In Parents Anonymous, we talk about parenting tools, fear isn’t one of them.
“You better get it done before I get back!”
“I better not hear of you monkeying around in school!”
“You better not iron clothes sitting down!”
“You better bring those grades up or we’ll mix!”
“If you don’t go to sleep I’ll have to come in there!”
Do not tell me that these are not threats. And when Dad or Mom came in the bedroom you can bet they had a belt in one hand. I could not begin to count the minutes before I would fall asleep and it was not because I couldn’t sleep but that I was afraid to.
Fear is not a good teaching tool.
Children do not learn anything from fear except that parents are bigger and assume the right to bully. Fear might work when children are young but as they become older, fear no longer works. By their teens they have built up a wall between themselves and their parents, in part by becoming sneakier to avoid detection and then the dreaded punishment.
Fear builds a wall.
When I was about nine years old my cousins came to visit in the early fall. The mothers got together to prepare string beans from the field to can them in jars. They pulled the strings then broke each bean and added it to the tub full of plate-ready string beans. They began to fill the quart jars then boiling the jars full of beans to sterilize and seal them.
All the kids romped outside playing games like Blind Man’s Bluff, Hot Potato and Battle. Battle was a game my older brother dreamed up when he was bored because he was the biggest and meanest. Everyone grabbed something long to use as a sword and then something else to use as a shield. I ran in the house and grabbed Mom’s canner lid. Back outside I jabbed and swung my sword and held my shield to protect myself. I was invincible, until the game changed to Hide and Seek.
As it began to get dark my mother yelled for me, “Jackie Lee! Jackie Lee! Get in here right now!”
I hated my name, it meant only one thing, I was in trouble and I would get scared.
Her canner lid was missing and they needed it to seal the last batch of green beans. I remembered using it, but I could not remember where I dropped it. I stood there shifting my weight from one foot to the other and back again. Looking up at all those adults, I saw nothing but angry faces. I was in trouble – big trouble – the worst in my life!
Mom sent me outside – alone – to look for the canner lid. It was now dark and as I walked to the old house to see if it was there; we had played here, around the pump house, behind every bush and tree on the property. I was too scared of Mom to worry about the boogeymen in the shadows; I thought I was going to die. I got down on my knees and prayed like I never prayed before.
God heard my prayers and showed me the canner lid as bright as day; I could see it in my mind lying behind the wheel of the trailer. I ran to the tire and – God was right – it was right there. I smiled and wiped my eyes leaving dirty streaks down my face. I took the lid in to the women and was surprised they hardly noticed me at all as they took the lid.
While I got my bath that night, I thought about God and about being scared and about Mom. I had been scared of God until that night. After Him showing me where I left the lid and feeling so peaceful I never feared God again. Unfortunately, nothing changed with Mom; I was afraid of her for many years – until I was in at least my 20s.
My girls are fortunate, whether they know it or not, in that they had little reason to fear me. From my parenting toolbox I doled out consequences and choices while they were growing up, but never fear. If this had happened to me and my daughters we would be likely to have a good laugh while we searched for the canner lid.
What kind of parenting tools do you use? Is fear one of the tools in your toolbox?
Jackie Saulmon Ramirez has served as a volunteer with Parents Anonymous® of New Jersey, Inc. for more than twenty years, giving and getting support. Find her blog here contact page.