"Fear is the Mind Killer"
Updated: Aug 17
"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass through me. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain." Frank Herbert, Dune
I teach parenting skills. Why am I blogging about fear?
When I think back on the thousands of conversations I've had with parents, so many of the struggles and challenges they experience every day come down to fear.
One of the truths I share with parents:
"Once we eliminate fear from our parenting, only unconditional love remains."
What do parents fear? (I mean, all of us parents could make this list):
Too much time with friends
Too much screen time*
Too much time alone in their room
Eating too much sugar
Not eating enough broccoli
Getting kicked off a team
Not doing homework
Being a bully
*(Note: Screen-fear is my next blog post)
The list of parents' fears is endless. (
Before I go on, I want to say I HAVE FEARS FOR MY KIDS TOO!
I have to fight every day to keep my fears for my kids out of my parenting. It's work. It takes discipline. It can be exhausting. It can feel impossible. I'm not perfect. My fears for my kids creep in.
The point of working on parenting skills is NOT to be perfect (Just like we don't want our kids to feel like they have to be perfect. We model not being perfect every day!)
The point is to understand why parenting from a place of fear is something to TRY to eliminate from our parenting. Then, when it creeps in once in a while, we notice it, we name it, we change it.
So why do we fear for our kids? Simplest answer: We love our kids more than anything else in our lives. Period. Nothing comes close.
We feel this responsibility for how they "turn out." We want them to be happy, to feel purposeful, to be successful, to find love... We have all these expectations, hopes for our kids.
I could go into brain research and the amygdala... That's for other people to write about. Google amygdala if you want to know why we fear for our kids.
I want to write about 2 things:
How does parenting from a place of fear affect our relationship with our kids?
How do we do the work to minimize parenting from a place of fear (because to eliminate it just isn't possible, IMO)?
How does parenting from a place of fear affect our relationship with our kids?
Rather than blah, blah, blah, I'll give two scenarios (fill-in the activity that matches your kid).
Fear-based Parenting Scenario:
Nine year old son. Rides horses. Mom constantly brings up falling off his horse. "I'm terrified every time you ride. What if you fall off?" "Christopher Reeves became paralyzed because of a fall from his horse and eventually died!" "It's just not safe."
As mom drops her son off at the barn, she says, "Be safe! Don't fall off!"
As son is riding his horse, all he hears is "Don't fall off!"
Just as he's hearing that distracting voice in his head, the horse starts cantering unexpectedly, and son falls off the horse and breaks his arm.
Now Mom is even more terrified of her son riding horses!
Consciously Redirect Fear Scenario:
Nine year old son. Rides horses. Mom has periodic internal fear of her son falling off his horse and being injured.
When the fear comes over her, she takes a deep breath. She remembers all the safety measures she knows the instructor has in place. She reminds herself of how his instructor never lets him move onto the next skill/level of difficulty until he has mastered the one before.
She remembers all the times her son has gone riding and never been injured.
She reminds herself that he doesn't want to fall and he has the control of the horse to ride well every time. He is a very strong and skillful rider.
She brings up her worst fear: He falls and becomes very injured. That's terrible!
No! Her worst fear is letting her own fears either keep him from riding or cause him so much fear he actually does fall.
As she's driving her son to the barn - EVEN THOUGH SHE'S AFRAID - she makes the CHOICE to push down the fear and pull up the CONFIDENCE. She keeps her voice light, laughs often, asks questions, tells a good story. When she drops him off at the barn, she casually says, "Have a great time! I hope you learn something new today. Give Holly a special hug from me." And then she drives off and hopes for the best.
ONE of the zillions of times her son rode horses, he sprained his wrist. She took him to Urgent Care. Got it patched up. Reminded her son (and herself) that it's natural to have injuries in life. The worse injury her son could have is being locked away "safe" in his room. Breathe Deep Mama.
(Okay. Did you figure out that's my son? I had to work - HAVE to work every day on keeping my fears for my sons out of my parenting.)
So, that's some of what fear-based parenting looks like. I could go on for years giving examples.
The way we parents talk to our kids, BECOMES the voice in our children's heads.
The TONE and MOOD we set in our homes, becomes their inner tone and mood.
When we lay down fearful, anxious patterns in the ways we relate to our kids, their brains develop in anxious, fearful ways. If they already have anxious brain-wiring of their own, our fears reinforce their fears.
10 Purpose Parenting Tips for Minimizing Parenting from a Place of Fear:
Talk to someone you trust about your fears. They are real. You have them. If you try to act like they're not inside you, it will come out in your parenting. Validate your fears, then make the CHOICE to let them go.
Take deep breaths when you notice a fearful response about to come out between you and your child. Remember times when things have gone well in the past. Build on all those positive experiences (not the few times things went badly).
