Friday, July 24, 2009

The Coward's Guide to Courage

How do you teach your child to be brave... especially when you don't want to?

This is something I've been mulling over for a long time. I feel like I've spent Zachary's entire life, starting from when he was three days old and didn't want to sleep alone, trying ride the line between protecting him and teaching him self-reliance. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that though I want him to be brave, I don't want to have any part in the learning. And I suppose that that's because, at heart, I am really a giant coward.

I was floored when, at the age of 2 or so, Zachary was visiting my mom and she stood him on the kitchen counter and encouraged him to jump off it into her arms. She insisted that this was a game she'd played with my brother all the time when he was little; I insisted that we were trying very hard to get him to stay on his bottom when he was on high things like the kitchen counter! And so it's gone.

In a couple of days, Zachary will be six years old. He has mastered kindergarten and will go to first grade in the fall. He made friends, listened to the teacher, and didn't wet his pants (I don't know about him, but that was really my biggest fear). He has made friends, all by himself, with a little boy down the street and goes over there to play, without me, though his friend's mom does come get him, since I'm not yet okay with him walking down and across the street by himself. He's reading well, likes to play soccer and video games, and helps out with the younger kids. Let me be clear: He is a wonderful, well adjusted kid.

But he lacks courage. He won't ride a bike--with training wheels--because he's afraid he's going to fall. I try my hardest to be honest with my kids, so I tell him yes, you probably will fall, just like you fell when you were learning to walk. But it won't be the end of the world. I fell all the time; in fact, my sister used to ride her bike into parked cars all up and down our street. But we kept trying and eventually figured it out. He doesn't like to try anything new, because of the infinite number of things that he things may go wrong. We've spent months and thousands of dollars on turning Ezra's room into his and Ezra's room. And last night, he was ecstatic to move in. Until it was time to go to sleep, when he started crying and crying. Dad came up and lay on the floor in his room, until Zachary said it was okay, he could go. Not five minutes later, he was downstairs, sobbing, saying things about how the room was just too different and he couldn't sleep and red was suddenly a scary color. He ended up in bed with me all night.

And while I find myself so frustrated with this apparent lack of courage, I think that it's not all his personality; some of it is mine. Courage is, after all, simply acting in the face of fear. And I don't like to see my kids scared. I don't like to see them feeling unsafe, frightened, wanting someone to tell them that they will be fine, that they will always be safe. Rather, I like being able to tell them that I will always keep them safe, that nothing bad will ever happen to them--because at heart, I am the hugest coward there is. And apparently the hugest hypocrite as well. Because I ask my son to take a chance, to try something new, to face his fears and act anyway. But I don't face my own fear, the fear that someday, something bad may actually happen to my kid. And I don't quite know how to reconcile my own cowardice with my desire for him to live a life of courage.


carrie said...

I think we all fear this from time to time with our kids...that we'll pass on our own fears. It's part of wearing that "parent badge." And for what it's worth, I think you're wearing it well. :)

Aunt Becky said...

It's hard. Ben isn't fearful and logic usually works well on him, but there are some things that he just can't seem to overcome.

I'm sorry. You're doing a great job. I know how hard it is.

Kendra said...

You're right, Carrie, it's that passing down of my own fears. Sometimes I look at him and I'm so grateful that he got some of my husband's genes, so that he wouldn't be stuck with all my shortcomings. But then I forget that he's not fully formed yet; there are still lots of chances to screw him up. I guess that's got to be a whole special kind of neurosis when your fear is fear itself!

Thanks, Becky. Sometimes I feel like all the other parents have certain things figured out, so my poor kids must be at a huge disadvantage. It's reassuring to know other kids have trouble too.