When biking through the neighborhood with our 5-year-old twins, I’m usually a few feet from their back wheels. They lead the way, but I follow closely to make sure they look both ways before crossing a street, to pick them up if they fall, and to mediate any disputes on which way to turn next (yes, those do happen!).
But this weekend, something changed. Our kids turned around and told me, “Daddy, follow medium far behind.” After some negotiating, we determined that “medium far behind” meant roughly one block — close enough to see them, call to them, and speed up to them quickly…but still far enough away to give them the sense of camaraderie together, on their own little adventure, making their own choices, and looking out for each other and themselves.
Proudly, I watched them stop at each crosswalk, hold out their little arms to stop the other from going, and then pedaling away together. They didn’t argue over who led, which way they turned, or how fast to pedal. They seemed really happy.
And I wasn’t there to listen to their happy chatter and be part of their adventure. I was medium far behind, close enough to zoom in if needed and yet far enough away to give them space.
Part of me wanted to pedal within a few meet of their back wheels again and soak up their companionship. But I knew that my presence would spoil their moment, their sense of adventure, their reliance upon each other, and their confidence in themselves. They needed those moments of me being medium far behind.
And that’s when I realized that, if I’m doing my job correctly as a parent, I’ll sometimes need to be medium far behind. They need to experience the joy and responsibility of thinking for themselves, being on their own, and growing into confident and independent human beings.
It may sound cliched, but this journey of parenthood is like none other. When our kids were newborns, spending their first week in the NICU, they needed us to be super close — none of this medium far behind stuff.
But as they mature, they’ll need their own adventures; they’ll need to test their own mettle. They’ll need us to step back so as to let them step forward. It’s bittersweet to be a parent sometimes, knowing that progress sometimes means becoming less so our children can become more.
But truth be known, it’s much sweeter than bitter. Sure, I felt a touch of disappointment that I couldn’t hear my kids talk to each other as they navigated their way through the neighborhood. But that feeling was overwhelmed by a sense of pride and contentment, watching them test their wings and practice flying.
Because someday, they will be ready to fly on their own. And I’ll remember those moments of being medium far behind and be filled with love and joy.