Think about the worst that could happen. See that scenario play out in your mind. And KNOW that you are resilient enough to get through it. (I had to do this when my sons were learning to drive. "Even if they get into a terrible accident, I have what it takes to get us through that.") Then when I'm teaching my sons to drive, that fear is "out of the way," and we can just focus on learning to drive safely.
The Harry Potter Trick. Imagine your teen is doing something you fear them doing (Going to a party). Instead of thinking of all the things you fear will go wrong if they do it, imagine they're just reading Harry Potter. And you feel great about them reading Harry Potter. Now, when you go to talk to them about this behavior (going to the party), you're calm. We're just talking. You're listening. The conversation goes so much better. Or... maybe you'll decide you don't even need to bring it up. If they feel they're ready to do whatever this behavior is that you "were" so afraid they would do, maybe just let them do it and see what happens. When the do they thing (go to the party), genuinely ask how it went and be open and receptive to whatever they tell you. Hold back judgment, never say "I told you so," let them come to their own conclusions about how it went and if they want to try it again. It's hard AND it works.
One of the things I remind myself when I feel a fear coming on... This is their life. Not in that f*@k you way. But for real. When my son decided to stop playing violin, I worried he would regret it. It's his life. (He started playing two years later because he fell in love with it again). When he wanted to go to a big high school party, I didn't want him to go. I was afraid. We talked about some scenarios. He knew I was available to go get him if needed. He went. Some things went down. He learned a lot. He went to a few more parties. He hosted one. Then he was done with partying. He went to ZERO college parties.
We parents are NOT responsible for our kids' outcomes. Our kids are responsible for their outcomes. Once you really believe that and parent from that place, fear is much less present in our parenting.
Remind yourself it is GOOD, in fact it is ESSENTIAL that kids make mistakes. Lots of mistakes! Imagine if every time your child fell when learning to walk, you kept them from falling. They'd still be crawling around. The mistakes our kids make as they get older look different, but they happen for the same reasons. They're learning a new skill. It might not look like a new skill to you, but if they're making mistakes, it's a new skill for them. They're stretching and trying. They are going to fall down (metaphorically). And it's our jobs as parents to LET THEM FALL and be there to support them. Be there to offer guidance if asked. Let them try again and still love themselves.
Have your own interests and passions. Lots of parents I coach think the MORE time they spend with and think about their child, the better. No so! Most parents I work with would benefit from thinking much less about their kids and much more about their own "thing." If your brain is so full of your joy for what you're doing with your life, you won't have as much bandwidth to worry and fear will be a much smaller percentage of your emotional landscape. Try it! See what happens to your relationship with your child when you think about them 10% less. I'd like to hear if anything shifted.
Best lesson I ever learned about being a parent is: GET OUT OF YOUR CHILD'S WAY. Try saying YES to something you had fear about and wanted to say NO. Notice what happens.
BIGGEST THING I CAN SAY ABOUT HOW TO MINIMIZE FEARS FROM YOUR PARENTING: Let go of feeling responsible for their outcomes (I know it was Tip #6, but it's so important, I'm going to say it again and a little differently). Your job is to help your child become the best version of themselves possible. Their job is to be the best version of themselves possible. Let go of your FEARS about what will happen if.... Instead, support them to make choices and live with the results of those choices (Age-appropriate support. Not two year olds running out into traffic.)
Example: Your daughter is going to take the SAT in 4 months. Option 1: You force her to get a tutor. Monitor her results. Require her to study 2 hours/day. Option 2: She asked for help and you tell her it's her own thing to figure out. Option 3: She tells you she's stressed about taking the SAT. You ask her what you can do to support. You do those things. You stay out of it. Once you offer the support she needs, she can take it from there. She'll come back to you if she needs/wants additional support. Never let YOUR stress about her performance on the SAT impact HER outcome.
Here is an exercise to try this week. Every time you feel FEAR entering your heart, soul, mind, relationship with your child, try to replace FEAR with one of these ACTIONS:
Fear = Trust Fear = Sing
Fear = Be generous Fear = Hope
Fear = Ask a question Fear = Admit fear
Fear = Laugh Fear = Create
Fear = Journal Fear = Write
Fear = Dance Fear = Sit in Nature
Fear = Look at their baby pictures Fear = Learn something new
Fear = Swim Fear = Say YES!
Taking FEAR out of our relationship with our children IS our work as parents. And it is WORK.
Being conscious of ways FEAR is infecting our decisions is a great step. Working actively to relate to our children from our calmest, most accepting, more trusting, confident place IS so powerful for our relationships with our kids.
Try noticing FEAR this week and taking a step or two towards a different response. See what happens. Share what happens.
When we fear, it's hard to hear.
~ Elisabeth Harrod, Purpose Parenting