I was just reviewing some saved emails, and ran across the following email:
Hello Dr. Cale. I read your newsletter on gratefulness, and it was good to hear it again. I was reminded again of what seems to be the biggest obstacle to me in focusing on the positive things about my kids: I worry! With this comes nagging, reminding, prodding, and pushing…constantly. It’s what I do. And I see where it stops me from being grateful and appreciative.
I do NOT trust that anything will happen without me pushing things along. And it leaves no room, or at least little room, for me to be feeding the positive in my children. I see them resenting my ‘helicoptering’ over them. And, I recognize that my fears are limiting how much we enjoy life at home. Thoughts?
Perry, Father of two boys (ages 14 & 18)
This father is expressing a struggle I often see. We have a strong sense of what we want to be as a mom or dad, but fear and worry hijack our good intentions. This then leads us down a path that undermines both the quality of our parenting and the quality of our relationships.
Why Fear-Based Parenting Fails.
Let’s first understand this: Worry is just fear. It is often disguised in our minds, and we can find ways to justify it. But it’s still fear. That’s why this article is about fear, and how it corrupts our good parenting intentions.
We Keep Repeating Ourselves…Thinking This Will Help. It Doesn’t.
When fears of mistakes, missing out, kids not getting it, or even drugs taking over their lives…we inevitably start talking and questioning. Our minds have us projecting our worries of the future into the present, whether that’s worry about tomorrow or some distant moment.
In these moments, we forget to trust everything else we have done as a parent. Instead, there we are reminding them again. There we are questioning them again. And of course, the repeated words of wisdom, stories from the past or threats about what bad outcomes flow effortlessly from our lips. Forget that we have said this 78 times this year already. It just keeps happening.
If this worked to prevent mistakes or poor choices, great. It would be worth it. But it doesn’t work. If it did, parenting would be a lot easier, and I would be out of business!
And Who Is This About?
Let’s be honest: It’s about you. It makes you feel better BECAUSE it’s as if you did something to prevent the feared event or outcome from happening. Yet this repetition didn’t do what you wanted. It just relieves your stress.
We want to think it’s about them, and protecting them. But none of the research and common-sense observations support this. It doesn’t protect them. It doesn’t help them learn. It doesn’t stop stupid choices.
What Are We Passing On?
And there’s more to this toxic role of fear: You pass it on. Yes, unknowingly, you are passing on your fears and worries. The repetition of redundant questions, comments, nagging, and reminders are all teaching your children to think about what you DON’T want in life…rather than what you do want.
And here’s the real rub with this approach. The more we focus on what we don’t want in life (always stemming from some fear), the more that fear grows inside our minds. The more it grows in our mind, the more we express it, and the more it consumes us.
Like Perry who wrote me in the email above, there is little room left for the positive, afterlife is consumed with all that worry-related chatter. This is what we pass on with this practice.
Fear Distracts Us from Having a Great Parenting Plan
During all this, we miss out on a critical piece; having a great parenting plan. When we invest heavily in worry and fear, this is what consumes our minds. And too often, this substitutes for a clear game plan for parenting.
We talk with our husbands, wives, partners, friends, and parents about the kids and review our worries over and over. We often leave these discussions with more worries and fears, and more to talk about with our kids. Little of that will have anything to do with good parenting practices.
Keep in mind that nothing about this article is arguing against good discussions with your children. It’s about the repetition of the same stuff, over and over, and the delusions that this is helpful. It is not.
Next week, I will follow up with an article on trusting your parenting and finding a game plan that gives you a reason to trust what you do and say. Until then, do your best to relax more and repeat yourself less.