January 3, 2018

Why I Let my Son Stand on the Edge of the Grand Canyon.

My first reaction was to stop him.

I mean, what mother wouldn’t? What mom wants to watch her soon-to-be-20-year-old son stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon?

Not me.

“I’m going down there,” he said, motioning toward the towering rock formation that juts out of the canyon’s edge. I hear the reactionary yelp come out of my mouth. “Oh my god,” I exclaim, knowing he can feel my disapproval.

What goes through my mind next is pretty dark. I see him falling. I see my life without him. Would I want to die too? Probably.

I see the tears that would never stop. I see my daughter and I crying as they gather his mangled body, and the two of us driving out of this national park with our dog in the car, but without him. His short life never fully lived.

Would I go on living because I have a daughter, a mother, a life? Who would I call first? His dad? My partner? Or would I text my girlfriends?

I think about all the mothers who have endured the loss of a child and I’m certain I don’t want to experience that.

Yep, I am going to tell him no way José is he going near that ledge.

And then I remember that I taught my kids, through my own example, to take risks, be present, follow desire. Who’s to say which risks are worth it and which are too risky? Does standing on the ledge, even with brush beneath, fall into the too risky category?

How does a mother distinguish?

Is that even my job anymore?

My mind swirls and what comes to me at 7,400 feet is that he’s going away to college soon and we live on different coasts. He is at a point in his life where he’s making his own decisions, working, and driving around in the Mustang he bought for himself.

I have no control. Believe me, I have tried to have control. Any attempt to control him at this national park today is feeble. Because tomorrow, I will have no say. He is going to live his life and take chances as he feels called to.

And, thank God.

I pray that I’ve done a decent job teaching him to be smart—like before he jumps off a cliff, make sure the water below is deep enough for his six-foot body.

This is a tricky spot for most parents. It’s socially unacceptable to let our kids take life-threatening risks, and obviously, I want him to be safe. Letting him stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon, no matter how old he is, feels like borderline bad parenting.

There’s conditioning inside me that says if I was a good mother I would never let him stand on that ledge. But what makes a good mother? Is it keeping him safe? Or encouraging him to take risks? Can I ever be sure he will be safe anyway? As a parent, I can do everything right and my kids can still fall off a ledge.

I breathe deeply, look at him, and say, “I love you.”

“I know,” he says.

I release the next layer of control and watch him walk the canyon’s edge, weighing the risks, carefully choosing where to step next, and I see him smile. This is living to him. He has always loved to push boundaries and use his body to jump, move, and crash. I can only hope he won’t burn up doing it.

I’ve kept him safe since he was a little boy, but it’s not up to me anymore. So I take his picture.

I accept that he may fall today. Or maybe tomorrow. As a conscious mother encouraging my kids to live out loud, I have stopped protecting them. It may sound crazy, but I think the other way is actually the crazy way—the world where moms handle all the challenging spots, stay up late, fretting, deciphering the labyrinths, and then wonder why their kids struggle with adulting. That method is counterproductive to raising conscious adults who understand the true meaning of their choices and the natural consequences to life.

The key is to let go.

Letting go—it starts the minute they are born and it never ends. My children aren’t mine. They came through me, as a gift. The minute I forget that, and impart my personal will onto them, is the moment I stunt their emotional growth. Why would I want to do that?

It’s said that after having a child, a mother’s heart now lives outside her body. Yep, that’s true. The potential for heartbreak is tremendous, and from the depths of my soul, I pray for his well-being. But I will continue to encourage him to live, to take risks, and to do what brings him joy, every day. Lest he does not live or learn.

Yep, even on the ledge at the Grand Canyon, dammit.



Author: Brenda Fredericks
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman
Social Editor: Emily Bartran

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Brenda Fredericks Oct 5, 2018 11:56am

Thank you Mary! I love how you laid out both sides of the issue. I am glad the article resonated for you. I have a Facebook group for Moms if you are interested in joining me in more discussions like this one. Much love. https://www.facebook.com/groups/147549146187989/

Mary Jelf Jan 5, 2018 2:39am

I really appreciate your thoughtful perspective on this part of parenting. I know I have been on both sides of it - judging other parents for being too permissive when I was new at the game (and my kids were little enough to carry away from perceived threats) and later on judged by other parents for being too permissive when I thought my kiddos had gained enough experience to make some decisions on their own. It is good to hear and appreciate other parents' stories of their own way through. (And I also acknowledge that no matter how thoughtful I try to be about allowing their lives to open up as they will, I think I will always throw the occasional "mom seat belt" across the front seat without even thinking of it. LOL)

Lindsay McKenna Jan 4, 2018 3:50pm

I live in Arizona. I go to the Grand Canyon every year. Roughly, 1 person or child die a year at this park. And every year, I see people and children of all ages die because they get too close to the edge of the South Rim. I can't tell you how many times Japanese tourists have literally had the bus stop at a particular area of the South Rim, pile out of it, run by me (I sit 10 feet from any edge) to get out on a point along the South Rim to have their picture taken. They are city people. They are ignorant that (a) depending upon where you are, if that rim is made of up of sedimentary rock, limestone (the white colored stones) it's brittle and fully capable of breaking under enough weight. You can NOT discern by looking at it first, whether it is stable or unstable. Whether it has fissures or fractures hidden beneath the surface that make it brittle--therefore unstable. (b) The WIND. This is the biggest killer on the South Rim. With 3,500 feet of canyon below that rim, the winds whip through it, much of the time it funnels UPWARD, toward the top of the rim and then either blows across or over the rim. Many people have been BLOWN OFF their little perch on the rim by a 30-40 mph gust. And they die. Ignorance kills. Just look at the stats of people falling off South Rim year after year. For these 2 reasons I state above. I wonder if a parent might not talk to a Ranger who works at the Grand Canyon FIRST before they allow their child to go out on the edge of the rim? Ask what kind of rock is there? Is it stable? Or not? How come there's so many deaths/people falling or being knocked off the rim by wind gusts? What would the Ranger recommend instead of letting my child out there (regardless of age) of the rim. Did you do that? Did you educate yourself so you could educate your child beforehand? I see this same parent-child situation all the time up there play on the South Rim. And that's sad. Parents armed with information before hand can then be responsible toward their child in making a decision like this. Otherwise, the parent is part of the problem if that child falls because the rock gives way beneath them, or is blown off that rim. A good book to read beforehand is: "Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon" It's thick book with stats on deaths.

Beth Norris Jan 4, 2018 3:18pm

My youngest son died in a car accident, four years ago, when he was 15. It is something you never get over, but the tears do stop and you start remembering all the great times. One of the things that I am most grateful for, is that I let my son, and other sons, live. I mean really live, take the risks, let them learn from the stitches and broken bones, find out how far they are willing to push past their comfort zone. I see some of their peers, now paralyzed by fear, paralyzed by not knowing how to judge a situation on their own, by not knowing how to take a risk. I miss my son terribly but I have the most incredible bank of memories because he lived!

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Brenda Fredericks

Brenda Fredericks is a transformational coach for moms, and she helps tired and wired moms get in touch with their desires, so they can communicate honestly and have better sex. Check out her featured articles at Elephant Journal and Senshent magazine.