be sensitive to our feelings of discomfort and be open to information we may provide about potential consequences of taking any particular risk.  This does not mean that our child will never take risks that make us nervous.  It does not mean that our children should avoid risks that we think are unnecessary to make us more comfortable.  We should not distort facts or guilt our children into staying inside our comfort zone.  If my child is comfortable with a risk I do everything possible to support them in taking that risk.  I do my best to avoid inflicting my children with my fears.  See "Fears- yours, not theirs."  If I have serious concerns about a particular risk I may ask my children if they will do things to help me feel more comfortable, but I need to remember that the decision is theirs to make.  When my daughter is with her friends I know she is only a text away if she needs support or I want to touch base.  If a child wants to slide down the stairs in a sleeping bag I suggest we put pillows at the bottom.  And sometimes I just have to let go and trust that my child knows her own abilities.  My middle child should go ahead and stand on the sled as she goes down the hill.  It's completely within her comfort zone, even though it's outside my own.  As the other people who commented on the "Real Trust" post pointed out, your children are going to make their own decisions and take risks.  As your children grow older, your relationship with them will determine whether you know about the risks they are taking.

People who take risks do amazing things with their lives.  It is often the people who have taken the biggest risks that we most admire.  People who go to the moon, climb tall mountains, travel the world, drop out of college to invent a computer, spend years writing novels while barely paying their bills, and auditioning repeatedly until they land their first big part, are the people we wish to emulate.

“The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.”
Leo F. Buscaglia

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” 
T.S. Eliot

“He who risks and fails can be forgiven. He who never risks and never fails is a failure in his whole being.”
Paul Tillich

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