I named this column Fearless Parenting back in September of 2010 when I started it, not because I don’t wake up in the middle of the night in a panic thinking I’m doing everything wrong, but because I know that succumbing to my own fears is not what’s going to help me help my kids.
“Fearless” was and is an aspirational name, one that guides me toward being braver. Certainly I don’t always succeed, but at least I have it in writing that I’m trying. With parenting, as with most things, trying is all you can do. There is no rule book, just mantras to help boost your confidence that you can do it, like the one my smart pediatrician, Dr. Michael Yaker, gave me right from the get-go: “You’re going to do things your way, and that’s going to be the right way, ’cause it’s the only way you can do it.”
I quote him all the time, Dr. Yaker, because his words gave me confidence then, when I was in the initial throes of new mothering, and still today, when my boys are looking more and more every day like men, complete with faint mustaches.
Right. I can’t be anything other than who I can be, who I was destined to be. That’s the good news and the bad news, depending on the day and, mainly, on my perspective. I am always intense and full of a million ideas, which can seem awesome on the days when it is necessary to animatedly share a barrage of passionate ideas, but not so great on days people just want to focus and get things done with one idea on the table.
The way I feel about myself often extends to how I feel about my kids. If I am awesome, then I see them as the awesome extension of myself; if I am an annoying, focus-less cur, well then, I sadly often see my children as the poor, wretched progeny of said cur.
But I am working hard to disassociate those two things, me and my children, and to let them shine under their own individual star. It may not always feel this way, but the cord was cut right from the start, and then began their independent journey in the world. Of course I care for them and nurture them, but as much as possible I need them to understand that the power that fuels them now comes from within, not from me.
I work with a little 7-year-old girl in Bedford Stuyvesant. She blows me away. On certain days she bounces in, under the brightest most hopeful star, and other times she sits, silent and brooding, hiding from the stars, under the table. The other day, for fun, we looked up her name online.
“‘S’ has outstanding organizational and administrative capabilities,” I read. “Are you organized, and do you take care of things?” I asked.
She nodded. “Yes,” she said.
I kept reading. “ ‘S’ has the potential for considerable achievement in business or other powerful positions.’ Wow. Are you a leader?” I asked.
Smiling, she nodded. “Yes,” she said.
I went on, reading about how someone with her name is good with money, is efficient, is a success in large part due to her great judge of character.
Here, she piped in. “Yes! I am a good judge of character! I knew my friend, Shelby, was a good person, and I knew you were a good person!”
She was all smiles, proud of herself for being able separate out the good from the bad. I was happy I’d made the cut.
I smiled and went on: “ ‘S’ can plan and complete projects, is dependable and determined, and likes to dream.’ Are you all those things, like are you determined to do well in school?”
Here, my little friend, beaming from braid-covered ear to ear, smiled and told me confidently. “Yes! I am! I am determined to improve my reading to level Z, to be the best writer in the whole school, and to rule the world!”
She giggled, then dropped her eyes and got a little bashful. “I dream a lot of things,” she said. “Sometimes, I get scared, but then I just think about happy thoughts, like in ‘Yo Gabba Gabba.’ I think I’m a fairy, sleeping in a bunch of grape juice I can drink and get the grapes from, or that I’m a giant, with a giant bed, and I can fly!”
I looked at her and smiled. “Good,” I said, “that’s great!”
I didn’t want to say too much. I wanted to let my friend focus on the goals she had set for herself to live up to the legacy of her name. Belief in the possibility of doing one’s best is the greatest tool, and we can prod it along by giving it a name, a positive aspirational one that we have to strive to live up to.