My friend’s baby, startled by the awful grating noise of a paper shredder, looked quickly at me. Her eyes were wide, mouth open but not making a sound as she sat, rigid now, in her baby carrier a few feet from me. In that instant I knew that sweet little thing was looking to me either for reassurance or to know if she should really be afraid. She was only a few months old, but she had that survival instinct built into each of us to fear the unknown. Her mother’s back was turned to her while she fed papers into the shredder, so the baby had turned to me, the only other person in the room, to see how I reacted to the noise. I smiled and said silly things. She kicked and gurgled, her fear gone.
That’s the way it is – our children are little sponges. And if we’re not careful, as they sop up the good things we want them to learn, they can also acquire other things we’d rather them not.
Some fears are more normal than others (see my post on survival instinct). But the more vocal or animated parents are about what they themselves are afraid of, the easier it is for a child to learn to be afraid of those same things. Like if we scream and run every time we see a bug. Or if we’re overcautious of germs or afraid to try new things (whether food, a different sport, or traveling).
Our children don’t have to acquire our fears. We can pass them on or determine not to by the choices we make. The following is an excerpt from a post written by Ericka Waller for Circus Queen:
Living with anxiety left me living a half-life. Forget rock, paper, scissors – fear beats them all hands down. If fear were a trump card, it would always win the game.
The thought of my daughters spending a single second feeling how I felt for all those years, how sometimes I still feel on bad days, fills me with dread. It forces me to stand in long queues with them at zoos and parks and shops, even though the urge to run away (fight or flight response) is so strong my head spins. It forces me to drive on the motorway, even though, for me, it’s a white knuckle ride. It forces me to eat food I hate, so they might love it. It forces me to stop, to think, to censor. It pushes me out my comfort zone.
My love for my daughters stands shoulder to shoulder with my fear. It looks it in the eye and says “I’m not scared of you.” But I still bite my nails.
I will not let my girls see me struggle however. They will never know my fear. This will not happen to them. I simply shall not let it.
My mother happily handed down her insecurities, phobias and failings to me, and I, just a little four[-year-old], happily biting her nails, happily accepted them.
It stops here.
I never wanted my children to be like me, to be afraid to do or even to try. When they were young (and so was I), I loved and respected them and hoped that would be enough. With my granddaughter, I am more aware of my influence on her and more purposeful in my encouragement. I want her to experience life more fearlessly than I have.
Do you have fears that were passed on to you? Do you have fears you don’t want to pass on?