Nothing to Fear

Lisa writes: I recently read a great post on Mom 101 on how sometimes giving a kid a lollipop is just giving them a lollipop, not an exercise in regulating sugar or expressing our family’s values. She mentioned that “no” was sometimes her reflex response and that really struck a chord with me. Sometimes we have nothing to fear.  It took a while before I realized that my kids were people, not a medium for expressing my worldview.

Sponge Bob, Junk Food, World of Warcraft, Austin Powers

I was a mom who said no–it was my default position for all the junk my kids wanted to buy, eat and see. I came into motherhood with the view that we owned too much, our culture was slightly toxic and most of the things my kids were going to consume visually and intestinally were poisonous.

Luckily for my sons, they have two parents and over the course of a couple of decades, with the with help of the four of them, I came to see the world as not hostile and noxious but as the place they were going to live and into which they would need to fit.

I banned violent games and violent movies, junk food and junk TV. I used to tell them that watching Spongebob Squarepants would lower their IQ by ten points per episode. No one ever did the math or pointed out that there would be legions of barely functioning kids if this were true.

It turns out that junk and violence, to a greater or lesser degree, are enjoyed by the four males in my house and over time I reluctantly made some concessions. My husband and I  came home the other night to find one teenage boy happily watching a romantic comedy, another making pizza from scratch and a third studying the computer code behind a video game, all is not lost.

I thought we owned too much stuff. I didn’t believe that things would bring us happiness and did believe the pursuit of them would make us unhappy. When my kids were tiny every phrase began with, “I need that” (do you remember, how cute was that) which was later modified to “I want that”. Now that they have been out in the world for a bit I usually hear, “Do you have any idea how expensive….” all it took was a few years looking at price tags to change their worldview.

I banned studying with music on. “You cannot learn anything while listening to that loud crap you call music at the same time.” This was my father speaking to me in 1977, and the exact same words slid right out of my mouth in 2007. I was forced to reexamine my position. I have a son who is a sophomore in college and has, to my knowledge, never studied without music.

I made them stop playing World of Warcraft on their computers because they could interact with strangers through the game. I feared this because I had never experienced it, and my default switch clicked over to “no.” Every day I talk to folks on Twitter and Facebook who are truly wonderful souls, though in real life I don’t know them. What was I thinking?

There were to be no R rated movies until high school. Other parents were respectful of my wishes and the boys were even good about calling me from friends’ houses and asking if they could watch something. Then my husband took them all to Austin Powers, my 11-year old thought it was the funniest thing he had ever seen, and my policies got a little wobbly.

The danger, the real danger, was never in food or movies or video games, it was not in the people they would meet online. The real danger was in the message that I gave them through all of my fears, that the world was threatening and poisonous, that they needed to be on guard all of the time from its insidious evils.  Sometimes, just sometimes, I had nothing to fear, but I was too scared to realize it.

Comments

  1. Wow, what an amazing observation. I love hearing your perspective, a few years ahead of me in the parenting handbook. I’m trying to parent with the perspective that we’re living in a world that’s more safe than not, more loving than not. I don’t want to parent out of fear. But man, it’s hard when anytime you turn on the TV all you hear are the salacious, awful, exceptions to the general rules.

    Thanks so much for this. I needed to read it today.

  2. Theresa Froehlich says:

    I resonate with the key idea in your post: “The real danger was in the message that I gave them through all of my fears.” I too had to learn to deal with my own fears and anxieties so, as a parent, I would not be sending my kids the message “It’s a big bad world out there and nothing and no one can be trusted.”

    However, I would say that we still have to provide our children with pointers to make positive choices. Playing video games may in and of itself seem very harmless, but our son was one of those adolescents who reaped very negative consequences from losing control of his life as a result of addictive playing.

    Usually those things that parents fear do have potential negative consequences. If I could turn the clock back to parent my two children again, I would have done a better job of explaining the consequences of making choices so they could learn to evaluate choices.

    Coach Theresa

    • Great words of advice. I am more than a little familiar with the addictive lure video games hold over teenage boys, it was a hard fought battle in our house.

  3. Ashley Austrew says:

    This post really resonates with me. My daughter is about to turn 1, and already I’ve watched as the things I swore I’d never do and never expose her to have slowly started to crumble. Breastfeeding? Didn’t work for me. Cloth diapers? Hated them. Absolutely no tv? Well, maybe it’s not such a big deal if Mickey is on in the background during breakfast so I can brush my teeth. I had/have all of these grand plans for what she will eat, see, do, watch, and read, and I can only assume as my daughter grows I’ll experience this phenomenon of opening my mind and heart to possibilities more and more. You make a great (and very true) observation. We try to control the world they’re exposed to because we love them so much, and we just don’t want to see them hurt…the way we think we were. But, we’re okay, really. And they will be, too.

