Tag Archive for fear

The Greatest Battles Parents Face

I’ve often heard it said that “parents have to pick their battles.” It’s true. No use battling about eating jello when your child has already eaten their broccoli (Oops…Parenting Surprises & Lesson’s Learned). However, the biggest battle a parent faces does not involve their children. The biggest battle a parent faces involves only themselves…and it is fought on three fronts.

  1. The first front in this battle involves the memories we have of our own childhood. We remember the emotional hurts we experienced in our childhood and teen years. We project our own teen angst and misbehaviors onto our children and work to save them from the pains we remember. We also remember our own teen behavior…or should I say misbehavior, those risky or disobedient or down-right stupid behaviors we engaged in. Once again, we project them onto our teens and fear they will engage in the same behaviors and experience the same painful consequences we did…or worse!
  2. The second front in the battle against ourselves as parents involves second guessing decisions we made when our teens were children. We look back and fear we didn’t do enough of something…or too much of something else…or the wrong thing completely. In reality, we likely did the best we could with the information and knowledge we had at the time. And, our children were (and are) resilient enough to overcome a few of our mistakes. In fact, connecting and loving our children will cover a multitude of mistakes (see part three of this experiment in An Amazing Parenting Insight Learned in Three Parts).
  3. The third front in the battle of parenting is the “great what if.”  We begin asking ourselves, “What if my child keeps going down this path?” “What if they don’t do all their homework?” “What if they don’t make the basketball team…or don’t make the school play…or miss the school dance…or…?” The list goes on. Unfortunately, we too often answer the “what if” with the most catastrophic scenarios imaginable.

Each of these battles push us toward fear-based parenting. They push us to set stricter rules so our children won’t “make the same mistakes we did.” Fear-based parenting can even lead to a parent invading their teen’s treasured privacy because “I know what I did as a kid. I know all the tricks. They’re hiding something in that room (or on that phone).” Eventually, fear-based parenting turns dictatorial. Fear-based parents focus on performance and achievement.

Guess what results from fear-based parenting. You got it. Our children become defensive and even rebellious. Teens end up engaging in the very behaviors we tried to prevent through our fear-based frenzy of control, rigid rules, and invasion of privacy. What’s the answer? How can you avoid this? Begin by winning the battle against yourself as a parent—your fear of repeating your past, your fear of making a mistake, and your fear of the “what if.” Move from a fear-based parenting style to a parenting style guided by love and recognition of your children’s developmental needs. Also, remember that your children grew up in a different environment than you did. They had different parents than you. They have different information than you. They might make different choices than you. And when they make mistakes, you’ll deal with those mistakes together. You will take the opportunity provided by mistakes and misbehaviors to love them in spite of their mistakes and to help them learn from those mistakes. Rather than let fears (the fears of “what was done” in the past and the fear of “what if” this happens in the future) determine your parenting response, let love and knowledge determine your parenting response. Let your knowledge of your teen as a unique individual, with unique developmental needs, and a recipient of your unique love guide your parenting decisions.

Are You Accidentally Filling Your Marriage with Fear?

Nobody wants to fill their marriage with fear and insecurity. Fear and insecurity will kill a marriage…and nobody wants to live through a dying marriage. However, I have seen far too many marriages filled with fear because of the subtle actions of one partner. At first glance, these actions seem harmless. But, with a second look, you can see the damage they cause, the fear they build, and the insecurity they create. Let me explain three of these accidental-fear-building actions so you can erase them from your life and marriage.

