When it comes to parenting in a world full of potential dangers, it seems that many of us have mastered the skill of using our imaginations. Possibly, mastered it too much. Let me explain.
In the last Soul Happy article, we discussed how that 90’s purple dinosaur, Barney, would be proud of us parents because of the use of our imaginations, often times when it comes to our children’s safety, we parents have imagined our way into a chronic state of anxiety. This anxiety serves no one, the least of all, our kids.
Sometimes, parents, myself included, use their imaginations to devise a future, fearful scenario for their kids that never really happens; essentially creating or imagining a negative futuristic event that is not real.
We do this by using those all too common phrases that instill scary messages of “if you do this, ____will happen to you.” When you break it down, we are essentially, using our creative thoughts to conjure up dangerous images that COULD potentially happen to them. As a parent of 3 myself, I have definitely fallen prey to creating my own imaginary world of peril then placing my children in that situation. For example, a brief scary image might come to my mind then the statements (coming from my fearful thoughts) follows…” please be careful, __is dangerous”
This realization came to me while in practice as a psychotherapist. Often times, the client sitting across from me was my mirror. Many with severe anxiety were seeking help because of the pattern of worry for the future of the ones they loved the most. This angst would evolve from fearful thoughts to actual visual scenarios of things such as car accidents, injuries, etc. These moments were very revealing for me and certainly led me to examine my own worry habits; where did these fearful thoughts come from and more importantly, how do I stop them? Worrying, especially for our children’s safety is normal. Certainly, there is danger out there. I am not suggesting that some worry isn’t warranted. However, when it affects us to the point of constant negative thoughts, it can almost become paralyzing.
For instance, in my case, I found myself obsessively tracking my son on my cell phone as he drove across the country during some bad weather. I realized that, what started as a thought triggered a sequence of visuals (car veering off the icy road) that took me down a 30-minute rabbit hole of pulse-raising anxiety. Had I been able to step back, use my awareness of my obsessive thoughts, I could have avoided my imagination running awry. Awareness of these thoughts could have given me the choice to stop that old pattern of behavior.
This is what I could have done differently:
So, although imagination is a powerful and necessary part of just being human, you can see how it can trip us up. We parents want our kids to thrive, be free and not fearful. Allowing them that opportunity to experience independence is key to confidence building. We parents must play a balancing act between allowing and/or supporting experiences that are important for our children’s own growth, even if it means pushing our own fears aside in order for them to do it.