Ep. 47: Why You Must Embrace “Afraid Parenting”: It Never Goes Away
I previously shared why 123 Parenting should never be a permanent part of raising kids, but today I want to share what IS usually a permanent thing. I am talking about afraid parenting.
Yup, the same feelings that can lead to helicopter parenting, lawnmower parenting, and every other type of parenting behavior where we want to protect our kids from failure. The exact same failure that most of us acknowledge is important for kids to experience in order to learn and grow.
Afraid parenting truly is something that you may never get over. But you must embrace it and figure out how you are going to deal with it. It is like focusing on all the awful things that can randomly happen to any of us as we live our lives amidst escalating gun violence and terror attacks. Yes, we know it can happen but we cannot stop living our lives.
Many of us continue to attend professional sporting events and concerts held in large stadiums, even though in the back of our minds, we worry about senseless attacks on innocent people. We send our kids to school and cringe (or cry) at the thought of our children learning active shooter drills. My kids only practiced fire drills and learned to Stop Drop and Roll. Times have changed. But we keep living.
Raising a child may be one of your greatest achievements, but you must let your kids grow into who they are meant to be. While they are young, parents are supposed to limit their exposure to danger, but eventually, kids should be set free. But at what point do you close your eyes, hold your breath and hope your training has helped them to navigate life as safely as possible?
While my kids were young, I faced many of the same fears as other parents. Am I doing the right thing? Making the right choices? Potentially ruining their lives by not knowing what is best? As young parents, you hope and pray that once your kids are successful, these feelings will go away. Well, I am here today to bring you a spoiler alert. Afraid parenting often never goes away. Embrace it. Let your kids live their lives, and you live yours.
Afraid parenting could negatively impact kids for life
Avoid putting your fears into your kids. We are human so it’s gonna happen. Just limit it. I suggest you make a “fear bucket” and load it up with things that deal with basic safety and healthy choices. These are the things that you will forever work to teach your kids to fear and avoid. Some examples might include:
- stranger danger
- crossing streets safely
- say no to drugs
- no texting and driving
- cigarette smoking causes cancer, (yes say it and instill that fear!)
- now add a healthy fear about vaping (share the outbreak of vaping injuries and deaths)
Kids often feel invincible and have to learn fear. We want them to fear real dangers and not the perceived ones that many parents often have. I am still haunted by one of my early parenting experiences where I placed my irrational fears into my child. Thankfully, she did not accept them, but I could have negatively impacted her life for no good reason.
What happened? Shortly after starting kindergarten, she announced that she wanted to be in the talent show. Listen to audio in the podcast portion to hear the sad details of a major mom fail. I learned my lesson and hope other parents will too.
We need to be here for our kids and support their dreams and help guide them to be the most successful that they can be with the talent they have.
It can be easy to become a “Negative Nancy” parent who points out the downsides and all the things that can go wrong. But ask: is it going to kill them? If not, find a way to support them and help them navigate the best they can. Poor choices for you may not be poor choices for them.
Common categories for afraid parenting
There always is something to be concerned about with kids, but there tend to be a few common categories where parents frequently struggle.
- Kids might give the wrong answer, not appear smart
- Will be embarrassed or embarrass the family
- Kids will not get into the “best” school
- Will not make the team of choice
- Won’t be popular
- Will not make the “right” career choice
I see many examples of these categories every day in my office when parents correct a child’s answer or answer for them. For instance, when a child says he has some symptoms, parents say they do not. Or a child shares which colleges they would like to attend. Parents correct their kids and sometimes tell me what the true dream school is. Seriously? Just letting kids speak their truth should be a goal for every parent. You never know what you might learn that you did not already know!
Letting go with teens can be the worst
Teen independence can be an emotional roller coaster because the bad decisions they make can truly be life-threatening. This is where the issues with sex, drugs, drinking, and driving come front and center. It is a bridge that must be crossed and many parents have scars from this stage.
It should be an evolving process from preschool to college to learn to let go. And each successful adventure should empower parents to continue giving their kids freedom. You do not want your child to taste their first bit of freedom in college. You just do not want to do that!
