Fear is a big topic, one of my favorites. It’s instinctual, it comes up often spontaneously, and sometimes it’s so forefront of our thoughts that it keeps us from speaking and acting even when our best interest is at stake. What I’m writing about today is the projection of fear. For example; you just learned of your friend’s engagement to be married. You, being freshly divorced say to your friend with some snark, “Good luck with that…”. This is how we project our fears onto others, and it’s a serious problem.
More specifically, there is something which happened recently that I’d like to share. I recently bought a house. My 12-year-old son, Connor was enamored with the property because it has a couple of outbuildings, one of which he would choose as his own space. He was downright excited at the idea of having responsibility and privacy! His joy over the potential of his own space is a big part of why I moved forward with the purchase.
To offer some backstory, my ex moved to a town out on the plains about a year before my move into the mountains. In Colorado, there is a thing called wildlife. It’s everywhere! Rattlesnakes, bear, elk, moose, bobcats, bats, eagles, and many other species are a potential part of your everyday life regardless of the area. There are also ways of managing your space in ways that make things less inviting. And generally, unless you have a direct face-to-face encounter with a wild animal, they’ll move through and would rather go unnoticed. One aspect of fear you may have as you read this can be sourced through the media who generally only reports negative interactions. Again, the projection of fear.
My ex was in the loop throughout the process of buying the place, and Connor being the “tell it like it is” kinda guy he is, shared with her all the ins and outs of where we were moving to. Being that Connor is 12 going 13, I understand that he is not completely self-reliant, and safety is at the top of my list of priorities as it relates to him. But it’s important to teach from a place of understanding, and preparedness, rather than reactionary fear. I do my best not to speak my fear in a way that may tattoo itself in my child’s brain and thereby influencing his fear. I remember a time when Connor was walking across a beam which was pretty high off the ground. I told him that if he fell he could break something and it would hurt a lot, and I let him choose to get down or continue. My reasoning is that it’s important to allow the natural consequences of life do the teaching, and just because I have a fear of heights, doesn’t mean he needs to.
So, when Connors mom starts talking to me openly (with Connor standing there listening), saying she doesn’t want some bear to have a “Connor snack”, I get deeply concerned. Now if Connor’s imagination is as vivid as mine, he was working on building a scenario in which a bear was eating him. Then his Nanna stops by during a pick-up from my place, she gets the tour (in Connor’s presence) and in her under the breath ways starts communicating her nervous motherly worries. It may be just that, with no ill intention, but it is far from harmless!
Connor now is feeling more unsettled than in the first several weeks of living there. He wants to sleep in the house instead of his cabin because of these fears that have been communicated to him. I find it thoroughly unacceptable that his fears may not be his own.
As parents, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to create little versions of ourselves. Our ego loves the idea of having our children follow in our footsteps. We want them to be agreeable. It’s easy. It feels good! They are totally different people though, and we need to give them the freedom of experiencing life in which they will create their own boundaries, their own fears, their own agreements and understandings of the world around them. Our jobs as parents is to guide. To give them age appropriate knowledge and skills to handle the environment they will be navigating. To encourage their independence and create boundaries as necessary and move those boundaries accordingly. They need skills for developing themselves (not mini-mes). If they are constantly trying to fill your shoes, and to live up to the expectations, they have the freedom to create their own reality
In this situation, I teach my son that we don’t have food and drink in the cabin because we don’t want to attract unwanted visitors, I give him protocol for handling situations, and I applaud his courage and understanding. I’m also empathetic to his age and am reworking a solution for him to feel safer while I allow him to stay with me in the main house. I was a scared 12-year-old boy once as well…I wonder how many of those fears were from my parents…a lot I imagine.