    “It took a while before I realized that my kids were people, not a medium for expressing my worldview.” Fantastic.

    • There is the imagined parent we all hope to be and then there is the real world. It is a balancing act that never ends, but for the mother of such a young child, you sound like you have it in hand. It took me a long time to reconcile the mother I wanted to be with the mother I could be. And you are right, they are okay…

  4. I was not a terrified mom – my kids pretty much ate, watched, and did what they wanted, within the normal and expected parameters of course – no R rated movies, no pixie stix soda straws. My fears were more about them being hurt emotionally. I dreaded the mean girls in middle school, I wanted to throttle some of the better athletes on my son’s sports teams – I tried to protect them by telling them that these people didn’t matter, though of course they did. They figured it out though – and now that my daughter is 22, the meanest girl of all from middle school is one of her best friends…go figure.

    • No pixie stick soda straws! Those were my favorites as a kid. You make me laugh. You are right though about what you tell them, no matter what fantasy world we try to present, they soon figure it out.

  5. Wonderful honest post. It is such a difficult balance…protecting them without projecting our own fears.

  6. I love it when we have older children and we see that they make what we perceive to be the ‘right’ choice without our prompting !
    Good work.
    Have the best day !
    Me

    • I know what you mean, there is a ahhhhhhh, a bit like the first time they said “thank you” without being prompted.

  7. Carpool Goddess says:

    Wonderful post! My parents instilled in me their fear of everything – from plane flights to the boogie man. I grew up on high alert. Sorry to say, I know I’ve instilled some of this in my kids too. A little bit of fear is good, because it keeps people from doing stupid things, but a lot of fear can keep someone from truly living. I’m going to keep repeating your last line over and over until it sinks in :)

    • I am going to keep repeating it as well. It is far easier to write than to remember.

      • I grew up in fear too, and we joke that on my mother’s tombstone will a word that somehow spells out that terrified intake of air that mother’s make when they’re afraid. I have been determined to get past that mindset.

  8. I love this post. Despite having only girls, no boys, I did similar things only because I was so terrified of losing my daughters to something horrible (and unlikely). Thank God they had and continue to have much more sense than I and turned into awesome, daring, and productive adults, despite their mother’s idiotic attempts to keep them safe and sound.

    • My kids learned to ignore many of my worries about harm, and for that I am grateful to them and my husband. Love your Gravatar!

  9. Clearly Kristal says:

    I have two young girls – age 4 and 7, ages 4 and 7. We do try to protect them; and make the “right” choices. That is our job as parents. But we can overuse the word no. I know when my niece was learning how to swim, my sister would panic when her daughter was in the pool. Thus, causing my niece to get scared … all because her mom was freaking out. It took her years to overcome her fear of the water. I know when my I let my kindergartner ride her bike around the block for the first time I gave her everyone rule in the book. I waited on the front steps panicking. When she finally rounded the corner, I was so relieved. We can breed fear in our children. My daughter now takes leisurely bike rides with confidence – as I realized I was the one instilling fear in her because of my behavior. I think we need to grow awareness. Wonderful, thoughtful post. Thanks so much.

    • You are so right. Many of the things I worried about were dangers but many of them were what I perceived to be bad influences. I underestimated the influence our family’s values would ultimately have on my boys. Much of the junk, while a source of enjoyment, had no real impact. Who was to know?

  10. Lisa says:

    This brought tears to my eyes because I see so many adults not living full lives because they are so fearful of the “what ifs”. Great read for all of us parents who get a little fearful now and then!

    • The points are a relevant to adults as kids, as you say. I had only thought of this from a parent’s perspective, but you are right the issue is much broader.

  11. Really great post – should be required reading for parents of young teens, when a lot of our rules seem to change by necessity. A lot of the challenge of parenting is reigning in our worry of what their current behavior will mean in the future. If they spend too many hours playing video games, will they become a pasty-faced loser in adulthood who does the same? If they want to play with airsoft guns, will they become dangerously violent when they are older? It sort of makes me wonder why the parenting default is sometimes the very worst-case scenario.
    Thanks for this, and for your honesty.