  • Impatience and anger. Of course, we all have moments of impatience. However, when impatience becomes the modus operandi in your marriage, fear is the result. The spouse and family of a chronically impatient person feel the need to “walk on egg shells” to avoid the “next blow up.” They fear the impatient person’s anger and never know what will set it off…a spilled drink, a laugh at the “wrong” moment, a difference of opinion. The whole family lives in fear when they live with an impatient person.
  • Arrogance and pride. Arrogant spouses constantly satisfy their own desires. They think of themselves first and, although they likely will not admit it, their spouses second. The spouses of arrogant people take second place to anything the arrogant spouse deems important…and arrogant spouses only believe only those things that revolve around them are important. As a result, their spouses live with the insecurity of knowing their arrogant spouse will not “watch out for them.” The arrogant spouse will not keep them in mind…or serve them…or make small sacrifices for them. They live with the insecurity of knowing their needs are unimportant to their spouse…and that creates fear and insecurity in the marriage.
  • Holding a grudge. Minor slights, unintentional wrongdoings, and interpersonal injuries occur in all relationships. Marriage is no different. However, when one spouse holds a grudge, the other spouse begins to fear for their relationship. When one spouse harbors resentment over a slight they have suffered, the relationship is at risk. The one holding the grudge and harboring the resentment begins to fear another slight. Their mind becomes clouded by that fear and they may begin to misinterpret behaviors in a negative light. Now the other partner experiences the fear and insecurity of being misunderstood. A downward cycle of fear, resentment, insecurity, and bitterness has begun. If not addressed through apology and forgiveness, this cycle only ends in one way, a dying marriage.  

These three actions unintentionally build fear and insecurity into a marriage. If you find yourself engaging in any of these three actions, stop and breath.  Consider what is more important…your marriage or your impatience? Your marital health or your pride? Your long-term happiness in marriage or the resentment you harbor?

You Mean THINKING Can Ruin My Marriage?

Well, not all thinking can ruin your marriage but….

Middle age man doubtful and very serious.

You know poor communication or contemptuous communication can destroy your marriage. You’ve probably heard that a lack of connection with your spouse or turning away from your spouse’s attempts to connect can ruin your marriage as well. Perhaps you’ve read about the negative impact of contempt on marriage…or the destructive power of lying on your marriage. But, do you realize a thinking style based on the fear of rejection can destroy your marriage? (Read The Thinking Style that Damages Relationship for an overview of the study showing how fear of rejection impacts relationships.) It’s true! When a person enters a marriage fearing rejection, the marriage is at risk. Fear of rejection causes a person to think about their partner abandoning them. Fear of rejection also leads to the fearful person constantly seeking reassurance and asking about the security of their relationship. They may even try to force their partner to remain in the relationship through verbally eliciting guilt. Or, on the other hand, the person with a fear of rejection may comply with everything their partner says or does…which only serves to weaken the relationship (Shut Up & Put Up to Ruin Your Marriage explains more). Unfortunately, these behaviors, engaged in out of a fear of rejection, only serve to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. They push the partner away and may ultimately lead to destroying their marriage.

Don’t worry though. I have three ideas to help you overcome the fear of rejection and so change your behaviors, strengthen your marriage, and nurture a sense of security in your marriage!

  • Many times, fear of rejection flows from an insecure parent-child attachment. So, if you’re a parent, you can help your children avoid a fear of rejection by developing a secure, loving relationship with them. By doing so you help protect their future marriage from the fear of rejection. If, however, you are an adult with a fear of rejection, learn to nurture yourself. Think about the relationship you had with your parent. What was missing? What led you to feel insecure? What caused disconnection between you and your parent? Then, parent yourself. Provide yourself with those things you missed from your parent. Nurture yourself with encouragement and love. When you make a mistake, show yourself compassion and then consider how you can avoid that same mistake in the future. Trust yourself to grow and learn from mistakes. Give yourself a hug. Acknowledge your successes each day. Compliment your own effort. These actions will contribute to the next suggestion for overcoming the “fear of rejection.”
  • Develop your identity and a secure sense of self. You can do this by acknowledge and capitalizing on your strengths while acknowledging and working to improve in areas of weakness. Participate in your own growth. Develop hobbies that support your interests. Try new things. In this way you will develop a greater sense of independence and competence…and that will not only reduce your “fear of rejection” but strengthen your ability to grow in intimate relationship as well!
  • Befriend people who will honor you. Develop relationships with people who show compassion and understanding, kindness and encouragement. Make sure your partner is a person who will engage in mutual respect, a person who will value you for you and who enjoys seeing you grow as an individual as well as in relationship to them. That may sound like a tall order, but a partner like that is well worth the wait!

Fear of rejection can ruin a marriage, but you don’t have to let it. Nurture yourself. Develop a strong sense of identity. Befriend people who be mutually supportive in relationship with you. When you do, you may feel the “fear of rejection” slipping away…and good riddance!

