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by Tammy Cox, LMSW
Parenting is the most difficult job most of us will ever have and the stakes are high. There are plenty of people eager to give advice, some of it helpful and much of it downright destructive. And, to top it off, we are constantly being told we're not doing a good enough job. It is no wonder that parents today feel so much fear, anxiety and frustration! It is important that we learn to develop our courage, because actions we take out of fear can often create just what we are most afraid of.
While most parents are afraid of making mistakes, it's a given. All parents make mistakes. The important thing to look at is how the mistakes are handled. When viewed as learning experiences and when appropriate steps to repair the damage are taken, parents can turn their mistakes into valuable teaching tools for themselves and their children. It may help to remember that a person who rarely makes mistakes, rarely takes any risks or accomplishes much.
Another reason parents experience fear is because they don't think they can trust their children. They don't believe their children have the ability or desire to make wise choices. I am convinced that we will all, children and adults, choose to do what is in our own best interest if two important factors exist. First we need sufficient information to base our decisions on and just as importantly, we have to truly believe it is our choice. My daughter kept trying to teach me this by saying "Butt out Mom! it's my life and if I want to screw it up I will!" How many of us have done something, knowing full well it was not going to be good for us, simply because it was more important to prove no one else could control us?
Some parents think they are supposed to have all the answers and know what is best for their children. I really believe children are born knowing more about themselves than we ever give them credit for. Not trusting that they have their own answers can cause much pain. An extreme example was in the movie "Dead Poets Society." The young man who knew he was supposed to be an actor, chose suicide rather than becoming the lawyer his father expected him to be. I've often wondered how many Mozarts and Picassos are running around in doctor and lawyer suits, because in their eagerness to please parents, they gave up who they were.
As parents, our job is not to always make decisions for our children, but instead, to provide them with necessary information and let them know what we would prefer, so that they can learn to make wise and healthy decisions. We should also be there for support when they make mistkes. And they will make mistakes, but the lessons they learn will usually be worth it.
And, it is still our job to keep our children safe and protect the rights of others so there are obviously some instances where we are not willing to let them learn from natural consequences. Whenever possible though, I encourage you to listen to your heart and trust that you've done a great job of teaching your children good decision making skills. This approach will allow you to become a fearless (or at least a less fearful) parent.
This article copyrighted by Tammy Cox, 2002
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