I couldn’t sleep last night and it had nothing to do with Aurora wetting the bed at midnight, the baby waking at 3 am to nurse for an hour or Harper screaming out at 5:30 for her lost pacifier; rather, it was because I had an Ah-Ha moment, as Oprah would say.
Lately, our eldest, Aurora has become increasingly fearful of everything. She’s afraid to go to school, even though she returns home full of exciting stories of her day. She’s afraid of the birds at Mt. Trashmore and refuses to play on that playground. She is terrified of houseflies. And recently, she is afraid of sleeping in her room alone which results in her crawling into bed with us every-other night, further disrupting our already-broken sleep.
I reached out to my tribe, my group of Stroller Strides Moms, for advice and they were gracious with their input. Some suggested a small bed for Aurora on the floor in our bedroom while others advised the use of essential oils or soothing music. A lightbulb went off when one mom shared that she, too, remembered having a lot of anxiety as a child. It caused me to question, why?
Are some of us predisposed to have more anxiety than others and/or is this anxiety exacerbated by environmental factors? One of my friends pointed out that at four years old, “. . . this is an easily triggered phase” in which “They are in that awkward stage of still being dependent but learning how to be independent.” I thought this very astute and likely accurate but I couldn’t help to wonder where my responsibility lies in Aurora’s nature.
I lay in bed last night, thinking about the ways in which I may have unintentionally contributed to Aurora’s fears. I am certainly guilty of inducing fear when it comes to walking near a road, hot stove, or toilet in a public restroom. Certainly my intentions are good- I want to keep her safe. And that is when it hit me like a wave of warm sun rays, enlightening me.
Aurora’s fears are merely an extension of my fears. I cannot bear the thought of losing her to a car accident, so I graphically explain that she could be flattened like a pancake if she were hit. I cannot bear the thought of her in pain, so I gruesomely describe what it would feel like if her skin were to burn. I cannot bear the thought of my baby throwing up, so I raise my voice in fear if she looks like she is about to touch a toilet seat.
There’s a fine line between appropriate caution and inducing unnecessary fear and I think I may have crossed it more than once. Moreover, Aurora is obsessed with the Disney Princesses and with the exception of Merida from the movie Brave, most are not known for their courage. They are pretty and in need of a prince to save them. Not only am I encouraging Aurora to be fearful through my words and actions, but I am also surrounding her with helpless role models.
New Leaf Parenting. Every Day is a Fresh Start. Today is a new day and it is time for a change. This morning, when Aurora climbed into bed with me, the first thing I told her wasn’t how beautiful she looked; rather, how courageous I thought she was for staying in her bed all night last night (aside from the bed-wetting accident). During breakfast, I validated her fear of school by explaining that I understood that she loved school but that she missed her mommy and that we were going to fix that. When Daddy comes home from work today, I am going to take Aurora aside to play with her alone. I vowed to do that more often with her.
Later today, I plan on picking up some new library books full of courageous, brave little girls to read to my daughters before bedtime. I am also committing to using the word “careful” less often. As much as it scares me to watch my little girls go down the big slide at the playground, I want to make the effort to model how to do it safely rather than prohibit them from trying in the first place. I must overcome my fear so that they may overcome theirs. I must empower them to feel capable so that they look inwardly for reassurance rather than outwardly to me.
There are plenty of parenting books out there, but none specific to your relationship with your particular child. So much of parenting relies on our ability to be adaptable but more importantly to be self-aware. To recognize what is “normal” for certain ages coupled with how we approach these phases. Our responses are likely predisposed based on our past experiences, our childhoods. What we do with that is ultimately our choice. Do we continue the pattern or do we become aware of our tendencies and make a positive change for the betterment of our child?
Today I start again. Today, I commit to empowering Aurora rather than simply reacting to her fears. Today, I turn over a new leaf.