Any of you who have children know how incredibly fear-inducing loving a child can be. As parents, we are 100 percent responsible for what happens to our children. This awesome responsibility can be terrifying. There is a delicate balance that parents must strike: to inform and teach without paralyzing their children with fear.
Does fear dictate your style of parenting? Do you tell your children all of the horrible things that might happen to them if they don't listen to you? To understand the origin of your parenting/fear behavior, you must go back to your own childhood.
To Reveal Your Parenting Style Blueprint, Answer the Following:
-- How fearful were your parents?
-- Were they "worriers"?
-- Did they experience the world as dangerous, or friendly?
-- Did they share their fears with you as a child?
-- Did you feel protected?
-- Were they overprotective?
-- Were your parents capable, or did you take on parenting duties as a child?
-- Did your parents assume the best or the worst in people and circumstances?
If you were raised by catastrophizers who focused on all that could go wrong, you probably have a tendency to lean toward the same outlook. But you can change! You must actively choose not to repeat that pattern, and the only way to do that is by being aware that the pattern exists.
My own mother had many fears and phobias that she consciously chose not to share with us. I was a fearless child, which she encouraged me to be. She claims I learned to swim when I was just a year old and proudly retells the story of me, at 2.5 years old, on a family vacation throwing myself into the deep end of a pool. Two fully clothed grown men dove in to "rescue" me, only to have me scream hysterically at their intrusion. My mother calmly explained to them that I was an excellent swimmer and did not need help. This was a corrective emotional experience (re-exposure under favorable circumstances to a past situation with which one could not cope at that time) for her: As a child, she almost drowned, and she fears deep water to this day. I am grateful for her insight and determination not to pass that fear down to me. (Thanks, Mom.)
When I married my husband, Victor - a widower with three acting-out teenage sons -- I entered parenting boot camp. I skipped the terrible twos and barreled headfirst into the terrifying teens, with no how-to manual or previous experience. I worked hard to stay present and keep the dialogue open. Vic was relieved to have a partner to help him, and I was relieved that he was agreeable to family therapy, STAT!
A Few Tips I Learned about Fearless Parenting:
Assume the Best
Children rise and fall to your expectations, so assume the best but be prepared for anything.
Talk, Talk, Talk
The importance of healthy communication and an open dialogue cannot be underestimated. Children of all ages have a right to their feelings. Parents must still be the deciders, but encouraging children to speak their truth when they are young will make the teen years less tumultuous.
You can teach children appropriate safety measures without scaring the bejeezus out of them. Just like any successful business, a family system must have "best practices" in place so, when in doubt, a child knows their next right action (even if they do not always take that next right action).
Children Are Good
Sometime they exhibit "bad" behavior or make questionable choices, but they themselves are inherently good.
Do Your Best
As my mother so lovingly told me 15 years ago when I met and married my family, "Don't worry, Ter. You won't make the mistakes I made. You will make all of your very own." I thought she was just being defensive, but in time, I came to see the truth in her statement. We must accept that, no matter how hard we work, we will make mistakes, because, after all, we are humans. We can only do our best.
Owning the mistakes you make is the most healing gift you can give a child. Vic and I have both verbalized to our boys our regret at mistakes we made. Every parent has reasons for their choices, but children don't benefit from knowing those reasons. Being secure enough to just say, "I am sorry. I was wrong," validates a child and makes them feel seen, heard, and valued. By authentically apologizing, you are also modeling behavior. It is a liberating skill to know how to be sorry and express it with no justification or excuses.
Below is a passage about parenting from the Kahlil Gibran book The Prophet that resonates as truth to me. These words remind us that the window of time to help children build a strong foundation for life is limited. Our relationships transform to the next appropriate phase in adulthood. We are blessed with the honor and privilege of fearlessly preparing kids to go on to live their own best lives, as reflected in Gibran's words:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
It's natural to have the fear, but the question is, does it drive you as a parent and are you doing a disservice to your children if it does? I would love to know your thoughts and tips about Fearless Parenting, so please drop a comment here. Remember, sharing what you have learned may help a fellow mom or dad suffer less.
For more insight, watch my video:
Love Love Love,
For more by Terri Cole, click here.
For more on becoming fearless, click here.