Bears Repeating

Fear Itself

by Jess Hill

October 2019

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I am borrowing FDR’s famous words from his inaugural speech in 1933, to inspire our parents of tweens and teens in 2019.  In listening to many parents today, I am reminded of the bounty of fears that permeate the minds of well-meaning parents. We all want the best for our children. Sending your daughters to a school like Harpeth Hall means that you value her education in the highest way. In many cases, you are making great sacrifices as a family to ensure that she gets this tremendous “leg up” in the pursuit of learning. I firmly believe there is no greater gift you can give your daughters. I also recognize that having a student at a school like Harpeth Hall does not erase all parental worries and fears.

Part of the parenting journey requires us to table our fears.  We understand that we need to believe in our girl’s ability to manage what comes her way. We must trust that she will make the right choices and the ever-important wrong choices that coincide with these years and her growth. At times, we can only support her by stepping back and often stepping back again. We hear these messages, and yet it is counter-intuitive that supporting her may require a dose of something my mother called “wholesome neglect.” 

Perhaps the first step in combatting our fears is acknowledging and naming them. We all have them in the wee hours of the morning. We have general fears about our student’s future and character and happiness and success. Specifically, we may be fearful of her current lack of academic progress, confidence, friends, influence, or recognition. At the same time, we are concerned about her minutes of play time in a game, an audition, her college admission, her social media presence, her friend group, her friends’ parents, driving herself, not driving herself, an invitation by a boy, or the lack of that invitation.

The entire array of a parent’s fears at any given moment can be overwhelming and can affect our decision-making. My advice is that we question our own motives. If we are acting out of fear, reconsider. Imagine what the decision might be without the presence of fear. What are the possibilities?

I recently ran into an experienced educator and former Head of School. I asked him if he had any advice for me. He looked up, smiled and said, “Diminish the timidity in your heart.” How did he know that I agonized at times, fearful of making the wrong choice or delivering the message in the wrong way? It happens to all of us.

Reaching within and remembering our true motivation serves as the anecdote to living in fear. We know the real motivation for parents is not fear, but love. When stress is high and we find ourselves afraid, I recommend spending time listening to and being with our girls. It can be extremely reassuring. My quickest lift comes from visiting a class or better yet on a beautiful October day, hanging out on the playground during middle school recess. Who knew the entire fifth grade created a lovely game called “spiders and flies” for their daily climbs on the jungle gym? To my delight, I also discovered that the sixth grade regularly enjoys performances by their classmates during recess. Equally important to them are the enthusiasm of the audience and the courage of the performer. Recently, I was lucky enough to witness a full-throated rendition of Alicia Keys’, This Girl is on Fire, by a sixth-grade student, with the encouragement and full support of her classmates.

Be still my heart. Let us learn from our own girls that there is indeed nothing to fear, but fear itself. They’ve got this.

Jess Hill

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