I feel lucky, as a mother of three girls, to have been blessed with daughters who are tough. Five-year-old Maggie picks up bugs and climbs trees with the older neighborhood kids. Ceci – accident prone since she learned to walk at ten months – has taken some bumps to the head that would make me cry. The only reason she was crying was because I made her stop playing for five seconds so I could assess the damage. And Baby Alex, with older sisters as rough and tumble as hers, is going to have no choice but to learn to defend herself early on.
My girls are active, confident, strong. Not to say that they’re completely fearless: Ceci will tell you that she’s afraid of the car wash, beards, and the overly aggressive ducks that hang out at the local pond; Maggie thinks her two-wheeler bike with training wheels is too tippy and doesn’t like watching the scene where Luke’s hand gets cut off in The Empire Strikes Back. Alex, I think, is a little afraid of her sisters. Which makes sense.
I am so glad that, for now, their list of fears is relatively short. The last thing I want is for my children to be boxed in by fear, unwilling to try anything new. Which is somewhat ironic, because my own heart, so full of love for my family, is surrounded on all sides by fear for them. When I compare my daughters’ fears with the fears I have for them, the lists are woefully unbalanced. Certainly I am afraid of physical harm, which lurks everywhere, all the time: high up in Maggie’s favorite climbing tree, in every object small enough to place in Alex’s mouth, in that terrifying combination of two-year-old stubbornness and poor decision-making.
What else do I fear? I fear for their spirits. I fear that their peers will not understand or appreciate the qualities that make my children unique. I fear the meanness of other kids. Worse, I fear that they will be the mean kids. I fear everything that comes with adolescence. I’m afraid of the way that they will one day view themselves and their bodies. I fear that they will lose themselves in the pursuit of prettiness and popularity. I fear that no matter how many times my husband and I tell them that they are beautiful in every way, they won’t believe us.
I fear the corrosive influence of our culture and its values: competition over compassion, wealth and consumerism over simplicity. If my children are kind (as I hope they will be), I fear that their kindness will be viewed as weakness. Mostly I fear that they will learn to internalize this jaded worldview, that they will give up on idealism and accept the status quo.
I fear for the future, for the ability of our country’s leaders to truly do what is best for all. I fear the precarious state of our planet. If you have not read the stunning novel The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker, about a phenomenon similar to climate change, I’m not sure I can recommend it. Although I’m sure it wasn’t the author’s intention, I left the book feeling like maybe allowing my children to inherit this damaged world was a terrible, terrible mistake. (But seriously, it’s an amazing, beautiful, devastating book.)
Fear, from an evolutionary point of view, is only helpful insofar as it keeps us alive. So of course, I should give my five-year-old reasonable limits when it comes to tree-climbing, and I should probably not allow my living room floor to be strewn with choking hazards. In order to keep my children safe from harm, I should exert control on the conditions over which I actually have some level of control. But to live in a state of fear when most of my fears are out of my hands? When these hypothetical situations may or may not come to pass? Such a state of existence isn’t helpful. Not to my daughters, not to me.
Our children do not need our fear, and neither do we. But can we, as parents, choose to live free from fear? Honestly, I don’t know, but what if we started here: We were children once, and we lived through it. We made mistakes, and they will too. Our job as parents is to give our children the tools to navigate an often treacherous but always awesome world. Every day we build our children up. If we trust in our abilities as parents, and if we remember to believe the best of our children, then we have a foundation that doesn’t feel so “tippy”. For those of us who pray, pray. For those of us who don’t, hope. Parenthood is too precious to waste with our minds in dark corners, so take a step toward positivity. Come out into the light. Just don’t forget your SPF.