“Do you want to have children?” That question gets asked of me a lot. Alarmingly often, if you consider that I am a 25 year old woman who is barely out of university, living week to week and residing in a share house. But for some reason, it seems that this is a question I should already know the answer to – possibly because most other women my age seem to already know the answer. However for me, it’s never been quite so simple – because on the one hand, having children seems to be an incredibly rewarding experience… but on the other hand, I’m totally scared of kids.
Yes, I know how ludicrous that sounds. Children aren’t spiders, or heights, or the dark. There is no logical reason for me to be afraid of them, other than the fact that they are an unknown quantity. I can barely remember what it was like to be a child – the way I thought, the way I felt – and so I feel like I can’t identify with children, and subsequently don’t know how to interact with them. As a result, I build up possible interactions with children in my head the way that other people build up public speaking: I fret, I overthink it, I sweat, I stumble over my words.
That’s why my #steppedout challenge was to become a teacher.
I just saw all of your eyebrows collectively shoot up towards your hairlines. “Why?!” I hear you ask in bewilderment. “Why would you deliberately choose to put yourself in that position?”
The answer is: because this is always how I handle fear. I’m also scared of heights, which is why I consistently sign myself up for activities that require me to face it head on: climb up the Eiffel Tower, paraglide off the side of a mountain in Nepal and hike up one of the tallest mountains in Ethiopia (my next challenge), for example.
Applying the same rationale to my fear of children: if I’m scared of children because they are ‘unknown’, so why not make them ‘known’?
One of the best ways I’ve come up with to conquer something you fear is to combine it with something you love. If you go back and read all my efforts to conquer my fear of heights, you’ll notice that they all combine with one of my greatest loves: travel. Who could resist paragliding if you get to take photos of the Nepalese Annapurna range while you do it? Who would pass up climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower and miss the views of Paris at night? Why wouldn’t you want to hike up an Ethiopian mountain that was in the UNESCO heritage-listed Simien Mountains National Park?
So when I decided to spend more time with children, I decided to do it by combining it with another of my great loves: music. I’ve been a musician for over twenty years. I have a degree in music performance, I’ve sung with incredible performers and worked with international conductors, and since graduating from my music degree a few years ago, I have desperately missed my connection to performing. So when I applied to become a part-time music teacher, it was an opportunity for me to overcome my fear, but it was also an opportunity to get back to something I love.
That’s why this technique has worked for me in the past – if you’re overcoming the fear so that you can do something you love as well, it doesn’t seem like a sacrifice. And that’s what I’ve found with teaching – yes, getting up in front of a room of children to teach them is terrifying. But teaching them something that you love and seeing how much joy they get out of it, is completely worth it.
So, it turns out that children are delightful. I teach five year olds how to sing the Sound of Music and nearly jump for joy when they remember the words the following week. I play drama games with 10 year olds and almost forget that I’m their teacher, because I’m having as much fun as they are.
If you ask me whether I’m going to have children, I’m probably still going to look at you like a deer caught in the headlights instead of answering. But nowadays, it’s not because I’m scared of them.
Olivia is a lawyer, music teacher, perpetual student, traveller and obsessive list-maker living in Perth. When she isn’t working, studying, travelling or making lists, she’s usually asleep.