No matter how many books you read or courses you attend or talks you listen to, nothing fully prepares you for parenting. No one warned me about the paradoxes of motherhood which means how you can feel different, opposing emotions at exactly the same time.
I adore my Megan. It is difficult to articulate exactly how high, how deep and how wide my love for her is. Yet, there are some days when she is whinging and moaning and I could easily drop-kick her through the nearest open window. I treasure her like I have never loved anything or anyone before but sometimes, when she has a tantrum and is wailing red-faced and spread-eagled on the floor, I want to scream, ‘MEGAN SHUT THE £^*& UP!’ which is not very motherly or loving.
Another paradox is that I enjoy being a stay-at-home mom but part of me also thinks it could be pretty cool to have a mentally stimulating part time job. The list of contradictions goes on … the exhilaration, the exhaustion, the love, the frustration, the peace, the boredom, the fulfilment, the guilt, the joy, the isolation, the laughter, the loneliness…
The biggest paradox is that I am the happiest and most stable I have ever been in my whole life but, at the same time, I am probably the most fearful I have ever been in all my 34 years. It doesn’t make sense, really. I think that my love for my little family is so intense and so deep that it tips itself into The Fear.
Few new parents are prepared for The Fear. It hits you when the baby is in your arms for the first time. Even though my personality tends towards the somewhat unhinged, I know everyone gets varying degrees of The Fear but they sometimes can’t articulate or process it. I think it is often the reason why people get post-natal depression – because they are so stunned by the sudden and unexpected anxiety.
I bumped into an acquaintance the other day. He is 41 and said he would like to get married but it is difficult to find a suitable girl because he adamantly doesn’t want kids. He said, ‘Julie look at the world around you. Do you really want to bring new life into this mess? And another reason is because I wouldn’t cope with the fear. If I had children, I wouldn’t stop worrying. My laid-back, self-focussed status quo is gentler on my mental health.’
The Fear is when you worry about the future. I wonder how I can protect my family from illness, accidents or pain. Megan is utterly dependent on us and that freaks me out because I wonder what I would do if xxx happened, how can I protect Megan from yyy or how I would cope if our family had to endure zzz. Alastair has asked me to sign a will, which is wise and responsible, but I can’t bring myself to think of the terms of that document because it makes me feel physically ill. I have procrastinated about it for over two years.
An interview with Paul Young (Author of The Shack) resonated with me because he talks about future-tripping. Future-tripping is when you think about tomorrow and imagine yourself in scenarios in the future. You picture something that could happen and then take an emotional and mental trip to live there for a bit. I think The Fear of parenthood comes from future-tripping more than you used to.
As a parent, it is impossible not to future trip because children are naturally curious and oblivious to danger. By mistake, I once left the baby security gate open and Megan waddled half way down the stairs in her socks. I beat myself up as I imagined what the consequences could have been if she slipped. I once turned my back for a split second and Megan picked my sharp Victorinox knife off the kitchen counter and waved it about as if she was conducting an orchestra. I shuddered and tearfully considered, ‘what if I hadn’t caught her in time?’ Then, a friend’s child has a debilitating genetic condition and another’s recently died of cancer and I imagine how I would be a gibbering wreck if I were in their shoes.
In this age of social media, it is hard not to be even just a tiny bit fearful. We are all knitted together in this great big electronic web and you become part of people’s collective misery whether you want to or not because it is glaring at you in your newsfeed whenever you log on to Facebook. It seems people are dying left, right and centre. Every Tom, Dick and Harry has cancer. People constantly share and link me to articles on cancer-preventing superfoods and carcinogenic items such as additives, plastic bottles, wifi, cell phones and Teflon pans. All this confusing, fear-mongering, often unscientific information makes me want to run screaming into an open meadow where I can then sit quietly chewing on a stick of celery with a tin foil hat on.
And the news! Is the world spinning out of control or what? I’m not sure we were created to know so much. We hear about every natural disaster, every atrocity and every bad thing that happens anywhere in the world. Our hearts are not big enough to process and contain this much sorrow. I feel like Chicken Little when I read about Syria, Libya, Ebola, Gaza, Israel, ISIS etc … it’s all so apocalyptic and I wonder what screwed-up, godless world Megan is growing up into.
An old Cherokee told his grandson: ‘My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, fear, inferiority and lies. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth.’
The boy thought about it and asked, ‘Grandfather, which wolf wins?’
The old man replied, ‘The one you feed.’ I’ve realised that Facebook and social media are feeding the Fear Wolf inside me. I give my fears power by giving them my attention and I know the solution is to disconnect myself from the internet and throw my computer into a fast flowing river.
Paul Young talks about how he conquered fear by living in the moment. He created a place in the present where fear was not allowed. By future-tripping, we imagine things that could go wrong so we give life and emotional energy to something that has no reality or substance. Fear destroys us from the inside out.
We need to pretend we are a ship that can shut off compartments to keep water out. We must live in day tight compartments. Of course it is important to plan ahead and prepare for tomorrow but we don’t need to let the worries of tomorrow rob us of the joys in today.
When we think so much of things that can go wrong in the future, we panic because we become the gods of our lives. The future becomes about our certainty and control because God is not in it. When we imagine ‘what if’ we never picture any kind of supernatural strength or comfort. I don’t think we are meant to panic this much about our futures. Jesus even said we should live in the present by praying for our daily bread.
Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian woman who hid Jews during World War 2. She once confided her fears about capture to her father who responded, ‘When you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?’
‘Why, just before we get on the train,’ she replied.
‘Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things. Don’t run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need – just in time.’
When we give into The Fear, we do so without remembering that if, God forbid, we have to endure some crisis, we will be given a coping ticket. In the mean time, we must learn to control the snakes in our head and live in the moment, in the grace of a day. Life is much easier, lighter and happier that way and it makes parenthood way more fun.