Hope and Help for the Fearful Parent
This season on the Rooted Parent Podcast, Cameron Cole and Anna Meade Harris will discuss The Fear Factor in Parenting. Each episode will address the lies behind specific fears that parents experience, and consider how the gospel shows us a better way to lead and love our children. As we distinguish between the good fear of the Lord and the bad fear of everything else, parents can learn to walk in increasing freedom from anxiety and actually enjoy our children more. We hope you’ll join Cameron and Anna for Season Four of the Rooted Parent Podcast!
See if you are familiar with any of the following scenarios.
- You’re in an important business meeting, but you realize that you missed a couple of phone calls from your daughter’s school nearly an hour ago. Suddenly you cannot concentrate, cannot answer your client’s questions, cannot even think until you call the school and make sure everything is okay.
- It’s Friday night. Your child is fifteen minutes late for curfew, and Life 360 isn’t showing you where he is. When he comes in the door, you blast him with righteous indignation before he can even say a word.
- You proofread every assignment your daughter turns in. You hire a coach for cheer, a tutor for Spanish, a consultant for college essays. Your daughter is smart and talented, and you will stop at nothing to make her dreams of an elite college come true.
- Your cheerful thirteen-year-old has turned into a sullen, withdrawn fourteen-year-old. Is it drugs? A breakup? Is he depressed? Does he have any friends? The change is so frightening you haven’t slept well in weeks.
Just imagining those situations makes my heart race. I have felt the anxiety, the rage, the pressure, and the heartache of overwhelming fear for each of my three children. I have gone to Scripture to read all the “fear not” verses and judged myself faithless when the fear persisted. I have burdened my children with the weight of my worrying wheninstead, they needed to be able to confide their worries to me.
If experiential PhDs were a thing, I would be a certifiable expert in the field of fear.
You’ve heard it said that the Bible commands us to “fear not” 365 times. I don’t know if that’s accurate or if it makes for a cute refrigerator magnet, but nonetheless God knows we need to hear it often. Arguably the first consequence of the fall, fear arrived in Eden when the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened to good and evil. Their response was twofold: they took matters into their own hands, covering themselves with fig leaves, and they “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God” (Gen. 3:7-8). All these centuries later, we are still responding to fear in the manner of our first parents, trying to control our worlds and scrambling to hide our failure.
All too often, we mistake control for love, or withdraw from our kids when fear overwhelms us.
Fearful Parents Are Controlling Parents
Lawnmower moms and helicopter dads by definition remove any resistance or obstacle that appears to threaten what they think their kid needs or wants (or, maybe more accurately, what those parents think their kid needs or wants). You don’t want to be this child’s college counselor, because his parents will have you on speed dial – and not because they are happy with your work. These parents hover, micromanaging details like deadlines and social calendars and what’s in the backpack for school, often taking care of things the child should be learning to handle for herself. Kids who want to be autonomous will rebel, intent on escaping the clutches of mom and dad. Other overcontrolled kids struggle with confidence, making decisions, and handling adversity.
Fearful Parents Are Withdrawing Parents
At other times, parents don’t know how to handle talking to their kids about things like Snap Maps, porn, or social issues. These parents don’t feel confident in sharing a biblical worldview with their kids, but even more, they fear their kids will think they are preachy or judgmental or (heaven forbid) uncool. Speaking of cool, these kids get to go to all the parties, no questions asked, because their parents are afraid they won’t have friends, which will lead to depression, which will lead to… and on it goes. In an effort to keep the peace, these parents keep their mouths shut at a time when teenagers desperately need a firm hand to guide them. These parents may avoid controlling their kids, but they end up not discipling them at all.
My fears for my children are between me and the Lord. I have to take my fears to God and let his Word minister to me. My kids will suffer if I do not learn to trust God with their lives.
Our fears for our children often:
Produce a pressure to perform, because we drive them to achieve when we fear what happens when they aren’t “successful enough.” “My son needs to make the tennis team because that coach keeps his players out of trouble.” “Good grades equals a good college equals financial security for my daughter.” Our kids feel despair when they can’t live up to our expectations, or when we want things for them that they don’t necessarily want for themselves.
Make them fearful too. If we disciple our children in fear, they will grow up to be fearful adults.
Burden our children. When they see us struggling under a heavy burden of fear, our children can feel guilty and resentful, as if they were responsible for our well-being instead of the other way around. When teenagers are afraid of worrying us – or if we suffocate them with our controlling – they tend to withdraw. We go in hot pursuit of the distant child, asking lots of nagging and sometimes intrusive questions because we need them to reassure us that they are okay. That’s a terrible burden to put on a kid.
Make us unavailable to our kids when they need us most. Fear is relational acid; it eats away at closeness. When I drive my kid away by the force of my fears, I am no longer a safe person for them to confide in honestly. When I am caught up in a spin cycle of anxiety, I do not have the peace of God that would free me to notice and respond with comfort to my child’s worries, stresses, and anxieties. If I am busy forcing my own agendas, I don’t leave room to listen or to help my child discern God’s will for their life.
Mostly importantly, a fearful parent is a poor witness to our trustworthy God. My own son called me on it one day. “Mom,” he said, “seems like you want me to trust God, but you don’t actually trust him very much.”
Thanks be to God, he is trustworthy. He will give us what we need to parent our children with wisdom and grace. Even more, he will give our beloved children what they need to grow up to be men and women who look like Jesus. He gave us Christ; what more do we need to convince us of his love for us and for our families (Romans 8:32)? May we let our fears for our children drive us deep into the strong heart of our heavenly Father. There we will find every assurance we need.