When I was 13, I read ‘Jaws’ on the way home from Girl Scout camp. In typical ‘forbidden book’ fashion, we passed the book around the bus, each reading 5 pages and passing it on. Mistake. Big mistake. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a scaredy cat. Yup, full blown lily-livered yellow-bellied coward. So, what happened after I read ‘Jaws’? I spent the next 6 months doing a running leap into my bed, just in case a very large great white shark was lurking under the bed. Never mind that I was 1500 miles from any ocean and the space under a single bed in my modest room would have been a bit cramped, not to mention dry.
Fear. It doesn’t matter how much you rationalize your fears, they are very real and can affect your activities. I’m rational to the extreme. I love the water. I’m a reasonable swimmer and I am comfortable in the water. So more then 35 + years later how do I feel about deep water? I still have to take a deep breath and remind myself that more people die from coconuts every year than from shark attacks.
But here’s the trick. Do my kids know about this fear? No way, and you are absolutely not going to tell them. My son has such a natural affinity for water I’m surprised he doesn’t have gills. My daughter is much more circumspect, in part because of my work, she knows too much about the dangers. In both cases I have a responsibility to make sure my kids are as safe around water as I can make them. My son because it looks like he’ll choose to spend his life in and around water, so he needs to respect and understand water. My daughter because fear can immobilize and I don’t want her freezing up in uncomfortable aquatic environments. This means regular swimming lessons, teaching them about water safety, and most importantly, absolutely not passing on my own irrational fears. My kids don’t have a clue about my fear when we have swum with sharks, rays, sea turtles and dolphins, not when we swim off a boat in the ocean, or across a deep lake. And certainly not when I tuck them into bed!
Does it work? Yes. I’ll give you another example. When my son was about one we were on one of those flights where the turbulence was so bad even the flight attendants looked pale. I looked at my son and said, ‘this is the fun part, where the plane goes bumpety-bump’, and we kept reading our book. A few weeks ago we were on another extremely rough flight. Every single person on that plane was clutching their seats and sending up mumbled prayers (myself included) – except for my kids who didn’t even look up from their electronic games except for casual chatting about their progress.
Think about looking at the fears you are passing on to your children – are the fears the legacy you want to leave them with, or is it time to put Jaws back between the pages where he belongs?