Friday, September 23, 2005

Fear and parenthood

My bike ride into the office yesterday morning was a lovely experience. Sunny, not too warm, relatively little traffic. I got to do it a bike that’s evolved into the perfect urban machine: light, fast, smooth. I arrived at work with a smile on my face.

Coming home was an entirely different matter. The radar picture showed an angry line of huge thunderstorms rolling into the region, one behind the other. I shrugged and figured I’d be able to make it home before the worst hit. We do, after all, live in the thunderstorm capital of the continent, and I’ve seen and ridden through this kind of thing before (it builds character, I think.) So against the protests of my colleagues and multiple offers to bring both me and my bike home, I politely thanked them and said I’d be fine.

As I headed out of the building with my bike, two things happened:

The rain changed from a steady drizzle to a dump that turned the parking lot into a very large wading pool. Thoughts of Noah’s Ark came to mind.

My cell phone rang. Our kids told my wife that they were worried about me, and wanted to talk to me before I left the office. Here’s the discussion:

Noah (5 years-old): Hi Daddy. Is it raining there?

Me: Yes. Lots and lots of rain.

Noah: It’s raining here, too. And thundering. And lightning. I don’t want you to die.

Various little voices in the background: Yeah, we don’t want lightning to hit you. Don’t ride your bike.

Well, it’s one thing to get wet on the way home. It’s quite another to get fried. And it’s infinitely worse when your kids worry that their Dad could get hurt. So I accepted my wife’s offer to come and get me in the van.

The plot thickens

The rain, wind and electrical activity continued to intensify while I waited. By the time she got there, it was as bad as it’s been this year. I got soaked in the 10 seconds it took me to sprint from the front door to the car.

The drive home was a white-knuckled one for us all. The boys were afraid of the lightning. Noah wished the rain would be quieter and asked me to close the shade on the moonroof to keep the bright lights from bothering his eyes. Dahlia thought it was pretty, but admitted she, too, was a little scared.

I watched too many lightning hits – some frighteningly close to us – and scanned for trees and other debris out of fear that something big and heavy would fall on us. As I did so, I heard myself and my wife saying reassuring things to the munchkins. Which got me thinking...

Bringing Comfort

We spoke in calm, parent-sounding voices, sounding just like my parents did years ago when the roof on the house sprang a massive leak during a huge rainstorm. I remember water cascading down the walls and pouring into the basement, but my parents reassured us everything would be fine despite our kid-fears that the whole house would collapse in a sodden heap.

They must have been scared then, but they sure didn’t sound it. I wondered if I, too, was successfully masking my fear as I tried to let them know we were all perfectly safe in our wheeled cocoon.

I wondered if it was acceptable for parents to be afraid. Now that the storm has passed and all that’s left is a very damp lawn and some excitedly-discussed stories over breakfast, I’m not sure I have the answer.

Your turn: Is it OK for parents to be afraid? What about showing it in front of their kids? What do you do to shield them?


Thumper said...

I think it really depends on the situation. Thunderstorms, blizzards, stuff like that--no, I don't think a parent should show the kids they're afraid. Those are things they have to learn to deal with, and if they grow up seeing fear, their own will be that much worse.

I learned a lot of fears from my parents. Fear of dentists, new people, new places... Chances are if they had been nonchalant about those things, I would have learned they weren't anything to be afraid of. But I am now. I sucked it up and tried to not show that to my kid--he does fine. He knows now that those things scare me, but he had no clue when he was growing up.

But kids also need to see that there's a difference between being nervous about something (like moving across country) and a true fear (it's ok to be afraid of bee stings, especially if you're allegic)...but they also need to know you believe that even in the face of fear, things will be OK.

If that makes sense...

Chris said...

Of course it's OK for parents to be scared. I'd be worried about anyone who wasn't scared once in a while. And I think it's OK to let our kids know that we get scared, but not to the extent that it adds to their own fears. Show them that you can be scared but still keeep going - that fear itself is normal, and that you don't have to give in to it.

