Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fear and Trembling Part II: Facing My Own Fears, Provoked By a Hit and Run

The question of fear and how to face it is really a big one; I wish I could have a franker and more frequent conversations about such things with people. Earlier this year, I checked out a book from the library (Free Range Kids) written by a mother who had gotten herself called “the worst mother in the world”  for having allowed her (8 year old?) son to take  public transportation (including the subway) from midtown Manhattan back to his house alone.  She herself had found her action unspectacular (in either the good or bad sense); when local media got hold of it however, she was asked to appear on TV and won herself the title  (in some circles, anyway) of the “Worst Mother in the World” title. I am not personally committed to the specifics of what she allowed her son to do. While I doubt I would do the same with any of my kids, I believe that a good parent usually has a better sense of what a child’s ready for than an outside observer ever could. Which is why we need to watch our kids and respond to them as individuals…

One of the great difficulties of being a parent is, of course, OUR fear. We need to help our kids face fears, but first of all, we ourselves need to face a tremendous host of fears. Fears that our kids inspire in us. I was very discouraged after the birth of my first child by just how very afraid I felt most of the time. The possibility of harm was always lurking.  Back then, physical harm was foremost in my mind, but a friend—whose daughter recently turned 14—assures me that the fear he faces now with her is no less real, palpable, or serious.

I believe him. As I look towards the years when my children will face a host of challenging situations, I want to be ready to face my own fear and theirs. Earlier this year, I was deeply provoked by a hit-and-run accident that occurred outside a local high school. I thought, naturally, of the tragic deaths of a couple of young people who met their death unexpectedly. But I also thought of the terrified young girl who was behind the wheel when she accidentally hit two acquaintances. What kind of courage it requires to face that kind of reality! It got me thinking—what kind of education could you give your children to enable them to handle that kind of situation? First of all, you need to teach them not to run away from mistakes. Since then, I’ve been on a kind of mission to make sure my kids don’t walk away when they hurt someone; that they stay and help. It’s an amazingly hard thing to do: when my kids hurt someone, their guilt often makes them defensive, and they pull away from the person they’ve damaged (even if we’re talking a minor scrape that was *really* an accident!).  I’m hoping—and praying—that  some of this stays with them in the long run. 


  1. Becca- quite thought provoking!

    Recently I too have been trying to navigate this issue! Like trying to help my toddler and 4 year old realize they need to be "careful" with their 4 month old sister! (And even careful with each other too at times!)

    When they do handle her a little too roughly- or a toy goes flying in a game and truly accidentally hits her- I try to quickly address the following:
    1. Yes- it WAS an ACCIDENT, BUT you need to be MORE CAREFUL.
    2. Do you see what happened? I know you didn't MEAN TO HURT her/him- but they ARE hurt. Please give them a kiss so that THEY KNOW you weren't trying to be mean.
    3. And for some reason I feel the need to assure them that just because someone DID get hurt, that I KNOW they are still my "Sweet Name of Child" - Because as you mentioned- accidents are scary, and we can easily turn inward and let our guilt take over.

  2. We place a lot of emphasis on "doing the right thing". Even if you're scared, even if you're upset, even if you're not entirely sure it was your fault -- the question is never "what do I feel like doing?" but "What's the right thing to do?"