I scanned the confusing signs on a ski slope directing skiers to trails of apt difficulty. My ski skills are–at best–intermediate. And that designation might be a stretch. I have skied for a lot of years, and I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent skiing, but my skill level plateaued early. So that day on the slope, I had to be sure to choose a trail that matched my skill level.
I puzzled out the signs’ meaning, made a turn, took a long glide, noticed a very steep dip ahead and stopped quickly.
I was halfway down a hill. The terrain unfolding in front of me demanded expert skiing. I must have read the signs incorrectly.
Practiced skiers swished past me and down the incline that appeared to drop off—like the first descent of a roller coaster track. I stood on the edge with my arms stretched out in front to securely plant my poles, so I wouldn’t move. I spread the back ends of my skis wide in the biggest wedge I could manage. And I thought about going down.
But I didn’t dare move. Should I take off my skies and sit until someone filed a missing person report and the ski patrol came for me? Should I slide down on my bottom? Could I backtrack and locate the intermediate trail? If I moved, I might hurtle down the mountain.
As I thought about my options, my heart thumped. A film of heat coated my skin. My rapid breathing didn’t seem to gulp enough air.
An skilled skier whizzed past and hollered advice, “Use your big wedge! Go down slowly. You can do it.”
I am familiar with the big wedge beginner skiing technique (also known as snow plow) in which the tips of the skis are close together and the tails are wide apart allowing the skier to slide leisurely down the mountain.
I’m good at snow plow, but the incline I was perched on could be better navigated with a pair of working wings or–a parachute, I thought.
I wanted to yell back, “Do you see me? The only way to form a bigger wedge would be if my ankles were twist ties!”
This morning, when I set out to write about parents overcoming fear for their kids, I wondered if my words would come across like those of that skier who sailed past me.
For currently, my kids are doing okay—their circumstances do not prompt as much fear as they have at times in the past. However, I have endured times of dread when our circumstances seemed as precarious as my position on that ski hill precipice.
I believe that I didn’t really feel fear until I became a parent. In my pre-parenting days, I used to read the scariest books I could get my hands on–for the fun of it. I enjoyed the surge of emotion that came with the worry that a villain might slink through the dark yard and peer through the window at me as I sat in my chair and read. Or that a thug might stalk me as I walked across a pedestrian bridge in the dark. The horrifying what-ifs that resolved with the turn of a book’s pages and the heroine’s successful escape filled the stories that I chose to read.
And then, I became a parent and parenting provided enough fear on a regular basis that I set aside those scary books. The fear I felt, and still sometimes feel, came from knowing that the children that I loved so much—more than I loved myself–could be so heedless of their own safety.
When my kids were young, I feared for their physical safety. I worked to protect them by doing the things conscientious parents do–installing kid proof covers on pills, poison, and outlet covers. I buckled the kids in approved car seats. I lathered them with sunscreen. I enforced rules about when and where to swim and ride bikes and other activities.
When we brought our first baby home, I took an infant CPR class—just in case. After the training I patted our little son’s chest dry with a soft terry blanket after a bath and explored the skin with my fingers wondering if, in a panic, I could find the spot for compressions. Maybe I should mark it with a permanent marker X. Was I prepared to protect him from all the dangers he would face?
In our own yard and house, my kids flirted with danger regularly. When they were little, we owned a house that had long second-story windows, and one hot day, when the windows were wide open, I returned from an errand to see my two-year-old son smacking repeatedly on the upstairs window screen because he was excited to see me. What if the screen gave way?
The quake in my soul and the surge of energy that came with the rush to protect and the relief when the danger past—that’s why I didn’t crave those scary books anymore. Real life dangers—and preventing them–occupied my attention.
With kids, dangers start out small and increase in potential disaster. In addition to physical protection, there’s emotional protection—are they safe from bullies and break-ups? And spiritual protection—are their souls guarded and blessed?
When our kids were in their late teens and early twenties, their acts to test limits put them in harm’s way. They seemed to become their own worst enemies and that caused me excruciating dread.
Once, our phone sounded in the middle of the night because one of our sons, while driving drunk, was in an accident and totaled his car.
Another time, the phone rang about two or three in the morning. The police had called to report they had one of our sons in custody and in the emergency room because he’d cut himself while trespassing and then running from police.
“No. It’s a mistaken identity. He’s in bed,” I said.
But behind his locked bedroom door, his window was wide open and he was missing.
For many years, one son suffered from anxiety and depression and substance abuse. I used to prowl for signs of substance abuse. Of course, I hoped not to find any, so I wouldn’t have to be afraid. Often, I found empty, hidden liquor bottles and small plastic bags with remnants of green, dried leaves with a distinctive smell, and other evidence of drug experimentation—reasons to be afraid, I thought.
One weekend when I arrived home from a trip, I found a brown lunch bag full of dried, crushed leaves stashed by the shoes in our back room. Even I knew the bag was filled with way more weed than one person could smoke. I concluded—to my horror–that one of my kids must be dealing drugs.
I share these stories, so you know I have felt fear. I spent so many years mostly afraid. And I spent a lot effort chastising myself for being afraid. After all, fear is the opposite of faith and I should be exercising faith, for many reasons: God is in control. Faith is my name.
It wasn’t until a counselor said to me, “You have things to be afraid of…” That I was able to step back and examine my fears.
When I did, I realized that fear had herded me to a place of foggy thoughts and frenzied emotions. I feared the actual dangers and I feared every little inconsistency that seemed like it could indicate a danger.
That bag of weed I found? By the shoes? An acquaintance had given my husband a bag of homemade catnip. I spent five good hours of my life cowering in dread–certain that one of my kids was dealing drugs and trying to figure out how to break the news to my husband. Because fear dominated my life.
When you are a parent of a teen who is pushing the limits and risking his health and future for fun–because he thinks he’s indestructible, you have some things to fear. But I want to encourage you to find a way to make room for faith.
I used to moan that my kids and their own worst enemies were co-existing inside one skin.
And then I realized, me, too.
I’d let fear live as close as my skin. It dominated my life.
I recognized that fear is my enemy. Fear distorts my thinking. It made me think that I should say up praying (truth be told: worrying) until my kids came home at night when I needed to sleep. It made me imagine the worst and brace for it on a regular basis. My heart thumped. My breathing was rapid on a regular basis. I often felt paralyzed by fear.
And through it all, I learned the way out of fear and it’s this:
Step 1. Figure out what’s yours to do and do it. I have learned that God does not step in and do the tasks he has made me capable of doing.
Step 2. Surrender . It’s scary to surrender our kids to the consequences of their actions. But our Loving God promises to be there caring for them.
I remember the day I determined: I don’t have much faith, but I will act on the faith that I have and overcome fear. I took one small step of faith and followed it with another.
It was like that day on the ski hill when did the wide snow plow down that hill so slowly that to say I inched down that hill would be exaggerating. I descended by sliding the breadth of one snowflake at a time. Bit by bit, I made it.
When I look back on our struggles with our teens, I wish I’d let go of fear so much sooner and more thoroughly. But a mom can only do what a mom can do.
Just for today, don’t let fear fill your life with an army of imaginary monsters. Take one small step of faith. And then another. You can do it.