The world can be a scary place.
Such fearful thinking can compel you to guard your family by keeping them in or near a predictable place—a place we call home.
Yes, the world can be scary. But it’s important that children experience the world before their fears outweigh their curiosities, before their comfort zones narrow rather than widen, and most importantly, before the world becomes something they can’t confidently navigate.
Creating a sense of security is fundamentally important to child development and family life. This is an important role we commit to as parents. At the same time, we have to prepare our children to leave home and live a life that is rich and full.
To do this, we inevitably have to stretch our own limits and comfort zones—to raise children who feel as safe inside the walls of their home as they do in the space beyond it. Traveling as a family can send a message—a signal to our kids that the world is good, welcoming, and worth exploring. And most importantly, that they can and will successfully navigate it, no matter what circumstances arise.
A MOTHER’S FEAR
Lisbon was not initially on our list of must-sees. I was traveling there for work, so Sean and the kids decided to meet me for a long weekend. It was January and we had been living in Switzerland for nine months.
Sean and the kids pulled up in a beaten-up cab. Joseph, the driver, stepped out of the car to introduce himself. His eyes looked kind and humble. When he reached to shake my hand, I noticed his left arm bent awkwardly behind his back. I smiled and instinctively pulled the kids closer to me, not completely sure why. Was it the beaten-up cab I made a judgment about, or his hidden arm which was bent in an awkward way?
As we walked into the hotel, Sean told me that Joseph had offered to take us on a tour of the city and surrounding areas on Saturday for only 85 Euros for the day, a welcome surprise from the taxicab prices in Switzerland.
As I fell asleep, happy that my kids were again close to me, I started to think about Joseph and his awkward and deformed arm. How had that happened? What had that meant for his life? Why was I hesitant to trust him? My husband, who had spent time with Joseph on the drive from the airport, didn't share my concerns.
Was I worried because of my lack of experience traveling in a foreign country? No, I knew that wasn’t it. I was sitting in my own judgment and fear, and I didn’t know what to do with it. Joseph was disabled which triggered worry in me. Would he be able to deftly handle the car? Could he protect us if we needed him? And how did he hurt it anyway? What if the story was one I didn't want to know? But then there were his kind eyes.
Although I was still feeling concerned, we accepted Joseph’s offer. Sean had no hesitation; there was something I also needed to trust about that.
A father of three, Joseph started driving a cab after he lost his job at a manufacturing plant due to a declining economy. Driving a cab meant he could support his family and, because of the flexible schedule, share in caring for his kids. He wasn't a victim of his circumstances. In fact, he exuded gratitude and positivity, which also made me believe he liked what he did.
He drove us along the coast for lunch to a town called Ericeira, a small fishing and resort town perched on cliffs overlooking the Atlantic. Then he took us up into the hills of Sintra to tour historic castles. Along the way, he shared his country’s history and local highlights with pride. He loved Portugal and hoped it would make its way back to being prosperous as it had been in the past.
Braeden listened with wide eyes to his stories. He took an authentic interest in Joseph by giving him his undivided attention and accepting him without question. In the mind of a five-year-old, Joseph was a friend.
Walking up to Quinta da Regaleira, the decorative 20th century residence with a gothic facade, Braeden took Joseph’s hand. As I watched this moment I thought about my motherly instinct to first and foremost keep my children safe. I realized this was an opportunity for me to discern between what Lissa Rankin calls true fear, the kind that arises from a genuine threat, and false fear, which also triggers a stress response but is not real.
If I wanted my children to become global citizens who interact with the world in conscious and life-generating ways, I had to start with myself. That meant paying attention to my fears and asking myself if they were serving me and my family.
Lisbon was a beautiful and modest city. Joseph became our doorway to places we would have never seen and histories we would have never known. Most importantly, he deepened my understanding of my fears and what they could teach me about myself.
Is the world a scary place? When we believe our false fears, yes. But we don’t have to believe them. Instead, we can invite them and soon, a new bridge with new possibility emerges.