When fear gets in the way of connecting with children

Parenting with an open heart and mind allows us to respect and honor children for who they are, not what they do or how they act.

It requires us to move through the feelings of our past so that we can be in the present with the children in our lives. In my journey as a parent, I have discovered the many ways we can create barriers to being open and present.

Fear is one way that I create a barrier to opening my heart. As a parent, I have come to realize how I avoid intimacy because of my fears. I define intimacy as the willingness to open myself up to other people so that they see who I am and being willing to see and love them for who they are.

Another critical facet of intimacy, perhaps the first step toward intimacy, is our ability to see and love ourselves for who we really are.

In a conversation with a good friend, also a parent to two boys, she made a comment to me that made me wince. I was asking for advice about my relationship with the youngest child in my life. The comment she made was meant illuminate how I might feel when I’m with him.

Instead it felt like a huge spotlight that gave me the opportunity to face my fears about seeing him for who he really is and being willing to open myself up to him and let him into my heart.

It may seem strange to have a parent say that she has not allowed a child into her heart. I would not have thought that was the case with me. I have this deep love for both children, and yet, I realize that I have kept him at arms length in our relationship. This is a painful thing for me to admit.

When I became pregnant with the second child, the oldest expressed her feelings that she did not want another baby in our family. As her brother’s birth approached, I had ambivalent feelings about adding another child to our family.

My feelings were connected to this sense (I have now discovered) that I was betraying the first child by having another baby. I had spent the first four years of her life away from her on a daily basis in my role as Dean of Students at UT-Austin. I carried a lot of sorrow about missing so much of her life.

As her brother came into our lives, I felt as though my heart was torn in two. I loved him with all my soul and I loved her older sister with all my soul. But it felt like I didn’t have enough time and energy to nurture two children and give them the love they needed from me.

This feeling of scarcity, that there is not enough love, is logically not true. But, it was a story I struggled with everyday.

I felt inadequate as a parent and unable to give the children in my life the love and kindness they deserved. In so many ways I was unable to let myself feel this fear of being unable to love two children enough.

I hid it from myself.

I was unwilling to open myself up to my own heart and accept these feelings and myself. I was not willing to be intimate with myself as a parent.

In letting myself really feel the reaction I had to my friend’s comment, I came around to facing this fear of intimacy and connectedness. As children who grow up in a conditional world, where our behaviors determine whether or not we deserve to be loved, we are afraid to show our true selves for fear of rejection.

We act in certain ways to ensure that the adults around us will love us. We equate our self-worth with our actions, not who we are as human beings. I have felt all of those things. And, I have been judgmental of myself, as much as I have been of anyone else.

Despite feeling the deep (and mostly unspoken) fear of rejection, I never saw this fear as a barrier to creating intimacy in my relationships with the children in my life until my friend’s comment.

It was truly an amazing and challenging moment.

Since then, I have felt myself open up to the youngest, to create more intimacy, to be willing to see him for the amazing child he is. I feel more open to myself and my feelings. I am creating intimacy in my relationship with myself and it is allowing me to do the same with him.