White Knuckle Parenting: Passing Our Fears to Our Kids

I can't decide whether to focus on not passing my fears to my kids or on helping them deal with the ones they already have. Sadly, it's too late for our shared arachnophobia.

When my kids were much younger than they are now, I took them to a nature program about spiders at Brookside Nature Center. It was an evening program so we could see the spiders when they came out at night to spin their webs. The only reason I signed my kids up for this event was because I am terrified of spiders and I was determined to not pass my fears on to my children.

I kept my kiddos up past their bedtime and we wandered around the woods in the dark looking for spiders as I pasted a big fake smile on my face and pretended to be interested in the horrible, horrible arachnids.

I shouldn't have bothered. If anything, my kids are more scared of spiders now than I am.

It is ironic, but their fear ("Mooooooom! I can't go in the basement because there is a spider down there!") has helped me overcome some of my fear ("Okay, wait just a minute while I throw one of your father's law books on top of it.").

I think that many parents spend a lot of time worrying about passing our fears down to our children. My mom tells me that when my sister and I were kids she worked really hard to not pass on her fear of flying to us. She was successful, but I wonder if we might have been better served by watching her cope with her fears instead of hiding them. I don't know.

I mean, no, I'm not going to start sharing all my fears with my kids. For example, they might not have figured out yet that clowns are terrifying, so why should I tell them? But if they know that certain things scare me, it makes sense to show them that it is okay to have those fears and that you can find ways to work around them.

This said, there are things that I do want my kids to be afraid of but that they aren't—like parking lots. Parking lots are death traps, but my children don't seem to notice or care. And don't get me started on stray feathers that kids pick up off the ground. I have told my kids a billion times that "feathers carry disease," but it took nearly 11 years until one of my children finally shrieked that very phrase at my youngest son when he tried to pick up a pigeon feather.

It's possible I may have strayed off of my original topic of passing on fears to passing on neuroses. 

It's interesting, because I worked far harder when I was a new parent to not pass on my fears than I do now, yet it is my oldest who is the most cautious. Then my youngest, who has spent his entire life with my middle son, who is afraid of nothing, is extremely fearful about a large number of things. (Also a little neurotic. It's a problem.)

I think that maybe people are sort of born wired as more or less fearful and cautious and it is just the specifics that vary from parental influence. For example, with a different parent, my youngest might still be fearful, but he might not be afraid specifically of zombies, .

I guess in the long run, I just hope that my kids discover their own psyches, but better yet, see that there are ways to work around almost anything. I also hope that I don't pass on too many of my fears before then. The fact that I am now capable of smashing a spider with someone else's shoe gives me hope that I can pass resilience to my kids along with my fears.

Jean, a.k.a. Stimey, writes a personal blog at Stimeyland; an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont; and a column called Autism Unexpected in the Washington Times Communities. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey.

Amanda Guyton October 10, 2012 at 02:27 AM
When I was Q-ball's age, I feared NOTHING. My mom complained that I was not afraid of the Devil Himself. There were things I didn't like (ANTS! I HATE ANTS!) but fear? HA! I assure you... it was a problem.


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