Monday, September 26, 2011

The Fears of Parenthood

Among the various aspects of life, family is usually in the top tier of what we cherish so greatly, especially if we're parents.  We value our children's presence, their well being and how they fare in life from its very beginning.  Being part of their lives is something in which we wish to experience great joy.  This, however, is not always the case, for along the journey of parenting most of us are ill equipped to identify and resolve the major fears we encounter.

While these experiences can arise as small, almost insignificant, tinges of doubt, they can often render us incapable of responding appropriately as parents.  When we become really upset and angry about something, for example, that our teenage children have done, underlying all the heated words is the fear of losing control and the insecurity around that issue.  The opportunity for doing something rash is really apparent at such a time.  Second, if our children don't want to talk with or listen to us, our fear of being abandoned or losing our connection with them comes to center stage.  We go about wondering different thoughts that keep us in this mode of anxiety.  Finally, when our children, especially adult children, don't want to share their difficulties with us, invite us to an important event in their lives, or visit us if we're incapacitated, our fear of not being worthy confronts us head on.  With this in mind, some of us might even contemplate suicide while a fraction of those in our midst actually carry it out.  In sum, these principal fears often leave us at a loss to know what to do as they did with our parents and those before them.

There is, nevertheless, something we can do.  When we feel these fears coming on, there are three simple actions we can carry out that permit us to respond appropriately while continuing to be an important role model for our children.  They may sound like an oversimplification but, believe me, they are not.  First, we need to center ourselves.  It's kind of like the old saying, "Stop and count to ten before you do something you'll regret."  Or it's something as simple as putting your attention on your breathing and allowing it to calm down previous to speaking or acting.  Second, we have to pay attention to the feelings or sensations going on inside of us during the event that's filling us with fear.  Just by noticing these feelings and keeping our attention on them, we may see that they start to settle down, especially when we couple them with focused breathing.  Third, it's wise to bring an attitude of kindness to these feelings, treating them as if they were a child in pain, and taking joy in them as they change into confidence and resolution.  Finally, we'll find that this process may have given us the space and clarity in which we can decide what to do and then take appropriate action with our children.

Of course, while these steps give us a formula of what's possible to do in the middle of parenting, it's also wise to develop and keep them sharpened when we're alone.  If we've just put the baby down for a nap or sent the kids off to school, we may have an opportunity to turn off our distractions (television, radio, internet, cellular phone) and sit down in a quiet place.  If we're at work, we may be able to go for a walk in a nearby park at lunch time.  And then, since this is not a thinking exercise, we simply center ourselves, recall what has upset us, pay attention to the reactive sensations in our body while disregarding any thoughts that come up, and treat these feelings with the kindness one gives to children in need.  After 10 or 15 minutes, we can go back to our daily affairs.  Done over time, we'll find that this little daily activity does help prepare us for being with our children no matter what their age is.  We know that the resources we depend on in life should be developed and always ready to use, so why should we treat ourselves any differently?  After all, who are our children going to depend on?  If we take care of ourselves, we may even find the joy in parenting that we've wanted all along.

Giving ourselves the skills we need to identify and resolve the fears we associate with parenting may be the best gift we can ever offer ourselves and our children.  Certainly, these steps are not easy to take in the middle of everyday living, and in the beginning we may be lucky if we can apply them even once out of every 10 times.  Of course, that one time just might be the crucial one, the one that keeps the family together.  Wouldn't that be worthwhile?