  12. Great post and great perspective.

  13. i was just thinking of the default “no” as well. often it changed to yes once i had time to thinking it through. i don’t know why it never occurred to me to say “let me think for a minute”. oh yeah, they don’t let you think once they think they might get a “yes” out of you if they press the case. Fear is often the precursor to “no”. Not their fear but ours. I learned the WOW lesson too. My son told me a story about a single dad who’d lost his job and who’s son was terminally ill. he sold his car to keep paying for the subscription so they could play together. Sounds like the kind of person we love to meet on what ever social media we follow.

  14. I can really relate to most of it particularly the part where you play a music while studying. I think, there is nothing wrong with that as long as you are comfortable with that and it’s not hurting your studies!

    • You are so right and I took so long to understand that. One this as a parent that is challenging is realizing how very different your child is from you. Music to me is a distraction, to my son a way to get focused. Took me way to long to get this.

  15. I also parented out a protective spirit that probably bordered on paranoid. I wanted to do it all perfectly and not make any mistakes.

    My husband is like yours, he saw that popular culture has a place and if I completely forbid it then my kids would grow up to be weird and being weird was a bigger handicap in the world than eating too much junk food on occasion.

    It is funny to me now that I am more active on the internet than either of my children. Now I’m the one telling them, “You really need to learn and understand how social media works if you want to be successful today.” I think they think I’ve lost my mind. Oh well. They’ll figure it out. I hope.

    • You are living in my house! Our husbands were absolutely right about the importance of being in the real, popular culture world. And my kids want no part of Twitter and the rest. One of the most overlooked advantages of being lucky enough to raise your kids with another parent may be that different perspective that another adult brings to this complex process. If I had done this alone…well I hate to think.

  16. LOVE LOVE LOVE this post along with this realization “The real danger was in the message that I gave them through all of my fears.” This should be handed to every parent when their children turn 13, refresher when they start driving and a fin when they leave the nest.

  17. I was raised in a no-junk-food home, and blamed my sweet tooth on childhood candy deprivation. I let junk food be a regular (but not excessive) part of my children’s lives. They all love junk food as much as I do.

    I spent years encouraging my kids, “If the only reason for not doing something is fear, then do it.” None of my children are risk takers.

    I could go on and on. We give our upbringing more blame than it deserves, and sometimes more credit. At the same time, our influence is much more subtle and powerful than we know.

    • Thanks so much, I think you are right. Often notice that my kids are who they were at birth and all my inventions…well it is hard to say.

      BTW loved your post on granny pants…we explored our relationship with our underwear drawer and our identity earlier this year here…http://grownandflown.com/the-perfect-pantie/

  18. Peranting says:

    What a great observation! You should definitely check out the blog Free Range Kids (freerangekids.com). This is essentially her mission statement. The world is actually safer now than when we were kids, but the media has us so scared that we can’t see it. It is a fight to resist the impulse to “protect” your kids from these imagined dangers, but it is in our kids best interest.

    • It is hard to believe sitting the “parent” seat, but the world is safer and with our communications being so much better, we can keep closer tabs. Hard to remember this sometimes when we are having a mom-worry moment, but you are so right.

  19. I think one of the first big parenting revelations I ever had was after my first child learned to walk. We would set out to go around the block, and she would get distracted by ants or a flower and we wouldn’t get very far. And I would start to get frustrated because I had a goal in mind. We were supposed to be going around the block! And then I realized that was completely arbitrary, and the new plan could just as easily be looking at ants and then there was nothing to be frustrated about. I try to keep that in mind with my kids, still, that just because I had one idea about what we should be doing in my head, doesn’t mean that’s what we have to do. Until I see evidence that my kids are rotten, inconsiderate people, whatever combination of choices we’re making seems to be fine.

  20. That post of Liz’s set off a cascade of thought for me, too and inspired me to post my own feelings about the default “no.” My kids are younger than yours but this post is so very reassuring. Like a Time Travel kind of reassuring.
    Thanks so much for sharing.

  21. I agree with many commentors here. This post gives me a helpful perspective. I am right with you on what ultimate worldview I might be conveying to my children by saying no to junk, etc. Do I really want them to feel guilty enjoying shlock TV? After all, I enjoy it, too.

    This post is also timely for me, as I’ve been going through a similar questioning/awareness of my limit-setting. As my girls become teens, I want them to feel comfortably bringing friends over here. As one mom said, she buys the lots of snacks, some junk, some healthy, and they will come. If I’m the house that’s too restrictive, they won’t come here.

    • That is a great point, you don’t what your house to be the “no fun” house. I buy out the grocery store when my older two come home from college and then I know there will be tons of kids here. Teens and food, like bees to honey…

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  2. […] A mom with older kids reflects on the futility of raising kids with “no” and “it’s dangerous” as the default response to every situation.  Turns out she had nothing to fear. […]