25 Jan Choosing Caution, Not Fear
By Denise Caudill Irons, NHI Board Member and Parent
During the early weeks of the pandemic, I was surviving while providing some semblance of normalcy for my family. But as the days wore on, I began to feel insulated and comfortable existing in our bubble. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief when schools went virtual and the shelter in place guidelines were instituted. I live with a constant undercurrent of fear for my daughter’s welfare. As she matures, my fears also grow. It feels as if I have a news ticker of all of the bad things that could happen scrolling in the background of my thoughts. Is she being bullied or mocked? How often does she hear hurtful comments? Are people looking at her differently? Is she physically safe? Could she be abducted or something worse? Will she be able to tell me if something bad happens to her? Paranoia lives rent free in my mind, and it is paralyzing at times.
After the initial shock of the lockdown, I assuaged most of these fears by diligently obeying all of the CDC recommendations. My daughter was tucked safely away from all of the perceived dangers that existed beyond our front door. Eventually, I began to realize this was no longer a blessing. I saw how unhealthy the isolation was to her well-being. My “protection” was becoming more detrimental to her development than any situation she experienced outside the home. It forced me to examine the irrational fears that influenced most of my parenting decisions.
I realized that I no longer wanted to live in a state of constant fear. Rather, I choose to live a life in caution.
I begrudgingly concede that I cannot keep my daughter in a bubble. However, I can help her develop ways to be safe and vigilant, to be resilient, and to trust her instincts. For her to evolve, she needs to explore the world and find her way. I need to be supportive and encouraging as she gains her independence. Nonetheless, a piece of me will always want to coddle and protect her. As difficult as it is, I am committed to providing her with what she needs, and not what I want.
I was given two opportunities for growth in the fall of 2021. My daughter started North Central High School. I was scared, nervous, and anxious about her returning to in-person learning at a new school with thousands of teenagers. I attempted to approach the transition with more caution than fear, but I am a work in progress. Luckily, the teachers and administrators developed a plan to help my daughter acclimate to the school and staff. During the summer, she visited North Central twice a week. The teacher and I communicated frequently; we worked together to prepare my daughter for a successful transition. Second semester is underway, and my daughter is thriving. She loves going to school, and I am thrilled at how well she has adapted. I am so grateful that I did not allow my fears to inhibit her experience.
A few weeks into the school year, I was presented with another opportunity for growth. A senior, who is a peer helper, and my daughter clicked. They developed a strong connection and started to become genuine friends. As their friendship progressed, they wanted to hang out together after school and during the weekends. I knew this day would come, and I was terrified.
No longer allowing fear to dictate my decisions, I decided to let my daughter go with her friend. We have worked so hard to give her the skills to be more independent, and I needed to allow her to demonstrate how capable she is. Luckily, her friend understood my concerns. Before their first
adventure to the park, I prepared for a variety of dangerous possibilities. I took photos of the car, the license plate, and my daughter’s outfit. I also requested a phone number of a parent. Then, they were off. I was proud that I followed through on my decision, but I immediately called a friend to keep me company for the next hour. As we chatted, a text came through, “at the park.” How could I have missed requesting that she text me upon arrival?!? In that moment, I realized it was all going to be okay. Her friend is responsible, mature, and trustworthy. Since that first fall day, there have been many outings. My daughter loves spending time with her “bestie,” and I am so grateful for their relationship. I can teach my daughter a lot of things, but I cannot teach her how to be a teenager. Being cautious, not fearful gave me the strength to embrace my daughter’s newly found friendship and independence.