I read such a good post on TJ’s blog about the fear we plant into our children’s lives. Sometimes purposefully, and sometimes innocently – but always wrong. Consequently, Sharon and Lisa also posted along a similar vein and all their stories resonated with me.
Here’s the thing with raising children, some lines are so blurry that we sometimes cross a line without even thinking about it. The trouble is that once that line is crossed, it’s very difficult to go back because children are like little sponges who soak up everything you let out into the universe and take it as gospel. Especially with fear. What do I mean? My fear of lizards, geckos, iguanas or any other four limbed slimy creature that crawls with its belly close to the ground did not come from nowhere. My mother has this irrational fear which she passed on to me. Living in KZN, geckos are part of the family, they are in the house, on your ceilings, hiding behind your shoes – everywhere. I have had encounters with them lying belly up in dishwashing water that wasn’t emptied the night before, and falling onto my head from the ceiling and them spying on me from the airvent in my room as I changed. The hairs on my back and arms are actually raised as I write this. My mother and I would fight off these creatures with a broom and would not sleep in a room if we found any lurking on the ceilings. My father would pick them up in his hand and chase us around the house, laughing at our fear. It was HORRIBLE. I am soon to be 31 years old, and I still cannot stomach these creatures, seeing them on TV makes my skin crawl, a friend of mine has two bearded dragons, in a cage with no chance of escape, yet I cannot even look at them in their cage for fear of what? That they’ll jump out and bite me? It’s a crazy and irrational fear but it is very real to me. I do not want to pass this fear onto my children. I want Liam and Hannah to pick lizards up by their tales and bring home bugs in a glass jar to show mom and dad – IF they want to. Not debilitated by a fear that I have passed onto them for a harmless creature (well except for those big scary iguanas who look like they will eat you whole in one bite).
Natural fears of real things are one thing, in fact I think the fear of things you can actually touch, see and feel is something that is easier to overcome. When I say easier, I mean that things which are tangible can be worked with. But the fear of monsters, the bogeyman, dragons and figments of the imagination are harder to eradicate. We as parents often brush these fears off, and after being called to your child’s room for the 6th time in one hour to look at the monster under the bed, one can be quite brusque about these things NOT BEING REAL SO JUST GOT TO SLEEP. But the truth is, to a young child, these things are very real. A fear that makes them shake and cry just becomes worse when they are told to toughen up and stop being such babies for crying over silly things. I have tried to shield Liam as much as possible. He only watches Disney Junior, Cbeebies and movies which I myself have watched or previewed. At school they only watch Disney movies. Although he knows about Ben10 and wears the clothing, he has never watched it, nor does he understand who or what Ben10 actually is. We never talk about monsters, the bogeyman and I most certainly do not entertain conversation about killing, dying and shooting anybody or anything (a phase most little boys go through depending on the media they are exposed to, and in turn the friends they play with at school). BUT I have heard myself saying things like “if you don’t do x, y, z, the bad man is going to catch you.” I have heard their grandparents and their father and my helper say things like “go wash your hands now or else the bogey is going to get you” or “don’t go outside alone when it’s dark or else the monsters will get you.” All well meant, and in an effort to elicit some action from your kids, but still planting a very bad seed for our kids. Children take everything literally, they don’t know that monsters do not exist, their imaginations are wild and untamed – which is beautiful but dangerous if used incorrectly. We laugh or become frustrated when our kids show strange and unfounded fears of things that don’t exist, which just further exacerbates the problem. And you know what happens, the damage is more far reaching than just that moment. You cripple their self confidence, you threaten the implicit trust they have in you, and you belittle and demean them when you don’t take their fears seriously. And we make the fear worse. I used to read the old tales and fables we all grew up with to the kids, but then I realized that some of those stories are quite terrifying for a little child who doesn’t quite understand the difference between fantasy and reality yet. When that big bad wolf huffs and he puffs, or when that big bad wolf hides granny in the cupboard and lies to Little Red Riding Hood (some editions actually say the wolf eats granny), or when that big mean giant chases Jack to the beanstalk – that’s all VERY real and terrifying for the poor toddler listening. Days later, out of the blue, Liam will say something like “that is a bad wolf, hey mommy?” Which just further proves how their little minds and spirits are affected by stuff we think is trivial. There will come a time when my kids will completely understand what’s real and what isn’t, then they can lose themselves in fantasy and flights of their imaginations, and until such a time, I want to try and protect them from unnatural fears as much as I can.
I am not a loony right wing, I know they are exposed to these things through other mediums – their school friends, watching a movie at a friend’s house which their parents think is OK, my own family who innocently make jokes about bogeymen and then laugh when they see how frightened the children are (they aren’t there at bedtime are they). My own husband plays this game with them when he puts on a scary voice and chases them through the house, and while Liam enjoys this, I can hear the hysteria in Hannah’s screeches.. moms, you know that sound when your kid is just about to go from laughing to crying, that only you recognize? Yes that, that’s FEAR! Why would we do that to our kids!
I don’t want to be a fuddy duddy, I also don’t want to go to such great lengths to protect my kids that they don’t experience a full spectrum of emotion – fear included – because they need to experience it in some form to learn how to deal with it. But I do not want to unnecessarily terrorise them. Society has instilled enough fears in us – which I have been forced to pass onto my children for their own safety – the fear of strangers, the fear of running away from mommy in a shopping centre, the fear of running across the road without holding mommy’s hand in case a drunk driver guns you down in our quiet street – these are things I have had to instill in them and I know it frightens them but I need them to “get it,” to grasp the importance. With all that going on in their little heads, I don’t need them to be worried about monsters or bogeymen or dragons, but if and when these fears arise, I want to be able to quell their fears without first ridiculing them or picking myself off the floor from laugher or making them feel foolish. I got a bit sidetracked with this post, it’s such a big topic to tackle and we all have differing views, my own father will tell me I am overreacting; that we were raised on The Three Little Pigs and that they laughed at us when we acted like cry babies. Yes the same generation of parents who smoked in the same room as the kids and let us ride unbuckled in the backseat! No disrespect to our parents, but we are raising children in a completely different time and space. So if you come into contact with my children, please do not frighten them for your own amusement, please do not make fun of their irritational fears, as funny as it seems to you, and please do not think it’s cool to make jokes about monsters and bogeymen. I WILL go monster on YOU, then who will be the cry baby? No seriously, this is a reminder to myself about the way I speak and react to my kids, yet another “fear” to keep ME awake at night.