Fear is a powerful emotion. It can keep us from taking risks that would benefit us and our families, create apathy, fuel doubt and can enable us to stay in toxic patterns of behavior. Fear can even damage the bond between parent and child.
As a parent, there are so many unknowns about our kids that can quite literally keep us awake at night: they can be abducted, they can fall and break bones, they can get into a car accident, they won’t get into the college of their dreams and they can be bullied at school.
The list is endless, but parents cannot protect our kids from everything – nor should we. And nor should we let that fear control our lives. But how? How do you shove that fear aside and resist the urge to control your kids’ lives? How do we stop being just so overwhelmed as parents?
The tendency many parents have when it comes to facing fear is to protect their kids from everything, hovering over them constantly (aka helicopter parenting) and paving the way for them, no matter the mental, emotional, physical, and financial cost.
This leads to kids who have no clue how to do anything for themselves and are afraid to even try. It’s not helping kids or their parents, who are constantly exhausted and stretched too thin. How is there even time to form true relationships when parents are in a constant state of heightened protection and their kids aren’t allowed to do anything for themselves and discover who they are?
Numerous studies have shown how helicopter parenting leads to emotional immaturity, lack of self-confidence, and heightened anxiety and depression among their children. One 2019 study on helicopter parenting published in the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services concluded that constant monitoring and micromanaging of kids by parents leads to a “decreasing a sense of independence and self-efficacy” as well as anxiety and depression.
If kids don’t learn how to fend for themselves and basic skills to get through life as adults, they are going to be in for a tough road.
Pushing that fear aside in favor of teaching your kids independence has to be a conscious choice. When my kids tripped and fell as toddlers, I’d take several seconds to see how they would react. If I didn’t immediately run over and comfort them, as long as the fall wasn’t serious, they would get up and happily go back to doing whatever it was they were doing.
If I ran over the instant they fell and scraped their knee, then they would start crying. Once I let them realize for themselves that they weren’t hurt, they figured out they could just get up and keep going.
Today, my kids know how to find the Band-Aids and Neosporin themselves to fix any scrapes or cuts they have or break out the tweezers to dislodge splinters. It’s a minor thing in the grand scheme of life, but it’s a stepping stone to building their own self-confidence.
I’ve brought that same spirit of independence elsewhere in my relationship with them. They understand safety rules of not getting in the car with strangers and making sure I’m in sight when we are shopping or at a festival or outdoor event. Yes, I’m fearful for their safety, but I’m not going to let that fear stop my kids from learning independence and building their own confidence.
There is no way to protect our kids from everything. We don’t live in a bubble, yet helicopter parenting doesn’t make that distinction. We have to get our kids out of that bubble and let them enjoy life. There is so much adventure to be had once that bubble has popped.
While there are a lot of ways to pop the bubble, one huge step I’ve taken to address that constant fear I have as a parent is to get outside. I’ve taken my kids on some epic adventures – hiking the Grand Canyon, scaling mountains in North Carolina, paddleboarding among dolphins, ziplining on mountaintops and swimming in waterfalls.
Nature is such a balm to the soul and has helped my daughters to learn all kinds of skills they never would have learned in front of a screen or if I gave into my parenting fears.
As their mother, I’ve had the privilege to watch them grow as young ladies and see their individual personalities develop, their imaginations soar and learn what makes them tick. Essentially, because I’ve chosen not to be held captive by fear, the relationships I have with my children have been able to flourish.
None of us have tomorrow guaranteed. Living in fear can be paralyzing, and I don’t want to give up whatever control I have over my own life to those emotions. I don’t want my kids to see me cowering to fear, hovering over them and refusing to allow them to make their own mistakes or learn independence and then consequently choosing that path for their own lives. So that’s the decision: give in or fight back?
I choose the latter.