Monday, May 7, 2012

Worry Wart

Parenthood is full of worries, I knew this going in. When we finally got the confirmation we were pregnant and saw the heart beat at 6 weeks the doctor said "You will worry about this being from now until one of you dies, welcome to parenthood". I think its a great line (he has probably used it a million times), and I have repeated it to people I know who are struggling with parental worries.

So what exactly does the parent of a 4 month old worry about? There are the obvious things of course: health and safety, but then there are a plethora of things I never thought I would be thinking about. Here are some examples:
- Am I stimulating him enough for his intellectual development?
- Should I be doing more? Talking to him more? Singing More? Playing more?
- Should I be doing less? Am I coddling him?
- Is he getting enough tummy time? Back time? Am I slowing down his motor development by holding him too much?
- Should I be holding him more to keep him from getting and flat head?
- Do I have the right toys and enough toys or is he bored?
- Do I offer him too many toys, is he over stimulated?
(sensing a pattern yet?)
- Do I help him too much so he won't learn to grab?
- Do I not help him enough/is he overly frustrated?
- Am I creating bad habits by the way I give him a lot of attention as he goes to sleep?
- Am I missing out on valuable bonding by not giving him more attention as he goes to sleep?

These are all little day to day things that can also be described as "mommy guilt"... no matter what you are doing as a mother you always thing you could/should be doing something more/different. Before being a mother I knew what mommy guilt was academically but did not realize how pervasive it would be and how inescapable it is even for someone pretty laid back.

All of this worry, and yet I consider myself relatively rational and lucky compared to some mothers. Lucky because I don't have to worry about whether baby is eating enough and supply and all of that type stuff that some mothers have to worry about and Benjamin has been pretty healthy. Rational because I don't worry about a lot of little things the media tells me to worry about that are more alarmist than scientific (most of these involve exposure to certain foods or chemicals or medicines etc, or critiques of certain parenting methods) and I am in general not prone to panic. When I hear a news story with an alleged threat I read up on it and decide based on the data whether to pay attention, and if I do pay attention its just changing my behavior, not panicking about what has already been done.

Of course even I have some big quasi-irrational fears. Example? Being aware of SIDS and having some preventive measures is healthy... but really it is a tiny probability, especially since I have no risk factors, yet I am overly paranoid about it, follow every SIDS rule to a tee and prefer to have DS napping near enough to me that I can either know he is breathing the entire time or check on him every 5-10 minutes. I drive my husband batty when I won't let DS sleep on the bed with us, or in his boppy unless we are right there etc.

Then there is the horror story fears. It used to be when I heard a baby horror story I thought it sucked and moved on, now they have much more of an impact. The worst stories are stories where perfectly well intentioned loving parents make a mistake that is blatantly their fault that leads to the child's death. An example, a few days ago I read a story that a woman thought she had dropped her infant son off at day care, but actually forgot/went straight to work. She found the little boy's dead body in the car seat when she went to pick him up from daycare. It sends chills down my spines and I don't even know if it is true. It's not that I think it will happen or that we are at risk for it, its a deep down sympathy reaction where I realize as a mother just how horrifying it is and it disturbs me. I read this particular story right before I meant to to go sleep... needless to say I did not get to sleep easily, and I almost ended up waking up DH just for some comfort. I have heard many women say that they became more emotional or reactive to news when they became mothers, so I guess this is just a variant.

I don't know where I am going with this. What I am getting at is:
(1) Every mother worries.
(2) Every mother has some irrational fears or worries. 
(3) Mommy guilt is very real.
(4) The emotional changes of motherhood are very real.

And the take home points? Don't kick yourself for worrying... or worry that you are worrying, and don't judge other mother's for worrying, even irrationally, even if their worries are different from your own.

Oh. and don't read news stories late at night.

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