With vs. In Fear: From Parent to Advocate


“You cannot find peace by avoiding life.”

-Virginia Woolf, Author


My Dear Readers:

When does a parent cease being a parent? The simple response is when the child is grown and out of the nest.  That simple answer, however, is wrong.  The “real” response is never.  Even in death, your parenting remains alive and flourishing. When we parent, we cast the shadow of our wisdom and experience upon our children. As much as we consciously transfer what we know to be true, we also unconsciously transfer our fears.

There is a tendency to “forget” that when our children reach adulthood, our roles as parents must change.  Instead of directing, managing and controlling, we must seek to advise them instead of leading them, and become a consultant in the decisions they make, instead of the decision makers ourselves. Easy to say; difficult to do.

Below is such a story……..


Dear Visible Man,

I don’t know what else to do.  I have spoken to my girlfriends; I have spoken to my pastor.  I have prayed to my Lord and still I cannot find relief.

While having dinner at one of Seattle’s finest restaurants recently, my daughter told me that she’s decided to celebrate her 30th birthday in New Orleans. She considers this her vacation—she wants to relax and enjoy the atmosphere that the city is known for.  I, on the other hand, am worried about her  traveling alone.

I feel betrayed. How could she do this without asking me?  To make it worse, she manipulated the situation by choosing to tell me this in a public setting instead of at home, where I could react the way that I wanted to.  Of course, she knew that I would go “angry black woman” on her in a public setting.

I understand that my daughter is an adult and has the right to make her own decisions.  But traveling alone in the South?  Especially during these troubled times?  She could have traveled with a girlfriend.  I would have even reluctantly approved if she, as an unmarried and single woman traveled with a male escort.

I grew up during the days of the segregated South.  I will never forget watching on television as the police released dogs to bite civil rights marchers.  In those days, a single black woman traveling alone and unattached was simply unheard.  I would have never ever considered the idea.  My own mother would have had me committed to a mental institution.

What the hell is wrong with young black people today?  It’s even more dangerous to be black in this day and age than it was then. After all, what happens if she gets into trouble?  Who is she going to go to for help?  The police?

I don’t trust the police in the South, and I’m really uncomfortable with my daughter’s trip, especially now that it appears they are targeting black women like Sandra Bland.  I spoke to my daughter about that college-educated and professional woman who was arrested following a simple traffic stop and later turned up dead supposedly hanging in a jail cell.

Most recently, the police conducted a cavity search of a black woman in public after stopping her car due to the suspicion that she was transporting drugs.  A cavity search in public, spread over a patrol car?  The police would have never dared conduct such a heinous violation has she been a white woman.  I have repeatedly heard the news stories on this and have nightmares of that happening to my daughter.

My daughter knows about these incidents and still, she insists on traveling alone.  My daughter is a college educated, professional woman.  I raised her to be an independent thinker.  I just don’t understand why she would do something as dangerous as this.

Please help.  As a professionally trained clinician, she will listen to you.  Evidently, she no longer trusts her mother.

-Disappointed & Frightened in Seattle


My Dear Woman,

It appears that in your daughter’s decision, you have now chosen to use my opinion to try to change your daughter’s direction.  Please note that I have utilized the word direction instead of mind, thoughts or focus.

I can sense your desperation. However, you have made two erroneous assumptions: one, that I agree with your position, and two, that I would allow myself to be manipulated in some misguided effort to save your daughter from herself.  Let’s start by taking a moment to follow the Five Rs of Relief.

  • First take a Step away from the emotions of the situation and catch your breath. Breathe.
  • Next, own your reactions.  Why?  Because these emotions and no one else.
  • Then take time for reflection. This is the processing of your thoughts and feelings.
  • Afterward, develop your response, for it is your response and not your reaction that you must want your daughter to listen to.
  • Finally, reevaluate the situation. Ask yourself: What did I learn from this?  How would I handle a similar situation differently the next time?

Is your daughter being manipulative by having the discussion in a public setting rather than at home?  Did she betray you by buying the tickets without your consent or at the very least, obtain your input?

Yes, you were manipulated, but no, you were not betrayed.  For betrayal to occur there must be the intent of the betrayer and a specific loss by the victim.  Was she being deceptive? Yes.  However, what is being impacted is your ego.  You were simply outplayed by your daughter. 

Let’s assume that you have entered the stage of reflection, consider the following possibilities.  In her actions, your daughter:

  • Knew you would disagree, so she let you know that she bought nonrefundable tickets,
  • Was aware of the difficulty of getting you to listen without reacting, so she made the decision to inform you in a pubic setting.
  • Finally, she acted as a result of the training that you, the parent taught her.

In your own words, “I raised her to be an independent thinker”.   As you follow the steps of respite (step away), reaction (calm the emotions), and move towards reflection (consider your daughter’s actions), prior to moving towards the step of response, please consider that your daughter:

  • is an adult, and therefore able to make her own decisions,
  • is aware of the possible negative consequences of this decision and,
  • despite your objections, has decided to go in the direction she feels is the right choice for herself.

As you consider these factors, reevaluate your feelings.  Due to your experiences, are you living in fear?  Do you want your daughter to do the same?

As a clinical traumatologist , it has been my experience that many African-Americans suffer from complex trauma resulting from unresolved traumatic memories.  It is feasible that due to your experiences, you may be replaying “old tapes” and in doing so, are allowing those unresolved memories to shape your current feelings.

It may be that your daughter, by her decision to travel alone, has chosen to live with fear instead of living in fear.  The probability of you living in fear is more likely given your earlier statement that despite your conservative views, you would had approved of your daughter who is single and unmarried to travel with a male escort.  The idea of being dependent upon a male directly contradicts the independent thinking you have reinforced within your daughter.


Concluding Words

The most difficult phase of life for parents can be transitioning out of the role of being directors, supervisors and managers in the lives of their children.  Now that the child is an adult, the parent may have difficulty transforming into a different role in which their position changes towards the model that I have designated as advisors, bystanders and consultants (ABC).  This becomes ever more stressful given your concerns of macro-aggressive assault (physical violence) and being powerless to assist your daughter.

Please consider the following recommendations:

  • Have belief, faith and trust in your daughter’s decision-making abilities. Remember that you taught her to be an independent thinker.
  • Process your desire to control/direct your daughter’s actions and directions.
  • Cease the manipulation and the desire to control. Engage in open communication with your daughter.  Stress your concerns without dismissing her decisions.
  • Create a system of communication and contact via phone while she is vacationing in the area that raises concern for you.
  • Seek support of your own friends, but remember that they are not professionally trained. Seek professional assistance such as psychotherapy to process the unresolved traumatic memories of violence you are dealing with.

Complex trauma leaves a permanent imprint within the psychological self.  Such traumas never ever go away or disappear.   The goal in psychotherapy is not to terminate, control or manage these memories but to learn how to balance these memories in one’s lives so these will have the minimum and not maximum impact.

Be open to your daughter’s independence. Is she seeking the life and freedom that you may have denied yourself?  To fulfill life is to have achieved the meaning of life.  In contrast, to live in fear is to deny life and the meaning life can bring.

“If you deliberately plan to be less than you are capable of being, then I warm you that you will be deeply unhappy for the rest of your life.”

-Abraham Maslow, Psychologist and Author

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

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