Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Culture of Fear

Today during our ECFE parent time our leader posed the question to our group of ten or more: "What is your biggest fear for your child?"

I was the last in the semi-circle to answer so I got to hear everyone else answer first while thinking about what I was going to say. I was shocked at some of the answers:


"Falling out of the window."


"Online predators/molesters."


"Being hit by a car."


When it came to my turn I responded in short that because William was faced with a critical illness for the first two weeks of his life, I didn't feel that I held any of those types of accidental or health-related fears today because I had already experienced that head on on day one of becoming a parent. And our family got through it with flying colors. Yeah it sucked while it was happening and sure I was scared every night I went to bed without my baby but we're here now and worrying about the everyday little things just seems like a waste of time when we have so much to celebrate.

But I think this topic deserves some more time and I realize that bringing it up will cause some disagreement and for that I welcome the discussion.

After class I was rethinking my answer and realized that I may have come off as a careless parent to some of the more overprotective ones in the group. And it's true that they may be shocked if they ever walked inside my house. We have no gates at the top or bottom of our staircase. We have no locks on our cabinets. We have no plastic plugs in our outlets. I think the biggest thing we did to baby-proof our house was to remove the remotes off the coffee table.

Am I careless in my parenting or am I just setting my child up for the real world? Our house is not William's playground to do with what he wants and let's be honest, nowhere we go with our children ever is. When he grew old enough to move around we set clear limits on where his play zones would be and those limits must transfer to any other place outside of our home. At first it was a struggle to constantly remove him from the stairs or tell him again and again, "No you cannot go in that cupboard!" But, like anything else, he finally got it.

I understand that accidents happen at the moment we least expect it but I truly feel that these baby-proofing inventions give all of us a false sense of security when all children really need is our undivided attention.

Here's my analogy. When crossing a street with a child you teach him to hold on to your hand, look left, look right, look left again, and if all is clear you cross the street. You don't build a bridge over the street to eliminate the chance of being hit by a car altogether. You have to teach and face situations head on.

OK, on to another of my big fear annoyances: illness. One mother, in class today, mentioned how she thinks the media is creating this culture of fear we live in. They make big stories out of rare events: school shootings, bus accidents, stranger abductions and the list goes on.

I couldn't agree more and shared with the class that I'm rather annoyed by my Parents magazine lately for featuring a story every month on a rare illness some child contracted that ended up having serious implications. The story always ends with a bulleted list of warning signs and they are always the most generic signs that every child has every other week! A runny nose. A loss of appetite. An unexplained fever. And before you know it you've completed your own diagnosis and you're sure your child is in dire straights.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think my child is above getting a rare form of something or other. William had less than a 1% chance of getting the illness he experienced as a newborn. The odds were against him and he got it anyway. But imagine how much less exciting my pregnancy and his birth would have been if all I did was worry about everything that could go wrong.

We could plan the most spectacular family vacation but if all I do is spend my time thinking about the chance that our plane could crash it throws a dark cloud over everything.

And that's how I feel about life as a parent. There are so many things out there that are beyond my control. So instead of losing sleep over it or trying to make every condition and situation perfectly sound I've decided to not become my child's net in case he falls. Instead I want to be a parent who is attentive, engaging and 100% present. And to me that means trying my best to teach him how to not fall in the first place. And at times, he will fall. Because every child does. And so I will help him pick himself back up and keep going.

When Brian got home from work I told him of our discussion in class today and asked him what his biggest fear for William was.

He said, "I don't really have a fear but more of a hope."

"OK," I said, "What's your hope then?"

"I hope he doesn't grow up to be a jerk."

Of course I had to laugh but doesn't that just hit the nail on the head? Instead fearing let's start hoping. Hoping that our children grow up to kind, generous and charitable human beings.

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