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Parenthood and Overcoming Fear

"Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else 
is more important than fear" - Ambrose Redmoon

"Courage" and "fear". Big words. I'm sure we can all bring to mind people who have the courage described by Ambrose Redmoon. The obvious ones are the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, doctors and nurses in war zones, aid workers, firefighters... etc. But I'm not going to talk about these people: their courage in the face of tremendous danger and hardship is clear for all to see. Here, I'm more interested in the neurotic fears that we all have to a greater or lesser degree. They are little fears by comparison but not necessarily to the person living with it.

We all show great courage, in our own way, every day. The fear we face may not be the kind faced by the people mentioned above, but it can be debilitating if allowed to rule our lives. At worst fear can drive us insane with worry and make us physically ill; at best it might prevent us from enjoying an aspect of life open to other people.

Of course, fear is there to protect us. We fear something because our subconscious at some point in our lives has learned that something is dangerous and it wants to protect us from it. In many cases, it is right. But not always. Sometimes our fears are simply out of date - life has moved on, but maybe a defence mechanism has not.

Many of our fears we learn as children, from our parents or other parental/authority figures. As adults, we may have a phobia but not even know why - the chances are that it stems from something that happened to us, or we saw happen to someone else, when we were younger. Or it may even be two entirely different, unconnected things that our subconscious has mistakenly linked.

As parents, we have the opportunity - I might even go as far as to say the duty - to ensure we do not pass on our neurotic fears to our (or anyone else's) children. Because children learn far more from what we do than from anything we say. And parenthood (or aunthood, unclehood, teacher-hood) is also a great opportunity to overcome our own fears, and make our own lives a little better and our own worlds a little bigger.

I love thunderstorms. I love standing out before, and in, the rain listening to the rumbling and watching lightning streak across the sky ('God laughing and flashing a smile'). It's exhilarating. In fact, years ago I was stood on Glastonbury Tor (a small hill jutting up above the Somerset levels with the remains of a church tower on top - hit a few times by lightning throughout its history) with thunder shuddering through the landscape and lightning crackling around me. It was one of the most thrilling experiences in my life. It's perhaps not something I would recommend - for health and safety reasons - but I felt so alive. 

My love of thunderstorms may have stemmed from my experience as a child. As soon as the rumbling began, my mum, dad and I would sit at the window and watch. Many years later, after I had left home, I was visiting my parents and while chatting to my mother, she told me she had been terrified of thunderstorms all her life. "But we used to watch them together," I protested. She replied: "Only because I didn't want you to have that same fear." Actually, she had been terrified but never showed it, so it never rubbed off on me.

I've done the same myself. My stepdaughter was learning to swim and was nervous about putting her head under water. So my wife and I took her swimming. I couldn't swim... and had a fear of putting my head under water. But I knew I had to show her that there was nothing to be frightened about. So I dunked my head under water... for her. And that day, I overcame my own fear. Now I swim - not well, but I can get from one side of a small pool to another - and although I can't say I like putting my head, I can do so. This small overcoming of what, to me, was a great fear has meant I have since been able to go swimming with my son - something which might never have happened had it not been for my judgment that my stepdaughter's welfare was more important than my own fear. And my son loves swimming - perhaps almost as much as I love thunderstorms.

We do many things for our children, make many personal sacrifices, but I think one of the best things we can give them is a degree of fearlessness. Or, at least, the understanding that fear is a choice and courage is the judgment that something is more important than fear.

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