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Be afraid, be very afraid

Be afraid, be very afraid

I was never truly afraid until I had children.

That’s not to say that I was never in some scary situations. I’ve been in more than one car crash. I’ve been lost and alone in Killarney National Park for almost 24 hours. I’ve almost fallen to my death from a cliff face one night when I was attacked by a Canada Goose (yes, I said a Canada Goose, and yes, there may have been alcohol involved).

I could have died on any of those occasions, and I knew it. I was certainly scared to some degree each time, and if you had asked me then whether I was afraid, I would have said that I absolutely was.

None of those experiences, however, even approach the kind of fear that I have as a parent on a regular basis. I’m afraid of very basic bodily things – that they’ll injure themselves doing the stupid things they do (although, honestly, they’re far less stupid than the things I used to do). I’m afraid of the consequences that might follow the choices they make, the friends they choose, the actions they take. I’m afraid that I haven’t prepared them well enough for adulthood, that the world they’re inheriting is a difficult one, that they’re too influenced by media, that… well… the list could go on a long way.

This fear hit me unexpectedly when I first became a father. I’d be carrying my son around the house and have sudden visions of what might happen if he fell. I’d hear him coughing in the night and be terrified, not because he was so very sick at the moment (I knew he wasn’t), but because it reminded me of how very sick children can become.

It was a strange and disorienting experience for me. I was used to being very much unafraid, even of things that should probably have scared me. I was used to my fears bing rational and controllable. I was used to being afraid only for myself, and not for another helpless human being.

Fortunately, I’ve learned to live with these fears (more or less), and not to let them make me overprotective (at least I hope not). Instead, I choose to look at this fear as a constant reminder that, as a parent, part of my role is actually to be afraid on my children’s behalf.

This might sound strange, but think about it for a moment. Kids are usually too inexperienced and oblivious to interpret danger like they should. They’re terrified of a character on television, but they’ll walk blindly into a busy street. They imagine all kinds of monsters in the closet, but they’ll try to joust each other off of bikes with broomsticks (and yes, I’m speaking from personal experience on that one). They’re scared of meeting their new teacher, but they’ll wander out the door with a few pennies, at five years old, trying to buy candy from the corner store (which my youngest child did, not once, but twice, in the same day).

They don’t always know what they need to be afraid of, or even how to recognize the danger that they’re in. That’s why, I think, our fear on their behalf can be a good thing. So long as it doesn’t paralys us, so long as it doesn’t keep us from letting them grow up and live their lives, our fear for our children allows us to help keep them from danger until they can (hopefully) learn to keep away from it themselves.

So, don’t let fear for your children immobilize your life or theirs, but don’t try to push it away either. It’s natural to be afraid for your kids. It just might save them some pain and heartache, even if it comes at the cost of some sleepless nights.