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Overcoming Parenting Fears

Posted by on in Parenting
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This is a little different from our usual posts, but I want to talk about something that is a familiar face to parents—fear.

A friend of mine just had her second baby; her first son is a toddler. This week, she wrote about her worries that all the attention she is giving her baby will damage her older son. Will he feel unloved? Neglected? Will he start to resent the baby? Will this hurt him for life? Can she be a good mother to both kids? What if she’s not doing enough?

Does any of that sound familiar? I bet it does, even if the thoughts are not about the same issue. From pregnancy through having adult children, we have fears about whether we’ve chosen the “right” approach or philosophy, about how our own personality, limitations, mistakes, and choices will affect our kids, and how in the world to handle all the curve balls our children throw at us. We often feel like we are groping our way through a dark, booby-trapped room, and it can be terrifying. And perhaps deepest of all, we fear that we are not good parents.

Recognizing that worries come with the territory of parenting, how can we keep fear from running the show?

I think the most powerful tool we have in dealing with fear is love. Fear has a loud, urgent voice, but our love for our kids is still there underneath all the racket that worry makes. When you notice yourself feeling afraid, take a deep breath and try to get in touch with your feelings of love, affection, and wonder. Imagine love filling up your heart and then radiating out from you to your kids. Imagine how that love looks, feels, and even smells and tastes. How does focusing on love make you feel? Do you feel calmer, more grounded, more patient? Do you feel inclined to handle the situation any differently? Are you having any flashes of wisdom or insight?

A cousin to love is stillness. We all have a quiet place in our hearts where fear doesn’t rule, but it can be hard to access when we have strong emotions and frantic thoughts. Again, I like to use my imagination to help me get still. Imagine that up around your head is a hurricane of questions and worries, of conflicting voices of experts, and of judgments from other parents, relatives, and friends. Now imagine that you can drop down below the swirling hurricane, and you find that the weather below is still and calm, with a soothing sunshine touching your skin, and the comfort of a cool, gentle breeze. From this place of peace, listen for truth. Deep down, what do you hear about how you are doing as a parent? Accusations are quiet. Fear is quiet. What is really true?

Community is also crucial to combatting fear. Connect with people who don’t think they have found the one and only way to raise children. Talk to parents who can offer wisdom from their experience, while understanding that each child is different, and that what works for one family doesn’t work for every family. Online groups can be a helpful resource for this kind of community.

When you are looking for advice, read judiciously. Some parenting experts are adamant that you will raise an axe murderer if you don’t do things their way. If you find yourself getting anxious while reading certain materials, ask yourself if the authors are deliberately stirring up fear to persuade you to take their approach. Look for grace-filled advisors. Search out experts offering resources, not dogma. Take breaks if you are feeling overwhelmed by conflicting advice. Get quiet and listen to your intuition, and see if what you are reading resonates with you and feels right for you and your child. And remind yourself that there is almost certainly more than one wise and loving approach to take with any given issue.

In the movie A Beautiful Mind, the main character is schizophrenic and sees people who aren’t real, but who seem completely real to him. For a long time, those hallucinations dominate his life and control his behavior. But by the end of the movie, we see the imaginary characters walking beside him silently, still present, but no longer having power over him. I think fear is like this. It’s going to be there. We need not beat ourselves up because fear is present. Instead, we can let fear walk beside us while we choose instead to focus on love and to tweak our environment to support our living and making parenting decisions from love instead of fear.

How about you? What things worry you the most? How do you handle fear?

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