Nothing is quite as unnerving as waking up from a dead sleep and seeing a kid silently standing over your bed at 3am.
“I’m afraid Daddy,” she whispers.
“Well SO AM I NOW!” You feel like yelling as your heart beats wildly! (Thankfully you keep it together.)
But what you do say is, “Go back to bed sweetheart, there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“Yes there is! I heard footsteps. I think it might have been a ghost,” she replies.
“That’s impossible, ghosts don’t have feet.” Unhelpful. Attempt #2, “What I mean to say is that ghosts aren’t real and there’s nothing to be afraid of so just be brave and go back to bed.” This statement is actually code for, I really can’t believe you woke me up on the one day this week I need to catch the carpool at 6am, now get back to bed before I give you something REAL to fear.
There are so many times I wish I wasn’t like this. I wish with all my heart that I could be a tender dad no matter what circumstances I find myself in, but that’s not me…yet. And it only gets worse as kids get older and they “should know better.” Know what better? Not to feel afraid? Come on dad! Even you are afraid of things. We dads are afraid of being hurt. Of losing our jobs. Of losing our kids. Of looking stupid. Some of us are even afraid in the dark – whether that darkness is physical, emotional or spiritual.
So now I find myself in a real pickle. On the one hand I don’t have time for the fears of my little child and expect her to just overcome it on her own, and on the other hand I am afraid myself, adding the sting of hypocrisy to the guilt of my insensitivity. What do you do when fear is real?
First, as parents, we must address our own fears. What are the things that cause your heart to skip a beat? I was recently handcuffed as a joke – with real handcuffs. I was fine for a few minutes, but then my glasses slid off my nose and for some reason as the world became a blur of colours I lost my mind just a little bit. I have conquered much of my claustrophobia, but apparently I have a ways to go yet. Many people fear death. I don’t so much fear my own death, but I certainly fear the death of my wife or kids. I do have fear. Why should I assume my fear is any more real or valid than a child’s fear? A child to whom the world is so big, mysterious and ominous. So first answer the question, “What am I afraid of?”
Second, admit you are afraid. You’ve already identified what you are afraid of so I’ll assume you have at least admitted your fear to yourself (a good first step); now find your kids, sit them down and tell them that you are sometimes afraid. Be specific. Also tell them what you do to calm down when you’re afraid. I used to sing kids worship songs, especially Jesus Loves Me, at night when I was in high school because I still had a very real fear of the dark.
This is another good thing to share with your kids; what did you fear as a child. Explain to them how you conquered and grew out of certain fears. But be quick to point out that fear is normal in life and that courage is not never being afraid, it is doing something in spite of our fear.
Finally, we need some perspective. Parenting is costly and while it isn’t always easy to be cheerfully available when you have been warm-breathed awake by your four-year old, it is important to be there for her. You are her dad! You are her mom! You are the super hero in her life. There will come a time when Jesus will need to be her rock and place of safety, but until that time, you must be Jesus to her. You must be her rock regardless of the time of night or day. In a sense, fear might even be one of God’s ways of keeping our kids close and building an iron bond between us. When Jesus was afraid, He ran to His Daddy as well.
So the next time you awake to the beady little eyes of your child in the middle of the night don’t dismiss the fear. Take a few minutes. Pray. Tuck her back in. Let her sleep with the night-light on. Sing to her. Sit by her bed until she falls asleep again. Be the dad, be the mom that God has asked you to be.
Have you been too tough on your kids in the area of fear? Confess that to the Lord and ask Him to empower you with the ability to show joy regardless of the inconvenience of the interruption.