My immigrant parents meant well, but they fed us fear like it was a basic food group. Growing up, a hot serving of "No" (actually more like, Non) was dished out as regularly as rice and peas. In a Caribbean household, that's a heck of a lot! As a child, I didn't understand why Rudy Huxtable got to RSVP "yes" to sleepovers, and I could not. Or why, years later when Zack Morris was sneaking into Kelly Kapowski's bedroom window, boys couldn't even call my house.
But as an adult, I get it. Raising, or PARENTING, four daughters in a troubled city was not easy. Notwithstanding the rich legacy my loving, good-humored (albeit, alarmist) parents passed down, their fear-based parenting techniques should be avoided. Today, I'm striving to keep these five unhealthy scare tactics off my parenting regimen.
1. Being Overprotective – Today's distressing headlines and health scares would keep any parent paranoid. Yet, life marches on. When fear dictates my actions, it distorts my good intentions. Concern gets expressed as control, supervision becomes surveillance, and protection looks a lot like policing. The first time I took my baby girl to a mom meetup, I chuckled politely (and nervously) when another baby put the pacifier hanging from my daughter's lapel in her stranger baby mouth. But by that weekend, the ER pediatrician was informing us that our diarrhea-stricken child had "caught a virus." I was tempted to make our home's four walls my daughter's only play area, but this would only deprive her. Keeping my kids from playdates, parties, and yes, even the occasional sleepover, will deny them important skills, like the ability to socialize, to handle personalities, and later, to network. So, when she recovered, I braved the social scene once again—but this time, I kept her trusty paci in my pocket.
2. Using "No" As a Default – "When will she start understanding No?" I posed this question to my daughter's pediatrician early on. And often. My husband started to joke that the doctor's notes include a tally of my asking. Okay, so maybe I came off a bit old-school, but that's okay. In parenting, I believe an occasional "No" can be character building. But, as my baby grows older, if I use "No" as a default—especially before any details are even heard—it will shut the door on conversation, and I don't want my kids to feel like communicating with me is an act in futility. Plus, it sends the message to children that their reasoning and sense of right and wrong cannot be trusted.
3. Sheltering My Kids – Yes, two heads are better than one, but if I never let my kids do anything on their own, I'll only handicap them. Even though she's not yet a year old, it's clear my daughter is her own separate person, not my appendage. She needs to express her independence in order to get comfortable handling life's challenges. "You can do it" should be my refrain. Thank God for my husband, whose parenting style is more laid back than mine. When our baby girl tries everything physically possible to climb the living room sofa, hubby stops me from interfering. "Don't help her, just support her in case she backslides." It's about encouraging children to do their best, while reminding them that mistakes are okay—things don't always have to be perfect.
4. Always Casting Suspicion – "What's that in your hand?", "Are you chewing on something?", "I don't hear anything —what's going on in there?" Parenting my 10-month requires superhuman hearing and eyes at the back of the head. But my parenting approach should evolve as my child does. I hope to not keep asking her these exact same questions years down the line. Yes, kids can be sneaky and mischievous as they get older, but that doesn't mean they're always up to no good. So, for instance—and, uh, this is from the top of my head—if teen girls say they're not feeling well, let's not assume they're knocked up! Sometimes even the suspicions we don't verbalize come across loud and clear. And the message kids will pick up is that they only get our approval if they do what we want them to do. For me, I believe this cultivated a fear of not being liked, which, in turn, begot that stubborn people-pleasing condition that I still have trouble shaking off.
5. Clinging To Outdated Ideals– As old-fashioned as they were, I'm sure my parents thought they fell short of the strict disciplinarian ideals they were raised with. It's normal to worry that I may go too far off-track from the wonderful cultural traditions and strong ethical standards they instilled throughout my happy childhood. Am I being too strict? Too lenient? Supportive enough? Questioning enough? Expressing the right amount of love? I'll let my sounding board be my level-headed husband, my like-minded relatives and friends, and, of course, my inner child—who sometimes pouts something fierce when I catch an old sitcom's sleepover party scene on TV.
Debbie Rigaud is an author of Young Adult fiction. She and her husband welcomed a baby girl in early 2014, and life as they knew it has (thankfully) never been the same. Follow her on Twitter @debbierigaud
Image: Mom playing with baby via Shutterstock