Let Them Take A Risk

I hadn’t noticed until someone mentioned it. We were at a playground and there were no teeter-totters. My kids would not learn the thrill of teetering at the high end of the teeter-totter before plummeting back to the ground at a speed slightly quicker than imagined.  There were also no merry-go-rounds, the ones you can get spinning so fast that the centrifugal force threatens to pull you right off the ride. I used to love the feeling of having to hold on for dear life and surviving before bursting into hysterical laughter! No, none of that in this playground. Instead, we stood on a large, soft rubber mat surrounded by mulch. The rides included enclosed stairs and “castle peaks, short slides, and balancing beams two inches off the ground. Don’t get me wrong. This was an amazing playground and my children loved it. Their favorite ride, though, was the spinning tire swing. My children loved to get on that swing beg me to spin them so fast their hair would fly straight back. Some parents wouldn’t allowed their children to ride at the fast spin, directed them to the slides and the castles. But my girls loved the thrill of holding on as the force of spinning pulled them outward. I just liked watching their hair fly back as they spun.

This memory came to mind as I read a review of the literature on play and anxiety published in Evolutionary Psychology. This review suggested that “risky play,” like the playground rides described above, help to prevent long-term anxiety. The article notes that we have become a society in which anxiety is epidemic and the overprotection of children may contribute to that increase in anxiety. Risky play, play in which we go right to the edge of safety, may help prevent anxiety. It helps us become more aware of our environment and our personal limitations. The more we know about our surroundings and the more comfortable we become with exploring new things, the less anxiety will hold us back. The more we know about our personal limitations, the more we practice healthy caution rather than anxious avoidance. But risky play does more than increase our awareness. It also represents a form of “exposure therapy,” an opportunity to face our anxiety in a healthy, appropriate manner and overcome the fears that threaten to imprison us. For instance, climbing trees teaches us to interpret the feelings associated with greater heights as information rather than simple anxiety that holds us back  and “keeps us on the ground.” We can make wise decisions based on our experienced-based knowledge of the environment (strong vs. weak branches) and our own ability. This comfort with heights translates from trees to bridges to rooftops to airplanes. We learn to think wisely about our actions and related fears rather than succumbing to irrational anxieties. 

So, what kind of risky play can help your children avoid anxiety? Here are six categories identified in the literature review.

  1. Exploring heights by doing things like climbing trees, jumping, balancing or swinging.
  2. Exploring speed as we speed along on our bikes, skates, sliding, etc.
  3. Learning about dangerous tools by using knives, ropes, or tractors for various activities.
  4. Rough-and-tumble play, like wrestling, play fighting, or sword fighting with sticks, helps us learn to negotiate physical interactions with others.
  5. Exploring “dangerous elements” like deep water, icy water, fire, or rock climbing.
  6. “Getting lost” and exploring our communities and world.

Of course, we don’t want our children to go crazy. We still need to teach our children the difference between risky behavior and hazardous behavior. However, when the opportunity arises, let your children engage in some risky play. Let them poke the fire. Let them climb the tree. Encourage them to do some rock climbing, wood chopping, vegetable cutting, and swimming in the deep end. Let them explore. You may be preventing the rise of anxiety and opening the door for them to live a more joyous life.

Children Are Not Our Puppets

Our children taught us an important lesson when they were mere toddlers. It’s true. I remember the lesson clearly. They told us by their actions and words: “We are not your puppets. You cannot control us.” They remind us of this fact every time we offer to help them and they say “No, I do” in their broken toddler English…or, when we tell them not to do something and they smile at us before doing it anyway. Children are not our puppets. They will not allow us to control them.

Dancing MarionetteMost parents still try to exert some level of control over their children. For instance:

  • We fear for our children’s safety so we control their actions with rigid rules and expectations.
  • In an effort to protect our children from emotional pain and hurt, we hover over their lives and become involved in every activity and stick our nose in all their drama trying to control every outcome.
  • In anger at their disobedience or “attitude” we step back, distancing ourselves and withholding love at a time when they likely need to know our love is unconditional and never ending.
  • We may even try to change them by inducing guilt with statements like “Your mother would be so disappointed’ or “after all I’ve done for you….”

I’m sure you recognize some of these actions in yourself. I know I do. We attempt to control our children out of fear. Nonetheless, our children are not our puppets. They will not be controlled. Like Pinocchio, they do not want to be puppets. They want to be “real” boys and girls.

