Lately, I have been thinking a lot about fear and anxiety and how big a role it sometimes plays in parenting. Whether navigating the world of a new baby, the anxiety of school admissions, or the fear of what the next stage will bring, it feels like fear is on the top of many parents’ minds. With all of that fear around, I decided to add a parenting commandment to my philosophy:
“I will not parent from a place of fear.”
This, of course, is a billion times easier said than done. I am not saying that I will never have fear, but rather I will not let my fears dictate my parenting decisions. Instead of allowing my anxiety of the “what-if”s and “might-be”s to rule the day, I choose to ground my parenting in things I believe. I believe in a Montessori approach to parenting which supports the idea that my children are capable beings. I believe that it is my job as the parent to set the limits, but within those limits I cannot micromanage or unnecessarily help my children. This does not come naturally to me. As a parent, I am a verbal helper. I tend to give unsolicited advice, prompting, and caution that are almost always rooted in my fears. Fear of injury. Fear of judgement. Fear of the unknown. My educator brain knows this is not helpful and even potentially harmful in the long run, but my parenting brain doesn’t always listen.
I read an interview on NPR with Hanna Rossin a writer covering overprotected children and what really struck me is that she pointed out the difference between risk and danger. As a parent we want to protect our children from danger, but can’t and shouldn’t want to protect them from risk. The problem I have as a parent is that I confuse the two or overreact to the idea, the mere idea, of risk. I am convinced, despite logic, that my son is always on the verge of killing himself by doing something “unsafe”. This is the irrationality that sometimes comes with parenting. But the truth remains, risk or even the perception of risk is important.
My daughter has become a bit of climber lately. She climbs the monkey bars, the tops of all the play structures, and trees. She goes as high as she can. Does this fill me with fear? Yes. Have I learned to be quiet about it? Yes. It actually helped me that she did fall one time. She fell from the monkey bars when they were wet and belly flopped onto the mulch. Bruises, mulch in her mouth, and a scream cry all included. It was awful to watch and no fun to console, but the next day she got back on the monkey bars. She discovered a little bit about her limits and the risk of a slick monkey bar. Every time I consciously decide to shut up I know I am giving her room to assess the situation and evaluate the risk on her own terms. You see, I don’t want my daughter to listen to my voice saying, “Be careful.” I want her to listen to her own voice, the one that lives in her gut and is called “conscience” and “instinct”. If she can pull back when she has gone too high now then I know that voice will grow a little and hopefully show up when confronted with larger risks with bigger consequences in adolescence.
For me to stick with my new commandment I need to focus on two things:
1. Shutting up and pausing before letting my own fears take over a decision for my children.
2. Asking myself is this risky or dangerous, before intervening..
If I do both of these things regularly I know that my fear will go down and my children’s ability to manage their own risks will go up.
Risk versus Danger