As parents we live with guilt, we wonder if what we do for our kids is the right thing to do. When our kids are struggling it pains us, we put a protective arm around them and try to make the pain go away. But what if we hold on too tight, if protecting them stunts their growth as they near adulthood?
I had thought about that, about my daughter’s crippling anxiety. We held her hand, we protected and kept from certain experiences that made it difficult for her. Over the course of the years we added anxiety medicine, ADHD medicine and therapy but what about really putting her out there so completely that she has to feel the fear in order to overcome it.
It came about when I realized she had two years left of high school. I thought, will she be able to talk to her professors, her boss, other classmates. After realizing she had convinced herself it was okay to be alone, she’d be okay, we took the drastic action to reprogram how she thought about herself and the life that was possible for herself.
They’re called exposures opportunities to fear safely. We started this on our own though we didn’t know it. She wanted tuna from her favorite sub store, she had to go in to the store and ask on her own. But with the bigger things, we were stumped. How to make her drive, how to convince her that not going to college is wasting amazing grades and experiences. But after a few sessions with the therapist, someone other than her parents to fret, cajole, yell and scream, we had a breakthrough of sorts.
For the first time, she could put her fear aside for just a moment and realize that college, she could do it. There are options, she doesn’t have to leave home. She could start small at the community college and work her way in. There are possibilities and the world is too big to not experience it. I could have cried, gathered her in my arms and kiss her, but I didn’t. I knew then that pushing her out of her small comfort zone will wield benefits that neither of us can forsee. And as she gets older and more mature, maybe someday she’ll thank us for not giving up on her.