Lions, Tigers and Bears, oh my!
Jeannie loves all animals and had asked Santa to bring her a snake many years ago. Now it seems like an easy request. Your baby asks for a gift. You have the means of giving it to her. Why wouldn’t you do it? The answer was easy: Paul. My husband is terrified of snakes. When I say terrified I don’t mean like Indiana Jones saying, “Why did it have to be snakes?” I mean he screams like a little girl when he sees a 4” garden snake and has a reflexive need to smash them with a hammer or anything heavy he can find.
I remember the conversation after we read her letter to Santa.
Paul: “Can’t we get her something else?”
Me: “Like what?”
Paul: “I don’t know. Maybe a dog?”
Me: “We already have 4 dogs.”
Paul: “The snake will kill me.”
Me: “Pardon me?”
The rest of the conversation was weird with Paul rocking himself back and forth in a fetal position.
That night we decided that we would not pass our fears onto our kids. Many of the fears we carry as adults were actually handed down to us by our parents. Fear is not a genetic marker but socialized fear is as dominant a trait as brown hair and freckles. It’s easier for us as parents to accept that our children share our fears so we never have to overcome them. Some fears are natural and show a respect for nature. A fear of snakes isn’t really going to paralyze anyone unless your child decides to be an adventurer/archeologist.
But, what if the fear is public speaking? Simple verbal cues like, “Oh my God! You have to do an oral report?” gives the message that these things are terrifying. As adults we know that success in business and most industries hinge on one’s ability to speak in public and yet many choose paths to avoid certain fears like writing, doing math or doing presentations. When we speak of fear of success it really means, “I’m not really willing to do what it takes to be successful.” These fears and messages are transmitted to our kids. The blanket beliefs we have about things are etched in their little psyches, i.e. “I’d rather gouge my eyes out than write a report,” or “All of those types of people are bad”.
So, of course, Jeannie got her snake. Paul put his fears to one side and was able to avoid scarring one of our kids, this time. I have faith in us. We still have time for some good traumatizing and two more kids to mess up.