Teach them that rational fear can be useful - it either tells you you're doing something wrong, or that you're taking a chance that should be thought through carefully. Running out into traffic ought to be a scary experience, and leaping off the high diving board isn't something you should do before you can swim.

And show them how to overcome irrational fears - the ones that aren't useful, that keep you from learning new things, going new places ... Acknowledge that everyone has them, that there's nothing wrong with being afraid, and that you don't have to let your fears be a trap.

kenju said...

I think your kids can should that you are afraid - but it would be bad for them to see panic. Fear is a good thing to have in small doses; it keeps you from doing things that may be unsafe. They should learn a healthy fear for dangerous things.
You should shield them a little if the situation is really dangerous, of course.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Judy... fear can be good, panic bad. Children have to learn about fear, because without it we don't know what is dangerous. At the same time I remember those exact same "parent voices" from when I was growing up. Everytime things seemed scary we had mom and dad telling us that everything was going to be okay...I don't think there's anything more comforting than that "parent voice" and the blind trust that children have in it. However, as a parent you wouldn't want to betray that trust by telling a child that everything will be okay if it won't. Interesting question!

Anonymous said...

Fear makes us human. But in fear you can show comfort too.

Michele sent me. :)

Jamie Dawn said...

I think you and your wife handled it well. The kids were already afraid, and if you would have been freaking out, they would have gotten even more scared.
I think when it comes to teaching them about danger, we parents have to give our kids a healthy fear and respect for things that can hurt them.
But I see no reason to freak them out about things, just because we might be about to wet our pants.
Glad you let your wife come and rescue you.

Anonymous said...

Good question Carmi (I'm here via Michele today but I have been here lots of times before!).

A little fear is good (as everyone else to agree) and panic not so good. Things like storms should not be a frightening thing - maybe explain that this is the beauty of nature. Get your children to appreciate the lovely blue skies, big sunny days and then the other end of the scale being ferious (spelling?) storms.

Growing up I loved the smell of storms after a hot day. I would sit inside with me parents and sister and watch the lightening and listen to the thunder. I used to think (and still do) that the worst thing about storms was the bloody power going off. (I grew up in the country and this used to happen with practically every storm!)

Dawn said...

Fear is ok to show the kids..panic would be a bad thing for them to witness.

I am here via Michele tonight

Shannon said...

Michele sent me. I am *so bad* at keeping my fears and panic attacks under wraps and my child is a nervous wreck at times because of it. He reacts to things exactly as I do. I think that's what's important to keep in mind. Children will never fail to immitate their parents, so we need to act accordingly.

Wonderful blog you have, I will return.

hobbes said...

I often find that comforting the kids has a calming effect on me too.

Catherine Detweiler said...

Hello, Michele sent me.

This post reminded me of a time when I had to drive my daughter (maybe 8 at the time) home during a fierce storm complete with tornado warning. She was petrified, and I didn't dare let her know how scared I was. So we sang "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" at the top of our voices. I will never forget her singing it between her tears, and stopping once to tell me, between sobs, that I'd gotten the words wrong to one of the verses.

Lish said...

Hi Carmi! Here via Michele. I think it's impossible not be scared especially after you have kids because the n you have more to worry about. I agree with the others that fear is ok and panic is not. I have been panicked this week about Hurricane Rita, and my mom has calmed me down. Even when we're 27 we stll need that sometimes.

Twisted Cinderella said...

I think that it is okay to let your child know that you are scared. But you should not panic. You should remain in control. Something along the lines of, "Yes, Mommy is scared of the loud noises that the thunder makes, but as long as we stay warm and dry in here we will be okay. Mommy will keep you safe" That way your child learns that fear is okay but it is not something to panic over. But that is just my opinion

Twisted Cinderella said...

oh and Michele sent me

Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator said...

Hey, Michele sent me,

Sometimes it's OK for parents to be scared, but you have to show the kids that things are OK and they are safe with their parents.