In all reality, our children are right. We hurt our children when we control them. Research suggests:

  • Controlling our children crushes their self-confidence. It leaves our children with a chronic sense of guilt, a belief that something is inherently wrong with them…that they are bad.
  • Children who grow up with over-controlling parents tend to be hypercritical of themselves and others. Critical of themselves, they struggle with a positive self-image. Critical of others, they can struggle with friendships.
  • Since over-controlling parents make every (or almost every) decision for their children, their children become dependent. They do no learn to think independently and make their own decisions. They rely on others to do their thinking for them.
  • Children who feel controlled may lie, sneak, or openly rebel in an effort to establish their own identity and have the opportunity to “think for themselves.”
  • Since over-controlled children do not learn healthy ways to assert themselves and confidently express their opinions, they have greater difficulty in relationships when they become adults as well.

Our children are right. They are not our puppets. We do them a disservice when we attempt to control them. We interfere with them developing a healthy self-image, intimate relationships, and the ability to assertively stand up for what they believe.   What can a parent do to cut the puppet strings and let go of control? Read Cut the Puppet Strings to discover five actions that will do the trick!

What Drives Your Family?

What drives your family? I am not asking who drives your family…nor am I asking if your family owns a Chevy, Ford, or Toyota. I am asking, “What motivates your family life?” What Fun Vaninfluences your family decisions? What is the heartbeat of your family? Many families allow fear or guilt to sit in the driver’s seat.  When fear or guilt sits in your family’s driver seat you are in for a wreck. For instance, families driven by fear of bad behavior believe that structures and rules will make everything “work out alright.” As a result, when the fear of bad behavior sits in the driver’s seat, the family finds themselves on the road of over-rigid, legalistic, and unrealistic expectations.  Fear-driven families remain overly vigilant to assure the loose morals of society do not creep into their family. If anyone’s behavior starts to do down the “wrong road,” the family simply adds another rule to detour the negative behavior; and rules of avoidance are put in place to keep family members away from the “immoral influences” of society.  Rules pile upon rules. The structure becomes the top priority in the family…until the family experiences the inevitable collision with rebellion resulting from an inability to meet the expectations. Yes, the wreck is inevitable. Family members never internalize healthy limits in the family driven by the fear of bad behavior. When they find themselves “out from under” the family rules, they rebel. Or, when they feel that “no matter what they do it is never enough,” they give up and rebel. As the saying goes, “Rules without Relationship leads to Rebellion.”

 

Other families are driven by the fear of looking bad. When children throw a tantrum in the store, the parents in this family begin to worry that everyone will think they are bad parents who have no control in their home. Their embarrassment overrides the need to stand firm; and, they give in to their children’s tantrum behavior. This family, driven by the fear of looking bad, is more concerned with appearance than character. Their children have to perform to a certain level to experience acceptance and feel appreciated. This family believes that only the star athlete, the straight “A” student, the lead actor, the first chair musician, or the first whatever has truly achieved their potential. Anything short of this visible success brings “encouragement” in the form of prodding, nagging, or comparisons. Appearance, however, is fleeting. Achieving top status is not fulfilling. Sooner or later we all fall short of perfection. And, we all want something that no amount of success can grant us…acceptance. When that moment hits the family driven by the fear of looking bad, the wheels go into a skid, the sparks fly, and the family crashes into the wall of disappointment, anger, resentment, and isolation.

 

Families may also find guilt in the driver’s seat. Families driven by guilt often want to make up for some past hurt…the divorced parent who gives their kids everything they want; the parent who feels guilty when inducing the pain of discipline so puts up with inappropriate lovebehavior; the spouse who hurt his partner unintentionally so now gives in to her every desire. Each of these families, and more, are driven by guilt. Families driven by guilt may “discourage” unwanted behavior with guilt-inducing discipline. When guilt drives a family, you can expect a wreck. Intimacy is replaced with anger and bitterness. Family members help one another while harboring resentment that “I have to do this.” Even activities normally thought of as enjoyable become a burden, stressing the family relationships.

