October is the time of year we laugh at fear. Though our kids are surrounded by fake spider webs and skeletons hanging from trees, they walk tall because they know where all of this leads: a basket full of candy and a major sugar high. In October, we try to make a mockery of fear, which is really an extra-ordinary thing. I know some people are more prone to anxiety than others, but I think everyone can agree that at times we have all felt fear – and real-life fear isn’t funny or entertaining at all. In fact, it can be downright debilitating.
Being a mother of three children has magnified my fear a hundredfold. All it takes is a scroll through Facebook, and suddenly I’m up at night worrying about Everything That Could Possibly Go Wrong in Life. I fear everything from my kids being rejected by their peers to dry drowning and childhood disease. Facebook confirms what I already know: I brought these children into a world I can’t control. They will face hard times. One of the ways I cope with this knowledge is by focusing on what I can control. I can’t make the world a perfectly safe place for my children, but I can be a safe place for my children.
So how do I stop parenting from a place of fear? How do I become a shelter my children can run to when life feels scary and they don’t know where else to turn?
It starts with listening. When my son eagerly tells me how he finally conquered a certain level in his video game, I can take the opportunity to lecture him on the perils of screen time, or I can stop what I’m doing, look into his face and feel his excitement with him. I can congratulate him for beating his personal goal and succeeding in something he cares about. When my daughter cries to me because she feels slighted by a friend, I can tell her to stop crying and learn to forgive, or I can look into her eyes, listen carefully, and empathize with her anxious feelings, carefully navigating her back to a place of confidence and grace. It’s occurred to me that being a safe place for my sixteen year old starts when my child is small, wide-eyed and eager to include me in all of his/her thoughts, feelings, ups and downs.
They don’t have to be perfect. This doesn’t mean I shouldn’t hold them to a high standard, but it does mean that I shouldn’t fear their failure, because in a way, failure is a good thing; failure means they tried. If I model fear of failure for my children, or shame them when they do fail, most likely they will stop trying to do hard things in the first place. If they think the only acceptable outcome for anything they set out to do is perfect success, they will settle for a smaller world, and they won’t dream big dreams or try to reach high goals. However, if I am a soft place for them to fall when they do fail, and if I can build up their grit and determination even if their result is less than satisfactory, I am being a safe place for my children and encouraging them to keep trying even if at first they don’t succeed.
Be the student. It’s too easy to expect my children to be just like me. I forget my children are their own people, as separate in identity as I am from my own parents. When I parent from a place of fear, I lean more toward taking every opportunity to lecture them on how to act. But when I focus on becoming a safe place for my children, I become a student of them. What if I made it my goal to find out what they’re passionate about, learning what makes them come alive? What if, instead of zoning in on their weaknesses, I turned my attention toward their strengths? What a privilege I have as their mama, not only to see them for the unique individuals they are, but also to invest my life toward the goal of helping them fully bloom into the people they were created to be.
This world may be daunting at times, but I can help my children feel secure and capable by loving them just as they are, imperfections and all. Being a safe place for my children can help them be strong and walk tall in a scary world, even after October comes to an end.