What I learned from this traumatic experience.
If you are a parent, try to imagine this: In a dark room of the local aquarium, you looked at your phone for 2 seconds and soon realized that you don’t see your child around anymore. You couldn’t spot him anywhere in the room, you panicked and your brain froze. The worst case scenarios started to play again and again in your head as you were running around like a maniac, calling your child’s name. The whole experience felt like a nightmare.
I’ve seen it on TV, in the movies, or on the news, but I have never ever thought this could have happened to me. Because, I am a helicopter mom. I am so cautious and careful that I always kept my two-year-old son under my wings. But today it happened. It was the worst nightmare that any parents could ever have experienced. I was lucky that I found him eventually, but I still couldn’t live with the fact that I actually let this happen under my watch. After hours of replaying the horrific moments in my head and regretting and feeling guilty for not being a good mother to my young child, I slowly calmed down and started to think about what I can learn from this accident, and how to prevent it from happening again. I learned two things from what I had experienced today: First, never say never! Second, do not over protect a child.
My son is very shy with strangers and is usually overly cautious. He was never like the other boys who always run around in public, because those places are filled with strangers. I took my son out to do activities all the time, usually all by myself. He always followed me as we walk and even if he ran ahead of me, he would always stop and check to see if I was there. So I thought I knew my son really well and he would never run off to a strange place without me.
What I forgot was how fast toddlers grow. Their little brains are developing every day, which is why their eating, sleeping or social habits could change overnight. Today happened to be the day that he decided to explore a new place without me. That’s why we should never assume that we know our kids 100%. We need to adapt as fast as they develop, always keep an open mind, expect something new to happen any minute, stay flexible and learn from the past. After what happened today, if I have to ever look away from my child again in public locations, I would make sure to keep one of my hands on my child, because you never know!
This might sound contradicting to what I had addressed above. I almost lost my child due to 2 seconds of neglect and now I want to advice others NOT to over protect a child? Yes, I am not out of my mind and I said it for a reason. Tonight before I put my son to bed, I tucked him in and asked him, “Were you scared when you didn’t see me at the aquarium today?” He smiled and said he was not scared. I looked at him in the eyes and said, “Well mommy was so scared today, because I thought I had lost you!” His expression changed immediately from smiling to frowning, and looked very confused. I was a little shocked by his reaction and continued, “In the future, can you promise mommy not to run away without me?” He looked very concerned and nodded.
This hit me! I didn’t know that the possibility of getting lost in touch with mommy never occurred to him. My son is a very happy and outgoing child when he is around people he loves, but he needs extremely long time to warm up to strangers. So I did everything I could to make him believe that the world was a safe place and everyone was friendly, in order for him to feel protected and less scared in social settings. But this somehow backfired today. In his eyes, I am a superwomen and even if he doesn’t see me around, I would always go back to get him. For instance, when he didn’t want to leave a toy store empty-handed, it never worked when I “threatened” him that I was gonna leave without him, because he knew I was bluffing. He was very confident and a little bit too confident with my ability to protect him from the world, because I was always with him every step of the way (except when he was in daycare three days a week) and I am a protective mother. The accident that happened today was such a wake-up call. It made me realize that my eyes can’t be always on him 24 hours a day. As young as two years old, he needs to know that mommy can make mistakes, mommy is only human. And most importantly, he needs to learn to protect himself (i.e. In the case of going out to public places, he needs to be more aware of my whereabouts and not to run off without me).
Parenting is hard and the more I experience it first hand, the more I understand how important it is not to judge the other parents for their mistakes. The fact is we are not living in a perfect world. As parents, we need to be fully aware of this and accept the fact. At the same time, we need to teach our children how to survive in this imperfect world on their own.