Teaching Our Children to Ride Bikes: A True Test of Patience


So here we go, another parenting milestone. Teaching our children to ride bikes.

I’m excited for there to be a four capacity bike rack on the back of our car. I can’t wait for all of the adventures we’ll have together as a family. I can’t wait to see the excitement on my kids’ faces when they have their first real taste of transportation freedom. I’ve sat and fantasized about my kids meeting their friends at the local coffee shop before school and all riding in a giant herd together. I’ve dreamed many things about my kids and their two-wheeled chariots, but the thing that I never factored into the fantasizing is how many deep breaths I would have to take while teaching my children to ride bikes.

Some backstory on this entire bike riding journey.

I was never taught how to ride my bike growing up and was not allowed to use training wheels.

tipped over bike- wheel, chain, and spokes

I tried to learn at six on my sister’s bright blue Schwinn with the sparkly banana seat. I remember my older sister even strapping pillows to me to try to give me some much-needed courage. But it was far too terrifying and I quit after one afternoon. Years passed, and we moved to a house with a big dirt road with a long sloping driveway. All around me, my friends were learning or had already learned to ride their bikes, and I’m not sure if it was the peer pressure or the fact that the afternoon was wide open, but I got home from church and with my dress still on became suddenly determined to ride that blue Schwinn with the sparkly banana seat. 

I’ll admit that the bike fit me a little better than it did the last time and I had another thing going for me, besides a few inches, and that was grit.

I remember wobbling back and forth at the top of our driveway thinking of all of my friends doing donuts and figure eights on their bikes. If they could do it, then it was physically possible to ride the thing and I was going to do it. 

Some of my family was busy with dinner prep and my older siblings were getting things ready for school on Monday, and finishing homework. There I was, Sunday dress on, alone, getting ready to give the driveway hell. I kicked off and fell. I fell over and over and over and over. But, like I said, I was determined this time and I eventually began to coast down that long driveway, and walk back up. By dinner time, I was riding, and it felt amazing. After that day, that bike and I were glued to each other. I rode it to town to get candy, to the library, gave the cat rides on it, and even learned to ride sidesaddle… pretending to be Dr. Quinn… our family was huge fans. 

a girl on a Schwinn bike
The banana seat bike and I become inseparable.

I’m someone who needs to solve things on her own.

I truly believe my parents knew this about me and so never pushed the bike issue, knowing I would eventually come back to it if and when I was ready. I was the youngest child out of three. By the time I came around, my parents were well versed in picking up on cues from their children and I’m sure me getting frustrated by people telling me what to do with other things had a big part of it too. That hasn’t changed.

So, here I am as a mom, my son around the same age I was when I sat on the top of that hill with that corduroy jumper on and willed myself to control this animal with a sparkly seat. But there’s a difference this time, my son and I are together learning. I’m right there with him holding onto the handlebars and the seat. Because, my son is different from me, unless it’s a math problem, he has no problem asking for help when he feels like he needs it. Please for the love of God, let’s keep that going into adulthood.

But am I the right one to be helping him with this problem?

Before this moment, my son was terrified to learn to ride a bike. We heard that we should start him on a balance bike, or get him training wheels, but definitely don’t do training wheels, or teach him to coast first, and focus on the steering, and finally, you know, not every kid learns how to ride a bike.

How could I not have seen all the variables involved in teaching my children to ride bikes?

And now, I hold onto him, trying to help him balance, and sometimes I think that my helping is only pulling him more off-balance, and the idea that I’m teaching him the entire wrong way keeps swirling around in my head. How do you teach something that was never taught to you? Do you teach, when you hated the idea of being taught yourself? And, how many times, as parents are we shown that, although we love parenting and spending time with our kids, we might be awful, horrible, teachers… and teaching our kids is a huge part of our jobs. Getting dressed, using the toilet, wiping their butts, and tying their shoes. But the difference between these and the bike? Those are necessities to life, not niceties, and possibly things that can maim them if they get it wrong.

Do I have less patience with this milestone because in the back of my mind I know that he will have a fulfilling life even if he doesn’t conquer this?

I sleep better at night with the idea that I’m trying to teach my son to ride a bike. I sleep better thinking that my son will tell me if he wants me to back off or if I’m making this entire experience awful.

Whenever I ask my son if he wants a bike lesson, he always says yes. And we do the dance that’s familiar to so many parents, of me running up and down the driveway holding on tight to the seat as he lists into me and struggles to put the whole bike-riding thing together. 

I’m going to be honest, and admit that there is a huge part of me that wishes I could snap my fingers and have him on that bike solo cruising right next to me. Some afternoons, I’m begging silently for him to say he’s done with the lesson so we can move on to making fart sounds for each other again… something I also feel has high priority in our day. 

My son is our firstborn, and I’m not as well versed as my parents were when it comes to meeting the needs of a child when it comes to overcoming challenges. I don’t know how to teach him, and I don’t know if I’m doing this right.

All I can do is keep offering him chances to get on the bike and hold on until he tells me not to. 

And there we go because this is parenting in a nutshell. Our own childhood can, at times, give us little to nothing for guidance.

All we can hope to do is offer possibilities and if those possibilities are accepted, hold on until they tell us to let go, and then comes possibly the hardest part, actually letting go.

Teaching Our Children to Ride Bikes: A True Test of Patience


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