Photo by Meritt Thomas on Unsplash

Fear: Steps, Staring Strangers & Scary Things

My youngest son, Mark, once locked himself in a stall inside a men’s restroom. But that isn’t the only way and place Mark ever got stuck. His self-helplessness kept him stuck, too. Change became an enemy to be feared, an adversary to be avoided at all costs.

To be fair, this wasn’t entirely his fault. Born to a fifteen-year-old girl out in a field without any medical care or intervention, then surrendered at less than 24 hours old for adoption—without even being given a name. Well, that’s not a great start to build on. Then, couple that with months’ of profound abuse and neglect at the hands of a foster mom who was charged with—and paid to—care for you, it’s gonna mess a person up.

So, when Mark finally arrived in our home, I understood it would take more than a little time and a crap-ton of grace to get him even remotely to where he should be. And to be frank, I wasn’t interested in getting him to some “typical developmental milestones.” I just wanted to get him to a place where he trusted us and—even more importantly—trusted himself. Growth (aka change) can’t happen unless it starts on a solid foundation, a steady footing. It was true for Mark. It’s true for all of us.

Ironically enough, though, I had to be a little cruel to help him get there. I had to let him feel uncomfortable. I had to make him long for the change so badly that it was better than just settling for the status quo. I had to get a little diabolical, creating opportunities to lure him into trying new things out. Ugh. Sometimes being a parent can be so hard.

“Oh, the poor baby!” another mother cried out, literally clasping her hands to her face.

Internally, it felt like my eyes rolled all the way back into my head.

“He’s not a poor baby,” I thought. “He can do this! But he will be a ‘poor baby’ if I don’t force him to try.”

“Come on, Mark,” I said, completely ignoring the gasps of the other mothers who had since gathered around closer to get a look. “You can do it. I’m right here.”

“I not can do it, Momma,” he said as he started to cry.

“I can’t believe she’s not helping him,” I heard another onlooker whisper.

“Yes, you can. I know you can,” I said, continuing to encourage Mark while intentionally trying to shut out the ongoing and unsolicited comments from the peanut gallery.

Granted, Mark was tiny. Okay, really tiny. As he tried to navigate the steps on the preschool bus, it was painfully obvious that they were designed for much larger children. Yet, I knew that this kind of stark contrast would likely be Mark’s reality forever. The world would not mold and shape around his special needs—physical, developmental, medical, or intellectual. And the sooner I started preparing him for this, the better.

“Here, give me your backpack,” I called out.

“Mank you,” Mark said. He immediately stopped crying, pulled it off his back, and handed it to me. Mark was three years old but wearing 18-month-old clothing. His backpack was nearly as large as he was.

“Now, come on. Give me your hand,” I said. Immediately, I felt all of Mark’s fingers wrap around my index finger in a death grip. Then, one by one, he successfully navigated the stairs. By the time he reached the ground beside me, he was beaming. He quite literally amazed himself.

That wasn’t just one of my proudest moments for Mark. It was one of my proudest moments as a mom, too. It’s hard to feel judged—especially when in the spotlight. It would’ve been far easier to swoop in and grab my little boy. And did the other moms really think I didn’t want to do that? After all, I knew his heartbreaking back story, not them. But I also knew that I didn’t want to contribute to that heartbreak. I didn’t want to perpetuate his self-helplessness. And if I continued to let Mark feel like he couldn’t do things on his own, then that’s precisely what I would be doing.


Change is hard, uncomfortable, and can be scary for all of us. It means stepping out into the unknown. Yikes!

But even when doing so, we can make ourselves more comfortable by focusing on what we do know: ourselves. We can intentionally remind ourselves of everything we can do (our skills and abilities) as well as times we’ve successfully overcome challenges and learned new things.

Think of a change you’re currently facing (or will soon). What causes you worry or fear about it? Be as specific as possible.

Next, challenge yourself to counter each worry or fear with something specific that you already know about the situation or yourself.

Fear and apprehension can snowball. But so can confidence. So get that going—and growing, too!


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