It’s Just Like Riding A Bike
When riding a bike, it’s important to be able to do three things: balance, steer and pedal. Balance is important because if you lean too far in either direction, you will fall. When you are not balanced, you begin to feel the pull of gravity and you will quickly fall to the ground. But when you are balanced that pull disappears and you can easily remain upright. Steering is important because when you do not steer you are bound to ride off the road. You cannot get on a bike and hope that it knows where to take you. If that is your plan, you will soon find that your bike would like to take you to a nearby bush. But when you learn to steer you can avoid tough terrain like grass and gravel and dodge obstacles like sticks and rocks that are along your route. Finally pedaling is important because you will never move on your bike if you do not pedal. You can start on top of a hill and hope that momentum will carry you a while, but eventually the hill will subside and you will find yourself on flat ground, or worse, pedaling uphill.
When you are a parent teaching a child how to ride a bike, you must teach your child how to do all three of these things at once. The tricky part about teaching your children these things is that in order to really learn how to balance, steer and pedal, you must allow them to feel unbalanced, to drift off course and to slow down. You can hold their seat behind them, keeping them balanced, but they will never learn how to self-correct their balance if you are always there to hold them steady. You can hold on to the handle bars and guide them along the sidewalk, but they will never learn to guide themselves if you make all the adjustments for them. Finally, you can run behind them and push them, but if they do not learn to pedal for themselves, they will stop shortly after you let go.
As parents, we must learn to let go. We must do our very best to teach them while we are holding on to them, but eventually, if we really want them to learn, we must let go. We must give them a chance to do the things we have taught them. We must allow them to lean too far to the right and begin to fall. Hopefully, they will feel themselves falling and slightly adjust their weight to the left. Maybe they won’t and maybe they will put their right foot down on the ground and catch themselves. Or maybe they will realize too late that they are leaning and the only thing left for them to do is fall. As parents we will watch this and it will be painful. And in that moment, the moment when our child is lying on the ground, with his bike on top of him, we can only hope for one thing. We can only hope that he will get up, wipe off the dirt, get on his bike and try again.
We must trust them to steer on their own. They must take control of the handlebars and guide themselves. We hope that they will choose the paved sidewalk because we know that path will be the easiest for them. When they find themselves headed toward the grass, or worse a bush or a tree, we pray that they will steer the other way. We hope they will remember our words of guidance; to look straight ahead and keep the tire pointed in the direction they want to go. But for some children, it will take a few times of trying to ride through the grass before they realize you were right–that staying on the sidewalk is a better way to go. As parents, our hope is that our children will spend most of their time on the paved path rather than getting stuck in the bushes along the way.
Finally, we must allow them to pedal. We can only run alongside them for so long. We usually teach them how to ride on a flat stretch of land. It’s along these paths that they learn the thrill of pedaling; when excitement and energy are flowing freely in their legs and they can ride for miles. But eventually we must bring them to a hill. We must teach them that there will be times on their bike when the hill before them is great. When it will take every drop of energy in their body to keep going. They will want to give up and stop. They will want us to push them or carry their bikes for them until they reach the top. But we must teach them to pedal. Because if they never learn to pedal up the steep hills, they will never know the great feeling of accomplishment when they reach the top of a hill and look down. They will never be able to look behind them and say: “I did that. It was hard and I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it, but I did it anyway.”
Teaching a child how to balance, steer and pedal is hard work. There are times when your patience will run out. Your child will steer into the grass for the tenth time in ten minutes and you will wonder if she is even listening to you. There are times when your energy will be gone. You will have run behind the bike, holding his seat for an hour and he still cannot keep his balance. You will want to quit. You will want to tag out and let someone else teach for awhile. You will wonder what you are doing wrong. You might even doubt that you will ever succeed.
But then the moment will come. The moment you’ve been working toward for weeks. You will let go for the last time and your child will ride away in front of you. You might stop and catch your breath, but your eyes will not look away. You will watch to see if your child remembers everything you told him. You will see him shift his balance as he starts to lean, you will see him steer away from the grass and you will watch him pedal.
And in that moment you will realize that it was all worth it.