What My Daughter Taught Me About Taking Risks

Angel Creek Canyon, Ouray, Colorado

We recently returned from a family trip to a beautiful gem of a small town in Colorado. Ouray (pronounced Uray-accent on “ray”) is located in the southwestern part of the state. Referred to as “The Switzerland of America,” Ouray’s views, vistas, mountains, and forests are spectacular, awe-inspiring, and humbling. 

We explored Main Street, the only major road in this small mining town, and spent much of our time outdoors in nature. On one of the days, we explored Angel Creek Canyon. With an elevation of 7760 feet, it was not an easy hike. I pulled up the rear for my family, but remained grateful that I could make it up the steep inclines.

As we walked through the creek, my daughter and I sat on some rocks, with our feet steeped in the (very!) cool water. Looking around, we admired the majesty and grandeur surrounding us:


Pine trees

Aspen trees


We listened to the birds chirping and the water gurgling. It was peaceful and inspiring. After a couple of minutes, my daughter piped up, “Ema, it was a lot to get here, but you know if we didn’t take risks, we wouldn’t be sitting here right now. I mean we could see the canyon from the outside, but in order to be in it—we had to take the risk to climb down and wade through the water. A few seconds of silence, and then another remark, “I mean, it’s pretty much that way with a lot of stuff.”

I have always believed that my children are my greatest teachers and this moment felt like another gift. 

So much of parenting involves wanting to protect our children—from hurt, from danger, from disappointment, from loss… and yet, I have come to learn over the years that we cannot protect them from any of that as long as they are human beings living in the world. 

What we can do is teach them resilience and solution-oriented thinking. We can instill confidence in them, enabling them to learn to trust themselves. And we can let them know that whatever experiences come their way, that we, as their parents, will always be there for them and that we will love them unconditionally.

It’s scary to encourage our kids to take risks, especially when there may be a fine line between fun and danger. I’m not sure I’d be able to encourage skydiving or bungee jumping, but I was able to let them take a jeep ride through the desert or zipline over a forest. Each of us has to decide what our own comfort level is and then, ultimately, when our children become young adults, they get to make their own decisions. As parents, we pray that they are able to discern a healthy risk from an unhealthy one.

That day in the canyon was definitely a healthy risk and it opened up for both of us a new view of what it means to be immersed in nature. We were grateful to experience the beauty and to be reminded of our interconnectedness with Earth. As I looked around, I simultaneously felt a sense of expansiveness and a sense of minuteness which reminded me of a Hasidic teaching by Reb Simcha Bunim of Pschischa.

It was said of Reb Simcha Bunem, an 18th-century Hasidic rebbe, that he carried two slips of paper, one in each pocket. One was inscribed with the saying from the Talmud: Bishvili nivra ha-olam, “for my sake the world was created.” On the other he wrote a phrase from our father Avraham in the Torah: V’anokhi afar v’efer,” “I am but dust and ashes.” He would take out and read each slip of paper as necessary for the moment.” 

How we balance between those two can allow us to live and parent from a place of both humility and self-love. When we’re feeling a bit too sure or arrogant, we are reminded that we are nothing but dust and ashes; when we are feeling low or despondent, we are reminded that the whole world was created for our sake.

Sitting there on those rocks with my beautiful daughter brought me precisely to that place of recognition–where we are merely specks of stardust AND for whom the whole world was created. 

It is upon each of us to gracefully live in that tension, learning from all of life’s experiences: examining when to take risks and when to hold back, reflecting on when to teach our children and when to glean their wisdom, and discerning when to tap into self-love and when to rest in humility.

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