Parenting is hard and can be overwhelming to new and to seasoned parents. There is no rule book, and every child is very unique in regard to personality, temperament, and challenges. The first new-born baby for a young couple comes with a bucketful of questions and frustrations. Toddlers, who are just beginning to express themselves and learn about their world, can keep parents on the edge of their seats both physically and emotionally. Elementary school and the new social interactions that come with the pre-teen years provide a new obstacle course for mom and dad to navigate. When our children hit their teenage years, hormones are raging and many of the realities of life are hitting home; we are unable to protect our kids from the tough spots that growing up inevitably entails. As late teens and young adults, a strong need for independence mixed with an all-knowing arrogance can make parenting feel more like a mine field than an obstacle course.
As Mike and I look back on some of those challenging times (and some that are currently presenting themselves), we have noticed that many of the parenting mistakes that we made over the years resulted from making decisions out of fear rather than using our brains. Unfortunately, fear is part of the human condition; we cannot hope to avoid it, but we can be aware of it and manage it. To manage fear effectively, parents will need reason, courage, and perseverance.
Our natural instinct when we are confronted with fear may be to react quickly and instinctively (aka: run). If our two-year old is mounting a full-scale temper tantrum as she sits in the packed grocery cart demanding some candy from the store shelf, our immediate instinct is to tear into the package of candy to quiet the child down. Although this may seem like a great choice in the short term, any parent who has survived raising toddlers will tell you that is exactly the wrong thing to do for the long-term wellbeing of the child and the parents. The right approach to this challenge would be to stop/breathe/think (reason), take the child out of the cart and carry him/her screaming to the car (courage), and then listen to them cry for the next 15 minutes on the ride home (perseverance).
Another area where we struggled with fear was dealing with medical issues with our children. As neither of us are trained in the medical field, we felt somewhat inadequate when it came to deciding the correct course of action when medical decisions needed to be made. We are big fans of the medical profession, and have many instances of how knowledgeable doctors or heroic nurses have made a tremendous difference in the lives of our children; however, medical professionals worth their salt will tell you there is far more they don’t know about the human condition than they know for certain. Some medical issues are cut and dried, but many more are shades of gray. Often, a pill or a medication is not the right answer, even if the doctor prescribes it (or the parent demands it). Parents need to advocate for their children by doing their research, seeking second opinions, and being willing to do the hard work over the long term, when necessary, to raise healthy kids.
Teenage friends, social media, and dating will send a shutter down the spine of the most hardened of parents. Talk about scary! I’d much rather spend the afternoon with a circus clown than relive some of those negative experiences with my children. Again, rely on reason, courage, and perseverance when you find yourself in the middle of these emotional and sometime heartbreaking realities. If your eighth grade son has made friends with a group of boys that may not treat him well or may be making bad choices, your first response may be, ‘well, as least he has a group of friends’. Your fear of him being lonely or not in the ‘in-crowd’ may cloud your judgement. Remember that your responsibility as parent is not the quick fix, but the long-term wellbeing of your children. Assisting your son to move away from that group and find a new social circle can be slow, difficult, and painful at times. Courage and perseverance do not fully describe the fortitude that is required in situations like this. Parenting is hard.
Sports is another category where fear rules the day. Much time, effort and money is spent feeding fears like, ‘what if my son can’t play varsity basketball’ or ‘if I don’t get my daughter started with dance at the age of 6, she will never be able to catch up’. Sports are great. All of our kids played multiple sports and the teamwork and camaraderie they learned from sports are valuable life skills. But we as parents need to keep our fears, including our fears of our childhood sports failures, in check when we decide what is best for our kids. In some cases, we just need to walk through our fears. ‘What if Jenny is not able to play varsity softball?’ Most likely, she will still be able to attend college or a trade school, get married, have kids, etc. ‘If Sampson does not play AAU basketball, there is no chance that he will be able to get a D2 scholarship’. Well, then, Sampson should probably get a part-time job in high school so he can afford college if he decides to go. One of our sons was never on a winning Little League team, but he had better coaches and more character-building opportunities during those years than any of our other sons who had many winning seasons.
Fear is of the devil. God tells us not to be afraid over 365 times in the bible. We cannot erase fear from our lives, but we can manage it. Recognizing fear is the first step in the process. Then take back the power from fear using reason, courage and perseverance to make the right choices for your child.