Fear and Parenting – by Amy Dear, for PANDAS Foundation
Fear is something that, as parents, we are constantly bombarded with. Just had a baby? Congratulations, both on your new child and your new state of constant terror. It’s nearly constant, from the moment you take your child home from the hospital and think ‘Really? You’re just letting me leave?’. Fear becomes your constant companion. Unending, primal, and best described as the sense that we are all (despite the baby books and manuals and well meaning advice from friends and relatives) getting it horribly, horribly wrong.
You only have to look at the absolute plethora of baby books out there to see how common fear is. From books about co-sleeping, whether or not to cry-it-out, reward charts and naughty steps and not using the word ‘naughty’ at all, it turns out there are a million ways to parent (and despite angry arguments on forums across the land, parenting differently to someone else won’t, in fact, end up with your child irreversibly damaged. You’re doing just fine).
There are more ‘Parenting styles’ than I could possibly name. But, at the end of the day, we’re all making it up as we go along. We pick a ‘style’ that looks pretty similar to what we are already doing, and sometimes we get some new advice or a new perspective, but mostly we carry on and hope for the best. And, all the while, we are terribly afraid.
That kind of fear is good. You could say it’s essential – to ensure that we double check the car seat, test the temperature of the bath water, take the extra pillow out of the Moses basket. Even at our most sleep deprived, irritable and lonely, fear helps us teach our children caution and awareness – look before you cross, wear your seatbelt, don’t drink milk that’s so old it’s chewy. It’s common sense, (which children are not, unfortunately, born with), and it’s there for a reason.
Fear is fine.
Anxiety is a little different.
Anxiety is the great What If – something that creeps, and skulks, and gnaws away at you. It’s fear broken loose, telling lies and exaggerations and half-truths. It’s a distorted lens. Look too long and the world becomes bigger, louder, and more confusing. The extra pillow becomes researching statistics on infant loss, crying to yourself while you Google, steam cleaning their teddies and never leaving your child with a babysitter overnight. Bath time becomes two thermometers and a first aid leaflet on standby, it becomes not taking your child swimming, making excuses that you can’t swim or don’t want to. The car seat becomes a terror of driving, becomes a panic attack, eventually isolating yourself further and further… because of the great What If.
Since parents are all terrified anyway, it can be difficult to explain to someone else how low anxiety brings you. How debilitating it can feel. How it drags you away from the world, little by little, creeping and sneaking until you can’t manage it anymore. Anxiety is more than nerves, more than worry, more than fear. It’s your instinct on overdrive, pedal to the metaphorical metal, and it’s so, so hard to explain.
But it’s OK.
Anxiety is an illness. Anxiety is your stress hormones over reacting, a biological and psychological panic button that you can’t un-press. It’s not clear why some people are more prone to anxiety than others – and it’s not clear why Pre or Postnatal Anxiety happens at all. We don’t have the answers. But we can tell you this – you aren’t alone. You aren’t the only person who is terrified, you’re not the only new parent isolating themselves out of fear. You are not the only one. And you will not be judged.
Speaking to someone will help. And as much as you might feel terrified at the thought of sharing so much yourself (those private, 2am fears and worries, so real then, can seem vague and nonsensical in the daylight), you will feel better. Sharing adds perspective, pulls that lens away a little, allows someone else in. Sharing is the first step to realising that you aren’t alone. And when you feel less alone, you can begin to heal.
It’s not an easy journey. But company helps. Build yourself a support network – people who care for you, care about you, who feel the same and know what you’re going through. Find your Tribe. That’s what Peer Support, like PANDAS, is for. We are all here to lift one another, support one another, build one another. You are not alone.