I’m always trying to encourage my children to try something new. Whether it’s a new food or an activity, I want them to have these opportunities. I don’t expect them to like everything they try, but I believe that the simple act of trying has value in and of itself.
I don’t think I’m unique here. I think most parents feel the same way. And yet, as parents, are we modelling this kind of behaviour to our children? Are we trying new foods? Or we pushing our comfort zone and trying a new activity?
Change is hard because it’s uncomfortable. I also find that, for me, it takes more time and energy than just doing the same old thing. And as parents we tend to be low on time and energy. So it’s really not surprising that we tend to fall into a cycle of doing the same types of things day in and day out.
But if I’d like, for example, my son to “put himself out there,” and try out for a school team, shouldn’t I be able to confidently point to a time when I recently did the same? (Time and time again, research tells us that kids will model a behaviour they see in their parents rather than behave according to a parent’s words of counsel.)
Like I’ve said before though, trying something new can be very uncomfortable. As a reformed perfectionist, I tend to avoid anything that I’m not good at. The risk of failure and of looking silly often takes over and keeps me from expanding my own life experiences.
My husband, interestingly, is not like this at all. People often comment on how wide his skills are, and I think this can be largely credited to his willingness to try things. He’s able to enjoy the simple act of the thing in and of itself, not whether he’s succeeding at it. Because, really, who succeeds at something the first time they try it?
This past summer, I tried something new: whitewater canoeing. In doing so, I learned three things.
#1: Failure Can Be Liberating
The thing I feared most about whitewater canoeing was tipping. I thought it would feel very scary and that I might get trapped under the canoe or something. And also? It seems like a failure to tip it. So when my friend Kerry and I got into the canoe and managed to tip it less than two feet from shore, it didn’t seem ideal at the time. But, it was actually the best thing that could have happened to me because (a) I got the tipping experience out of the way and no longer needed to be afraid of it, and (b) we had no where to go but up in terms of looking less silly after that!
#2: Sometimes the Body Needs to Learn, Not the Brain
Kerry and I were very focused on listening to our instructor and understanding exactly what motions our body was supposed to do in order to perform paddling manoeuvers. We were uncomfortable with the idea of pushing forward and just “letting it happen.” No, not us — we were like two executives sitting in a boardroom discussing the objectives and strategy for each move! In the end, this held us back. Our instructor Ray moved his canoe in a completely intuitive fashion. His body had learned the strokes, not his brain.
#3: Everybody Needs a Friend Like Kerry
The most important element for me was having Kerry. Without Kerry, I likely would never have gone, which is exactly why I emailed her and asked her to come. Once she booked with me, there was no way out. Everyone needs a friend like Kerry — one who will say “sure, why not.” Friends like this are few and far between, and they are golden. It’s not like Kerry says “yes,” because she thinks it will be easy and she’ll be a natural. No, quite the contrary. She is just willing to try new things.
In the end, our whitewater canoeing weekend was like trying a new food and not exactly loving it. There were a ton of mosquitoes, our bodies were black and blue by the end of it, and we often felt madly frustrated with our own inability to “get” the strokes right.
But would I do it again? In a heartbeat. We had a ton of laughs, we kicked some butt playing euchre, and we experienced the thrill of riding over the rapids. Plus, my kids saw that mom was out trying something new.
P.S. You can read Kerry’s account of our weekend of whitewater rafting here. It’s a great read.