cross posted from jfxramblings.blogspot.org
“Fear” is a big word in psychology today. It is one of the most primal, instinctive negative emotions, and it often masquerades as other things. Anger, sadness, and withdrawal can all be disguises for fear.
Very often I’ve noticed myself parenting out of fear that disguised itself as righteous indignation. I see my kid doing something wrong, and BOOM! Out comes the lecture! Down comes the consequence! Yes, indeed. I am a responsible parent.
But wait, what’s that? My racing heart? Why, what’s that about? What emotion is really underlying that virtuous parenting moment?
Fear, that’s what.
What are we afraid of when we parent out of fear? We’re afraid that our kids will slide down some slippery slope. We’re afraid to lose control over their behavior. We’re afraid others will think we don’t have a handle on the situation. But I’ve seen that when I parent out of fear, 99% of the time I react wrongly. Too harsh, too shrill, bad timing. It’s about me, not about my child.
About a week ago I got a very long private Facebook message describing behavior of one of my children that another person observed that was, let’s just say, not a nachas note. My first reaction: anger. Which I then quickly diagnosed instead as fear. Of what was I afraid? I was afraid of my child’s future. Is that a legitimate fear? When our kids do something wrong, isn’t it correct to fear for their future? Well. Yes and no.
Fear that leads to thoughtful contemplation, that then leads to rational, calm decision making: good. Fear that leads to anger that leads to lashing out impulsively: bad. Fear that causes you to do things because of what others will think or not think: very bad.
Adon olam is one of my favorite songs. The last two words of it, slightly less famous than the first two, are: “V’lo ira” – I shall not fear. The entire phrase goes like this: “Hashem li, v’lo ira” – G-d is with me, so I shall not fear. For me the antidote to the primal fear is to strengthen my faith. Nothing bad can touch me while G-d is holding my hand. If something is destined to be, it will be, with or without my fear. Open your hand and release your fear and grasp onto something else instead, which is far more supportive: faith in G-d, faith in your ability to handle life, faith in the future.
Also. I take away an additional lesson: not to point out to parents everything I see about their kids. Only after a serious think that it's really helpful to them. Often it's really not and there are other, lower motivations there.
Loooove this, especially the last paragraph.
I really appreciate your message, Ruchi. Well said. If we can find that pause to do some self checking about fear, it will go a long way in parenting and many aspects of our lives. Todah!
Thanks for this. It is very thought-provoking. I was reading that Wendy Mogel book I believe you recommended some time ago. It was helpful for me–not scolding me for being sometimes overly fix-it oriented with my children, but supportive, recognizing that the fix-it trap is indeed a matter of fear and worry and not just silly need to dominate. What do you find helpful and not-so-much about that book?
An interesting comparison is Julie Lythcott-Haimes, "How to Raise an Adult," which is being touted in my circles these days, but I am not a fan. "How to Raise…" is in my view insulting and scolding to parents, as if we are stupid to sometimes excessively involve ourselves in our kids lives, instead of acknowledging that that involvement comes out of fear.
Also what I really find awful in Lythcott-Haimes is her nostalgia for "when we grew up," how "we" ran around the neighborhood playing all afternoon and evening (I agree, a loss), but also she even reminds us nostalgically how we inhaled secondhand smoke and hung out with grownups who were sloshed on too many cocktails. Her main point is that "our" parents didn't worry so much about us being successful, and hey, we turned out fine.
But the "we" and the past she cites don't exist anymore. The stay-at-home moms are not as prevalent, the homework load has increased hugely, the middle class has waned, jobs for liberal-arts graduates are not a given, and so there are REASONS that the past is the past. Also it was anyway only middle-class, mostly-white types that had that "carefree" childhood (where domestic abuse and other ills were secret and shameful).
That said, Lythcott-Haimes' chapters on the insanity of college admissions are EXCELLENT.
Thanks all. SBW that book has not crossed my path yet. The nostalgia is all over Facebook, though. Failing to recognize that disabled people had no access, special ed kids had no options, and kids were spanked regularly. I also think the whole "woe is us" mentality and "the world is going to pot" is totally unhelpful and probably untrue.
And all that stuff about how we all survived doing those so-called dangerous things ignores the kids who didn't. There's a lot of truth to it. People expect zero risk these days and that's not realistic. But going to the opposite extreme and rejecting all safety measures and precautions is negligent.