Parenting from Fear

Linnea Walter, Kitchener, ON

I had many a moment in my parenting when I realized I was parenting from fear. My stomach was often in knots worrying if I was being too hard on my children. Was I getting it right? Would my mistakes scar them for life? Was I a good enough parent? This fear was with me a lot, particularly when I felt judged about my parenting ability—by others as well as by myself.

In reality, this fear was coming from self-doubt. Enter the baggage I was bringing from my own upbringing. I had lovely parents who were highly educated. My father was fairly strict and my mum often found herself trying to off-set my father’s sternness. As the first born, I am sure I was the child that got the first ideals of what my parents felt were important to them in their parenting. I know they did their very best, and I love them with all my heart. Nevertheless, I also learned to be cautious and at times, fearful, of doing the wrong thing in my father’s eyes. I became the kid who never defied my parents; naturally, I thought my children were never going to defy me! Well wasn’t I in for a rude awakening?

My first-born was full of joy, silliness and a very independent spirit. She loved to express herself wherever we were. Guess what – her mother had learned not to be silly in public. Growing up, I was expected to behave, not to act up when we were out. I pretty much expected the same thing from my children and, as a result, there were times when I lost some very important bonding moments with my daughter.

I can think of this one time when she and I had put on clown makeup. My daughter wanted to go outside and share our clown faces with everyone in the neighbourhood.  I felt uncomfortable with that and washed mine off before we went out. I still remember it, 23 years later.

I had been caught up in my own discomfort and I missed the joy my child was trying to share with me. I wish I could say that I learned from that one moment, but we went on to have more of those missed moments, times when my fears or self doubt took over.

I did not realize, at the time, that I was parenting from fear. Then, when I was working as a Family Support Worker, I took some training in a new parenting model called Circle of Security. Suddenly, all those moments of fear and self-doubt made sense to me!  Circle of Security (COS) is a wonderful program that is about how attachment develops between parent and child. It helps parents understand how their upbringing may have left them uncomfortable with certain emotions, leaving parents struggling when their children remind them of those moments of discomfort. We are not always aware of these feelings until they have been reawakened, but they can have a big effect on how we are feeling…and behaving. COS refers to this as “shark music”, when those early experiences and feelings start “playing” in the background and influencing how we respond to our children. Here is an interesting video COS has produced about shark music, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vy3EwAQ0lwo

As I looked back, I realized that my fears and self-doubt were coming from my own shark music.  I am happy to say that, despite our missed moments, my child has developed into a very capable young person. Along the way, she taught me a very important lesson:

Our children love us

just the way we are.

The most wonderful part about parenting is the clean slate we have to develop what we want our relationship with our children to look and feel like. Staying in the moment with our children and focusing on them is a powerful way to build a sustaining relationship and strong bonds. A strong relationship will help us when those inevitable rocky moments come.

 We can all experience “shark music” in our parenting…but we can also change the effect it is having on us.

When you start to experience that intense feeling of discomfort (for me, it was in my stomach):

  • stop and try to listen to it
  • try taking a deep breath
  • try to decide if the feeling is really about you or your child
  • if you realize it is your own discomfort, do not be afraid to talk with someone about it–your partner or a good friend. They might help you see things in a different way.
  • if you feel you have said “no” too quickly or have reacted in a way you are not ok with, go back to your child and tell them you are thinking differently about the situation. Perhaps, apologize (check out this article about the power of saying I’m Sorry) and, together, come up with a different way to handle the situation.

Should you get a chance to take a Circle of Security course, I would recommend it for the insight you might gain. It has made a big difference in my parenting. Even though my children were a bit older when I learned about Circle of Security, the insights and skills I have developed have helped my relationships with each of them. After all, it is never too late to change our parenting!

 Linnea Walter is the parent of three young adult children—who have each taught her so much about parenting….and about having fun. Linnea is also an Experienced Parent with Parenting Now and would love to connect with you, to talk about “shark music” or any other parenting issue you have. You can watch for her on our Chat Now line or email her at linnea@parentingnow.ca 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Comments

4 Responses to “Parenting from Fear”

  1. Victoria Victoria says:

    Great article it is so easy to cary forward stuff and not know it

  2. Kristen Kristen says:

    I really loved this article. “Our children love us just the way we are” is something I’ve never thought of, and so very true.

  3. Teresa Teresa says:

    Wow!! Thanks so much for sharing your heart and your insights!! Connection with our kids is key!! I also loved the Circle of Security course

  4. Nadia Nadia says:

    Thanks for sharing Linnea! This aspect of parenting is easily ignored by most parents. It is always helpful to resolve our own childhood issues in some way. Great article!

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