We hardly ever talk about fear. Forums and social media are filled to the brim with anger, but it is rare for the fear that’s at the root of it to even be acknowledged. That is because we much prefer being angry than frightened; when we are angry we feel in control, while fear makes us feel vulnerable, and no one wants to be seen running around scared.

Lately, I started noticing the role that fear plays in parenting too.

Losing control

It’s common for parents to tell each other, “you need to keep your child under control”, or worst of all, “your child need to learn some respect”. So, when that’s not the case, we panic. We start doubting our ability as parents, we start recalling all the many times we made the completely wrong decision with our children, and our brain is so good at making these memories immediately available. Our internal conflict makes us feel unsafe, and we don’t like that. We’d much rather be angry and in control. So, we end up being angry a lot, and lose control altogether.

I’m not better than anyone else, I get angry all the time, contravening to the advice of all the parenting books and articles I read. I keep falling back to the old ways of parenting because it feels safe to do so, however ineffective they proved to be in the past.

Past failures

My parents had a good run with me up to the age of 16, then things started to unravel. Not a new story, I’m sure: the usual teenager battling for independence and his parents brawled in a losing battle for control. My parents never changed gear with me, surely thinking that what worked so well for so long had to work again, eventually. It was only going to take bigger arguments, bigger consequences, and bigger punishments. The situation escalated to the point that I was forbidden from getting back home if I stayed out too late. Needless to say, that too didn’t work. For me spending a rough night outside was still preferable to the endless fighting with my family, and maybe that’s what my family thought too. After that, there wasn’t much else my parents could try, other than banishing me from the house for good, which luckily they never did. But I’m sure the idea crossed their mind once or twice.

Those two years or so ended up destroying our relationship; a relationship which they carefully nurtured in the 16 years prior. And when I had the chance to put some physical distance between me and my parents, and match the emotional distance that had been there for so long, I didn’t think twice about it and went to live in another country.

We responsible adults

As responsible adults, we feel it is our duty to be in complete control of our children: what they do, what they say, how they say it. We start controlling them from day one, and we believe we will never be able to stop. Because of the enormous responsibility we carry, any challenge to our authority produces an almost instant anger reaction. I used to believe my anger was caused by pride, “I am the grown up and I will not be disrespected”. Have you ever told yourself that? These days I call my anger for what it really is: fear. I believe fear is at the bottom of all our bad emotions.

Am I angry at my foster child for acting defiant, or is it because I’m scared I’m out of my depth and I might not be cut out to be a foster carer? Am I angry at my son for talking back to me, or because I’m afraid I may not be worthy of his respect? I try to recognise that I get angry because of my own insecurities, and somehow, knowing where my anger comes from, makes controlling it more manageable. It also helps me recognise that my anger has very little to do with external influences, what is going on outside of me, and that’s the really hard part.

Blame games

When you lose control of your anger, it’s easy to look for someone to blame, to prove that all the hatred is somehow justifiable, considering the circumstances. It’s not your fault if he pushed the little kid, she trashed the room, both of them keep fighting over toys; that kind of behaviour would get anyone fuming. But if it’s not your fault you’re angry, you can’t be blamed for any consequence that may follow. And you can justify a lot by stretching that logic, including refusing your son to come back home for breaking a curfew, as my parents did.

Now that is my turn of being the parent, I feel I must do better. And in the tough situation I got myself in, and the weight of my own insecurities, failing to do better than my parents did is my biggest fear of all.

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