12/03/2013 03:47 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2014

Taming Parental Fears

Written by Rosemary Strembicki

Parenting can be a frightening experience. We start off thinking that everything will come naturally and then we're hit with those sleepless nights, inconsolable crying and that lingering cough that just won't go away. All kinds of questions crop up; "How long will this last?" "When should I call the doctor?" "What am I doing wrong?" And then the fear creeps in and the thoughts that we're ruining our children. If only we knew the "right" thing to do everything would be OK.

Fear can be a useful tool. It can keep us out of danger and guide us in considering different options but when it paralyzes us and makes us question everything we do it's time to take a closer look at what we're afraid of and how we can remedy it.

Fear can also lead us down a path to disaster like a runaway horse that makes it out of the barn without a rider. One sleepless night can have us believing that we won't ever feel rested again and one altercation on the playground, when our child bites another, can give us visions of raising a lonely bully that can't get along with anyone. Before we know it our imagination is spinning out of control and we've lost all our confidence in our parenting skills. But a little bit of knowledge and a lot of self-reflection will usually help.

First, stay in the moment. The realization that all things have a beginning, middle, and an end can provide some structure to your thinking. Being aware of those runaway thoughts will help you steer clear of the dreadful predictions of doom that you're headed for. When we're tired and stressed it's much easier to imagine the worst-case scenario rather than the happy ending.

Then do a quick assessment of what is actually happening. Is your infant just getting accustomed to a new sleep cycle? Is your 2-year-old frustrated because he doesn't know how to express himself, yet? Is your teen not considering the consequences of her questionable behavior? All of these things are typical and tasks that children need help in accomplishing as they grow.

The next step is to consider what you're afraid of. What is it about this incident that brings up feelings and memories of your own upbringing? Were you the child that tossed and turned for hours before going to sleep? Did you have trouble making friends and often felt angry and isolated? Were you that teen that would always find herself in trouble without realizing how it happened? Anything our children experience can trigger uncomfortable feelings or memories without us being aware of it. We often find ourselves on that runaway horse, totally out of control and looking for answers.

It's the questioning that can get us on the right path. Thinking about what is happening, learning more about our children and reflecting upon our own experiences and state of mind will help us find the answers. Sometimes we can do it on our own and sometimes we need to reach out to trusted family and friends to help clarify the situation. Gathering information from independent resources can answer some questions but without the context of our personal history and belief system we can very often become more confused.

Parenting can be scary yet it's the most important job we do. Being intentional and spending some time thinking before reacting can often save us a lot of unnecessary anxiety and worry. Connecting with like-minded support can help us find the answers we're seeking and tame the fears that we'll never be the parent we had imagined. Parenting isn't a science it's a process. There are no formulas or guarantees. But an open mind, unconditional love of our children and the support of those we trust will keep us on the path of successful parenting.

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