Archive | September, 2013

Kid Fears

29 Sep

There certainly are advantages of having been through it all before — having a 23 year old that I didn’t taint or maim so much that she’s not capable of surviving on her own.  It helps with some things when it comes to my younger daughter, now just 3.  But the error is in thinking that there’s any such thing as having been through it all before, since no two children are the same, and I’m not the same as when my 23 year old was 3, and my life is not the same either, nor are the people who are in it.  Although my experience with my older daughter lends some insight, and provides some degree of confidence or comfort, warranted or not, I am at a loss when my younger one presents some challenge or difficulty that I somehow sidestepped with my other daughter.  I was reminded tonight of that limit of experience.

My older daughter, A, called me today feeling lousy about a $500 visit to the eye doctor yesterday.  She is cursed with my poor vision.  One thing that never was too big a problem for her, though, was fear – of dark, of sleep, of whatever fears there are that plague so many children.  Z, my three year old, gets very afraid at night.  When pressed, she says she’s afraid of the dark.  But even when all lights are left on, she still cries, “I’m scared.  I’m scared.”  No amount of conversation can bring us to a greater understanding of the reason for this fear.  She understands that her father and I are here in the house, and within ear shot, that we are checking in on her every so often, that there is nothing to be afraid of.  But clearly there is something to be afraid of or she wouldn’t be afraid.

The most frustrating part of this, though, is that as advanced as she is a communicator for her age, she still is unable to articulate the cause of her fear, or what she might be thinking about or ruminating on when she’s lying in bed.  Of course I want to guess and see if I happen to hit the nail on the head but of course I don’t want to feed her fuel for fears that hadn’t occurred to her before.  So I scan the room, aiming my eyeballs in all directions, trying to find any source of spooky shadow or other lingering illusion.  I can’t find it.  And then I think of a recent conversation with my mother.

We were talking on the phone as I took my dog out for a night walk.  I was pleased to hear my mother say that she has started focusing on a more nutritious diet, one that is targeted at reducing inflammation, to help fight health issues she’s been battling for some time.  I relate to her that I have been doing the same thing in my own way, that it occurred to me recently, particularly as a relatively older parent to my youngest one that I have an obligation to her to take good care of myself.  I heard my mother, in her silence, tense up.  I quickly reassured her, “Not like I’ve been beating myself up over it, just that it occurred to me, and I’m looking forward to changing a few things.”  I found myself assuaging her by telling her I was not feeling bad – I did not want her to feel bad, thinking I was feeling bad.  Something about this effort bothered me, lingered long after our conversation.  I found myself slightly annoyed and couldn’t pinpoint why right away.  Then it occurred to me: people are so afraid of feeling bad, that we avoid the feeling bad and lose the correction that feeling bad maybe was meant to bring.  There is such an aversion to feeling sad, shame, embarrassment, weakness, fear, even anger (but anger to a less extent because anger has a more direct correlation with power whereas the other emotions tend toward the power-less end of the spectrum).  By not wanting me to feel bad, she was in her own way not letting me grow.  In my reassuring her I wasn’t feeling bad, I wasn’t letting her grow.

In scanning the room for any little thing that might instill fear in Z, I was giving her the illusion that I could control her sense of fear, and thus was preventing her from coping with the difficult emotion herself, and stopping her from arriving at the sense of power and control that will come with that accomplishment.  I’m sure this realization does not mean I will stop scanning the room, and removing things that really should be moved — the strings hanging down by the curtains, the scissors left out, some of the general mess that simply makes me feel better for moving before she drifts to sleep.  And having the realization certainly doesn’t instruct me how to translate it into any particular tools or magic words that will help Z conquer her fears.  But perhaps that’s part of the point — those tools largely will be hers, not mine.  I just have to figure out how to try to not feel so bad myself while experiencing her feeling bad.  And that part of parenting, for better or worse, is all too familiar.   It’s the essence of Parent Fears, and what we have from our kid’s first cry of pain to a phone call like the one I got today.  It’s the powerlessness over many aspects of our kids’ fears.  It’s the plague of parenting, and it’s completely necessary.  Without it, we wouldn’t care enough.  When facing it and embracing it, we learn that there really is much over which we are completely powerless, and that we’re not supposed to have power over, and that’s how we learn to let go, and let them grow.

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