When Kiera was less than 2, there was a HUGE thunderstorm and my wife sat there and watched it with her, oohing and ahhing at the events. Kiera is not scared of thunder now, and I think it's becausw of that.

Anonymous said...

Good question, Carmi!

I think it's important for parents to show their kids some vunerability, but with balance... You are human, and kids should understand that.

Michele sent me...!

Anonymous said...

Me again... here from Michele's :) And one other thing I wanted to say earlier, all your talk of riding bikes makes me miss it so much! I don't think I've ridden a bike that wasn't stationary in close to 10 years.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, Carmi, you hit home! You see, I am horribly afraid of thunder storms. They scare the willies out of me. My husband knows this but still sleeps through every storm while I lie there thinking "wake up! I'm scared!" Everytime lightning hits, I lay in bed, counting "1004, 1002, 1003..." to determine how far away it is and sigh with relief as it gets further and further away.

We also have our 5 year old girl. I do everything in my power to not let her know how scared I am and I think it works pretty well. I keep telling her, "oh honey, it's just a really loud noise. It won't hurt you" and yet... Lately she's taken to coming into bed with us when the storms hit. And oddly enough, it's a comfort to me. I know she's scared, but calming her calms me and eventually we all sleep.

Anonymous said...

i think it is absolutely ok for parents to be afraid. but i also think they need to talk to their kids about it and let them see the resolution to that fear, whatever that resolution may be.

here via michele today :)

Mamacita (The REAL one) said...

Here from Michele's, to tell you that it of course all right for parents to be afraid. We just have to try not to show it with anything but soothing words, when our kids are small.

Anonymous said...

I think the important thing is to model good ways to deal with fear. Staying calm, but admitting that you don't like the lightning (or whatever it may be) is fine. Shows them it's okay to be scared, but that you can cope with it and get through it. Maybe talk about things you can do to make it easier. Here from Michele's - love coming to visit your site - I enjoy your writing and I enjoy the relationships you seem to have in your family! have a great weekend.

Russ said...

Hey Carmi, thanks for visiting my site.
I have no idea how to react in that case. I don't have children and it's a good thing since I would typically scream like a girl...

Anonymous said...

Sure it's okay for parents to be scared, but I myself try not to show it. I'm very afraid myself of thunderstorms and lightning (youth trauma) but I don't show it to my son. We sit and listen and say they're making music in the sky (he's about to turn two, so he doesn't mind this story). But I guess that later on, when he is a little older it's okay to say as a parent that you're afraid of something and that that's okay, as long as you don't panic and believe it's going to be okay after all.

Twisted Cinderella said...

Thanks for dropping by my blog. this was a great post and I like how it caused much conversation about your questions.

Leanne said...

I sure hope that it is ok for parents to be afraid otherwise I am screwed!

However, how we as parents handle our fears I think, is more important. If say for example we run from it and panic our children are sure to pick up on this and mimic or response. Dealing with our fears in a rational manner and addressing it with bravery and logic(if possible) with definatly make our kids stronger.

Anonymous said...

Our only son is now 17 so in difficult situations he can now comfort ME!! parents are only persons. PS Michele sent me!

ribbiticus said...

i have been fortunate not to have witnessed a really bad thunderstorm. the most fear i had was when the storm caused the power to shut down in our area for a couple of hours and brought with it an eerie silence. when i told my mom i was scared, she told me a tale about how god was just bowling with all the angels in heaven and the really louds claps of thunder were the instances when they got strikes. infantile, sure, but it worked for me then and i still think about it now. somehow lessens the fear. ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised the weather system is so different in London. I can understand getting a pickup by van in that case. I always worry myself sick when its storming and the Hub is cycling home by a river.

Showing fear as a parent? My mom is a knotted rope of fear embodied so that's what I knew growing up. It made an obstacle of sorts. I had to set realistic fear boundaries myself without a prototypical parental model.

Sometimes I accepted the fears, sometimes I kneekerked against. Sometimes I overshoot risks, sometimes undershoot but that's life -learning.

No matter what you do, your kids will turn out well because you and your wife love them and will be there for them.