Fear, Trust and Parenting – Part 1 of 4

I will never forget the day I got to be Superman for my daughter.

ImageOur family was at a friend’s house two summers ago, just chilling out and swimming. All the kids were in the pool have a great time, while the adults were relaxing about twenty feet away under the porch. As is often the case, we were half-paying attention to kids, while also secretly enjoying the ability to finish conversations without interruption. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my daughter Cynthia jumping into the water…and go limp in mid-air as she went into an absent seizure!

In a moment I slipped off my sandals, ran to the pool and jumped in after her. I saw her face-down, body limply floating downward in the pool. I grabbed her and rose quickly to the surface. As we got to the pool’s edge, Cynthia was still out of it. I pulled her out of the pool with me and held her in my arms for about three minutes before she came out of her seizure. She looked up at me, completely confused. “Poor girl,” I thought. “She is moved into her postictal state, and is probably done swimming today.” Not exactly….she smiled and said, “Dad? Thanks for hugging me, and I love you too. Can I go back to swimming now?”

I let her go swim with her friends, and stayed on the side of the pool, silently weeping prayers of gratitude. She had been in the deep end playing by herself. What would have happened if I had turned my head to the left instead of the right and missed her jump? What if nobody noticed and my daughter slowly sunk to the bottom of the pool? What if…what if…what if. Even now – over two years later – as I tell you this story, I am starting to tear up. There is actually a possibility that my daughter may have died if things had been only a little different.

It’s not every day that we have true life-or-death moments in parenting (thank God – I wouldn’t make it as a parent!). But we do have choices as parents about the freedoms we give our children, and this is always in contrast with trust – trust in our children, and trust with God. The next four posts are going to be focused on this contrast, and the struggles that I continue to work through in this context.

This was one of those moments that changed the way we parent Cynthia. As you might imagine, Cynthia never swims alone anymore. We also came face to face, really for the first time, with how dangerous this world can be for an epileptic like my daughter. This paradigm shift has impacted our parenting in some really significant ways, some pretty frustrating for our daughter. Our tendency now is to hold our daughter close, maybe closer than we should, and maybe closer than she wants.

ImageRecently, Cynthia has been frustrated, because she sees these safety concerns through the lens of mistrust. I realize that we will need to pull back and give her some chances to experience life outside our watchful eye. I want her to know that we love her, we trust her, that it’s not really about her per se; it’s her epilepsy we don’t “trust.” Yet the fear, the what if’s grounded in perhaps the most emotional moment of my life two summers ago, won’t go away.

I’d love to hear from you – how do you figure out the balance between fear and trust? I’d especially like to hear from you if you have a special needs child, as I think the answers might be a bit different.

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