I Feared My Parents — and I Think Thats a Good Thing

Me and my parents, 1977.

When I learned recently that Jon Gosselin plans to sue Kate Gosselin for sole custody of their 9-year-old sextuplets because they “fear their mother,” I paused. I don’t know what kind of fear Jon is implying, but all this fear-talk left me wondering, is there a place for healthy fear in parenting?

I believe there is.

I grew up fearing my kind and loving parents for one very simple reason: they meant business.

While my parents gave me all the affection and support I could wish for, I guess you could classify my upbringing as old school. I wasn’t given many choices when it came to things like meals, bedtimes, or chores. I wasn’t able to negotiate my way into or out of anything they didn’t approve of. “Kids don’t get a vote,” my dad would always say. “This isn’t a democracy.” And it wasn’t.

You bet I stated my case, caused a scene, and bucked their boundaries as I was growing. You can also bet that I faced the consequences of my actions every. single. time. How they mustered the energy I’ll never know, but what I do know is that I was afraid to cross the line.

Now, I know “afraid” sounds like a bad word. We’re taught to face fear, overcome fear, and even kick fear out the door. But not all fear is bad. There’s another, different, healthy side to fear, the side that whispers, “Hey, maybe you ought to be careful with this fire because it could burn you.” The side of fear that makes you think twice – the part conscience, part accountability side of fear. And that was what I felt for my parents healthy fear.

While I never once feared for my physical or emotional safety when it came to my parents, I did fear the inevitable disciplinary 1-2 combo of going without without TV, without that slumber party I was looking forward to, without car keys paired with a ridiculously long lecture…and if you knew my dad, you’d think the lecture was enough. There was no spanking, no screaming, no drama, just quiet, fair, consistent repercussions for my actions.

Now, I’m not the scariest of mothers. I can bust out an evil mom-stare with best of ‘em, but when it comes to instilling healthy fear in my kids, I rely on my husband. As the good cop of our family, my kids have come to know and love their father as a gentle man who teaches them, helps them, and has endless amounts of fun with them. Dad doesn’t get mad (unlike Mom) very often, but when he does, watch out because “Mad Dad” means business. Mad Dad doesn’t have the time or inclination to listen to excuses. He speaks just enough quiet and serious words to dole out a fair and stern punishment. every. single. time. Between you and me, I think it’s the calmness that frightens them most.

My husband and I have both been criticized for expecting too much from our kids in the way of proper behavior. “Kids will be kids!” they say. Yes, kids will be kids, kids who will one day grow up to be not-so-great adults unless they’re appropriately guided.

If a little healthy fear is what my children need to become respectful young men with a developed sense of respect and righteousness, I am thinking they can fear Mean Dad now and thank him later.

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