 

Instead of letting fear or guilt drive your family, put love in the driver’s seat. With love driving your family, each person will find acceptance and intimacy. The whole family will experience honor and respect. Mutual acceptance, honor, and respect will open the door for reasonable rules and structure to be internalized. Positive behavior will be lived out more intentionally. With love in the driver’s seat, no one worries about being made to look bad. Instead, each person encourages and lifts the other person, striving to make other family members look good. A family driven by love still disciplines as well. In fact, they discipline more effectively because they discipline with truth and grace, love and limits. They do not easily give in or give up. They graciously discipline in love, teaching a better way to live sensibly in this world.

 

So, what drives your family? Fear? Guilt? Or love? Think hard and answer honestly. A wreck awaits your family unless love is in the driver’s seat!

Slaying the Monsters in Your Child’s Life

Every day our children battle dragons and other mythical monsters. Boggarts, shape-shifters that assume the form of a child’s greatest fears and insecurities, dance in your children’s minds. They tower over your children, taking the form of personal failure, overwhelming schedules, rejecting peers, family instability, financial woes, or even death of a friend. Boggarts appear larger than life. They leave a child feeling inadequate and unable to deal with the towering fear that has taken shape in his or her mind.
 
Your child may also battle the giant bully monster. This giant monster towers over a child with bulging muscles, red anger-filled eyes, a forked tongue of ridicule and threats, and fists that can pulverize your child’s personal strength. Your child may encounter the giant bully monster in the community, in school, or on-line. This monster threatens your child’s confidence and can send them reeling into the legendary pit of emotional darkness, depression, and despair.
 
The most frightening monster of all may live right in your own home. That’s right…the two-headed-fighting-parents-monster can appear right in your living room and wreak havoc in your family’s castle. Although connected to the same body, the two heads of this monster agree on nothing. They constantly fight, call one another names, and verbally abuse each other. Because this monster resides in the home, it creates an atmosphere of insecurity for your child. As long as the two heads continue to yell, scream, and argue, your child will never feel safe. In addition, their loyalty to both heads will tear them apart, potentially leaving their heart torn to shreds.
 
Parents can help children slay these monsters. They serve as the protector and provider, the knight in shining armor rescuing their children from these monsters…even as they attack. How do we slay the monsters in our children’s lives? Here are three strategies that other parent-knights have found effective.
     ·         Remain present in your children’s lives. Stand with them…be physically, verbally, and emotionally present in their lives. Let them see you in the community, in the school, and in the home. Make your presence known to them in their technology. Text them. Email them. Call them. Friend them on Facebook. Establish a precedent from the very beginning that you, as a parent, have access to their Facebook, phone, and any other technological device so you can monitor what happens there. Assure them that you monitor these devices for their protection. Even offer examples of people who have encountered the giant bully monster and boggarts on-line. You are there to protect them from those monsters, even on-line. Let your children know they do not have to face any monster in their life alone. You are always ready to help!
     ·         Tame the two-headed-fighting-parents monster. Work with your spouse (the other head) to resolve arguments as they arise. Let your children witness the resolution in your spoken apologies and affectionate interactions with one another. If your children witnessed the two-headed-fighting-parents monster at its worst, you might even explain to them how you resolved the argument and assure them that you love each other. Children grow best when they know their parents have a stable, loving relationship. Allow them to witness your love for one another in how you speak to, touch, and support one another. If you experience significant trouble taming the two-headed-fighting-parents monster, seek counseling. Don’t wait until both heads are beaten and abused. By that time, your child is feeling the devastation of the battle. Get help. Learn how to resolve your differences and tame the two-headed-fighting-parents monster.
     ·         Spend time talking with your children so you can learn about the boggarts they live with, the fears and insecurities that take shape in their mind. Be open to hear about these fears. Listen closely to understand the fear. Accept that this fear is a real concern for your child, not just some childish fantasy they’ll get over. Acknowledge the bravery they exhibit in facing their fears. Encourage them by helping them recall other times they have successfully overcome fears. And, problem-solve with them. This may include planning ahead, breaking the boggart into smaller parts and tackling one issue at a time, identifying more resources, or any number of other solutions. By listening, acknowledging, encouraging, and problem-solving, you teach your child the skills necessary to slay any boggarts that arise in their life.
 
As you help slay the monsters in your children’s lives, they will be able to rest and relax in your home. They will rest in the assurance that you, their protector and provider, have made their home a safe haven in which they can find peace.