I had one truly anxiety-provoking episode of afraid parenting during high school where I honestly almost did not let go. My youngest child was a sophomore in high school. She was about to study advanced Spanish and wanted to travel to Spain and be immersed in the culture and language.
She is my extremely strong-willed child and voiced her desire to only go with a group of people she has never met. No, she could not go with the group from school but need to meet new people and create her own story. Of course, there was a lot of back and forth with me trying desperately to not travel down this path.
I still look back and wonder what was wrong with me when I agreed to her terms. In fact, she and her friends still wonder what was wrong with me. I tried really hard to share my opinions and concerns and give other options, but she stood firm. Plus it was to advance her academic career, right?
To make the best of the situation, I worked really hard to find a program with the most supervision and limitations possible for her. I was quite proud of myself for it.
Well, things are going to work out the way they are going to work out. And as it turned out, my strong-willed child found a group of like-minded adventurous kids (perhaps renegade kids…) from countries all over the world who descended upon Barcelona and took on the world on their own terms.
This trip remains one of the best times of her life, but not so much for me. There were so many things that could have gone wrong and YES…I imagined every single one of them. But thankfully, they did not happen.
Letting go often requires you to find the silver lining or some aspect of it that makes it a worthwhile decision. For me, the silver lining was that she had to speak Spanish all day since that was the common language for all the kids, so her confidence grew and she was much better prepared to start her advanced Spanish classes in school.
My worst afraid parenting episodes with adult children
My scariest moments with afraid parenting adult children actually DID fit in the category of “could it kill them” But I sucked up my fear and put on a brave face to support and enjoy the excitement my girls experienced. Had I not already been practicing afraid parenting I could have ruined some incredible once in lifetime moments
Let me share a few of the scariest events I faced while Afraid parenting adult kids. Yes, you are a parent for life and need to let your kids thrive experiences that you may desperately want to stop them from doing. What you need to learn is how to manage your own emotions and I seem to manage mine differently depending upon the activity.
- Bungee Jumping
- Shark swimming…with a cut finger dripping blood in the nearby waters
- Cheetah walks…with a face next to the mouth
- Devils pool…dangling over the edge of a waterfall cliff
- Volcano climb Mount Doom…glad I did not know that falling lava rocks hit climbers in the head
- Mount Kilimanjaro climb…I was involved in the planning of this adventure so I could best understand the prolonged risk they were taking
Fantastic adventures of kids released from afraid parenting
Not to leave on a negative afraid parenting note, I also want to share that my adventurous kids have also had a great collection of events that lead to constant grinning parenting moments.
- Watching sea turtles hatch and run out for their first swim,
- snuggling and cuddling with cute koala bears,
- camel ride and overnight stay in the desert.
- A 12 hour Iceland visit
It is okay to give in to occasional afraid parenting!
None of us is perfect. Personally, I am proud of all the moments I wanted to urge my daughters to step away from something but I found the strength to not say it. Nevertheless, there is a glaring incident where I could not rally to let go.
A year ago, my daughters planned a month-long sister trip throughout Southeast Asia. Yes, many of their friends had made a similar journey. But this was going to be such a long time to be gone with BOTH of my most precious babies…errr, I mean grown adult kids.
It might have felt different if each one went separately with a different group of people. But both together? What if something went wrong?
It is the same anxiety some people feel when their family is on the same airplane, so they take separate flights. I have not been concerned about our family flying on the same airplane but there was one part of this Southeast Asia trip that I could not handle.
The visit to Vietnam. Why? I don’t know, but my heart raced. I know nothing about Thailand or Malaysia so I was fine with their visit to those places. But Vietnam? It made me break out in a sweat. Although it was irrational, I could not help it. Thankfully, my daughters recognized that for some reason this country triggered a reaction that I could not control or tuck away. Because there are so many other places they could visit, they adjusted their itinerary. I breathed easier and they visited Singapore. Win-Win.
This is a beautiful example of two-way parenting. Your kids will learn who you are, and they may take on an additional load to protect you! We often learn a lot from our kids as they grow and it can beautiful to watch them navigate how to manage interactions with us. Although parents start as teachers, eventually, the kids become the teachers. We must allow it to happen.
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