As soon as I became a parent, I developed an achilles heel, a weak spot and I
felt fear like never before. Fear that something could happen to my child,
fear that I wasn’t up to the job.
It usually starts as soon as our babies are born when our inner Lioness is
unleashed and, from talking to women with grown up children, it never really goes away.
And I see this fear all time in the eyes of the mums who come to see me. It’s normal but it can
be crushing for a new mum, it can stop us from thinking clearly,
from stepping back and looking at the bigger picture.
It affects us all differently and some mums are more fearful and anxious than others.
It usually starts with feeding – our aim is to keep our baby healthy and feeding is so emotionally
wrapped up in giving our baby milk, especially if we are breastfeeding and the responsibility lies on us.
If we struggle to get started, we are scared that we are starving our baby, that we are
doing it wrong, that we are failing. And once it gets going we are fearful with every blip – if our baby
isn’t gaining enough weight, if he drops off that sodding percentile line, if she has a fussy day
and doesn’t want to eat much, if her nappies change. if he’s unwell.
Of course this fear keeps us alert, it means we can respond if there is a problem and our baby needs to
see a doctor – never ignore your gut and always get your baby checked out if you need to.
The fear is intense with a baby because they are so much more dependant and they seem so vulnerable and
they can’t easily tell us what it the matter but it often becomes less intense as our children grow up and, as
parents, we find a balance between where we need to be cautious and where our children need to
explore and learn for themselves.
The fear is part of parenting, I guess it is what makes us a parent – making sure our children are safe and
healthy. We all manage it differently – some parents will be very fearful and could be described as over-protective, while others may have a more relaxed attitude to parenting. There will always be the parent at the
playground who hovers over their child and there will always be the parent who lets their child climb right to the top
of the climbing frame. We can only ever parent how we want or need to and neither is really right or wrong,
we just see fear in different places.
I guess I would pitch myself somewhere in the middle, in a somewhat average place of fear.
I have always wanted my children to learn and explore in a safe environment. As young children,
I kept them close when next to roads or in busy places but where there was space to be free and I knew it
was safe, they could be free. Accidents, bumps and scrapes are part of life and they often come with
playing, learning and having fun.
I never really baby-proofed the house – we had a fire guard and one stair gate, that was it.
When the girls were little they were always close by so I never felt the need to stop them exploring.
My husband was also working on the house so it was commonplace to have saws, hammers and nails lying
around in a couple of rooms. Never once did they bother with them. And from when they were old enough
I have encouraged them to help with cooking, to make cups of tea and
to help make the fire in the living room – all the things they see me doing most days.
As my girls have grown up fear comes from different places – from being away from me – going out to
play with friends, sleepovers (don’t get me started on sleepovers!) friendships and bullying,
am I parenting well enough? am I affecting how she will turn out as an adult? have I taught her to be
responsible, sensible, trustworthy? Am I aware of her mental health? Does
she know she can come to me for support?
As soon as our children are old enough to be under the care of another parent for playdates,
we see the differences in parenting and we have to assess whether our reluctance to let them go somewhere
without an adult – playing out, cinema, trip into Newcastle – is because it is appropriate and the activity is not safe or
right for your child or whether it is time to start letting go, to trust, to feel the fear. There have been many an
occasion where I have sat in the house, tense, unsettled, fearful – running hideous
scenarios through my head – until my child was back in the house again but it needed to be done
because she was old enough to take that step.
Now that I have two children in high school, the fear is less intense but it is there and it comes from
the same place it always has – I need them to be protected and safe and I don’t want to get it wrong. I never properly relax until they are back at home and, sometimes, in my arms.
a practitioner in pregnancy, birth and early parenting