How do we keep our children safe physically, emotionally and psychologically? Up until about a year ago, I thought I had this pretty much figured out. My strategy was to keep my children safe by staying one step ahead of the “dangers” that came in to their world. I modeled strength, security, and invulnerability with the idea that, no matter how scary things got, my kids would know I had them covered and they need not be afraid.
Things were going pretty well as far as I was concerned, until the challenges started getting bigger and I began to sag under their weight. Divorce, remarriage, moving, changing schools, anxiety and depression became a pretty heavy load. Modeling strength, security and invulnerability cost me more and more personally.
About a year ago, a therapist who was working with one of my children gave me one of the best pieces of parenting advice I’ve received. She told me that my children (and children in general), from a very young age, could sense when I was struggling. No matter how well I thought I was shielding them from my stress or discomfort, they knew I wasn’t being honest.
Here’s the kicker – If I didn’t tell my kids what was going on for me, they would make up their own story, and it would invariably be something more frightening and stressful for them than the truth.
This was a serious “Aha moment” for me. My strategy for protecting my kids was actually adding to their fear and uncertainty. It was also causing a serious disconnect between us as they made assumptions about what I was experiencing and behaved accordingly. The best way to protect them was to be honest with them about my own fears and vulnerable with my emotions.
I still want to be the expert protector in my children’s’ lives, but I’ve come to understand that real conversation about the hard or scary stuff offers a much stronger shield than the shelter I can provide by trying to absorb all the shock. What is your reaction to this? I’d love to hear from you.