The 6-Step Fearless Parenting Model
I received a comment on one of my blogs that I decided to turn into a tune-up tip. I think it’s a common issue among many of us parents.
This woman explained that she worries she’s doing things all wrong with her son. That if she makes this decision or that, it will change who he becomes.
I responded, asking her if she actively loves her son, to which she responded, “Yes, of course!”
Love and attention are the foundation for good parenting. According to a well-known psychological theory, "Good Enough Mothering," by psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott (who interacted with thousands of mothers and their babies during his career), you simply need to be a "good enough" parent, not a perfect one. The constriction that comes from trying to parent perfectly can be more damaging and upsetting to a child than you honestly figuring it out as you go.
This may sound counterintuitive, but it actually releases some of the pressure we as parents can put on ourselves to do it all right. Loving a child can be incredibly fear-inducing.
As parents, we're 100 percent responsible for what happens to our children, which can feel like an awesome responsibility -- especially if you expect to somehow do it perfectly.
So how do you strike that delicate balance: to inform and teach, without projecting your own fear onto your children?
First, you have to ask yourself how much fear dictates your parenting style. To understand the origin of your parenting/fear behavior, you must go back to your own childhood.
To reveal your parenting-style blueprint, answer the following:
- How fearful were your parents?
- Were they “worriers”?
- Did they experience the world as dangerous, or friendly?
- Did they share their fears with you as a child?
- Did you feel protected?
- Were they overprotective?
- Were your parents capable, or did you take on parenting duties as a child?
- Did your parents assume the best or the worst in people and circumstances?
If you were raised by catastrophizers who focused on all that could go wrong, you probably have a tendency to lean toward the same outlook. But you can change. You must actively choose not to repeat that pattern, and the only way to do that is by being aware that the pattern exists.
My own mother had many fears and phobias that she consciously chose not to share with my three older sisters and me. I was a fearless child, which she encouraged me to be. She claims I learned to swim when I was just a year old and proudly retells the story of me, at 2 1/2, on a family vacation throwing myself into the deep end of a pool. Two fully clothed, grown men dove in to “rescue” me, only to have me scream hysterically at their intrusion. My mother calmly explained to them that I was an excellent swimmer and did not need help. This was a corrective emotional experience (re-exposure under favorable circumstances to a past situation with which one could not cope at that time) for her. As a child, she almost drowned and fears deep water to this day. I am grateful for her insight and determination not to pass that fear down to me. (Thanks, Mom.)
When I married my husband Victor, a widower with three acting-out teenage sons, I entered parenting boot camp. I skipped the terrible twos and barreled headfirst into the terrifying teens with no manual or previous experience. I worked hard to stay present, keep the dialogue open and not show my fear. Vic was relieved to have a partner to help him, and I was relieved that he was agreeable to family therapy, STAT. (Having an expert to help us seriously lowered my fear level.)
6 Tips I Learned About Fearless Parenting:
1. Assume the best.
Children rise and fall to your expectations, so assume the best but be prepared for anything.
2. Talk, talk, talk.
The importance of healthy communication and an open dialogue cannot be underestimated. Children of all ages have a right to their feelings. Parents must still be the deciders, but encouraging children to speak their truth when they are young will make the teen years less tumultuous.
3. Safety first.
You can teach children appropriate safety measures without scaring the bejesus out of them. Just like any successful business, a family system must have “best practices” in place so, when in doubt, children know their next right action (even if they don't always take that next right action).
4. Children are good.
5. Do your best.
As my mother so lovingly told me 15 years ago when I met and married my family, “Don’t worry, Ter. You won’t make the mistakes I made. You will make all of your very own.” I thought she was just being defensive, but in time, I came to see the truth in her statement. We must accept that, no matter how hard we work, we will make mistakes because, after all, we are humans. We can only do our best.
6. Be sorry.
Owning the mistakes you make is the most healing gift you can give a child. Vic and I have both verbalized to our boys our regret at mistakes we made. Every parent has reasons for their choices, but children don’t benefit from knowing those reasons. Be secure enough to just say, “I am sorry. I was wrong.” and know it validates a child and makes them feel seen, heard, and valued. By authentically apologizing, you are also modeling behavior. It's a liberating skill to know how to be sorry and express it with no justification or excuses.
Below is a passage about parenting from Kahlil Gibran's book The Prophet that resonates as truth to me. These words remind us that the window of time to help children build a strong foundation for life is limited. Our relationships transform to the next appropriate phase in adulthood. We are blessed with the honor and privilege of fearlessly preparing kids to go on to live their own best lives, as reflected in Gibran’s words:
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”
It’s natural to have the fear, but the question is, does it drive you as a parent, and are you doing a disservice to your children if it does?
Remember, there is no perfect parenting, but generously giving your kids love and attention makes you a perfectly good enough parent, which is all they need in order to thrive.
Love Love Love,
Terri Cole is a licensed psychotherapist known for her holistic approach, combining practical psychology, thought innovation, and harnessing the power of intention to create sustainable change. She has a unique ability to take complex theories and translate them into actionable steps you can implement into your daily life. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.