Monday 1 June 2015

Stop the press! Why mothers need to worry less, not more.

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Along with the endless selfies and news stories about Prosecco shortages, is another more sinister kind of update on my facebook feed each week. I would like to tell you that such information is rare, but alas, no. If you're a parent you may be impacted by the sheer volume of well intentioned 'warnings' to parents, no doubt sincerely posted in order to help other parents to take caution. Last week I read three separate stories of someone on this planet who has suffered a tragedy - the unthinkable - their baby died. 

Now I do not want to make light about any sort of tragedy, for me the pain would be too much to bear. I have no doubt that if I suffered such a tragedy I would want to do everything in my power to stop others going through the same thing. But as much as I cannot fully understand the grief, I can imagine what it's like. I imagined it three times last week already, and if the mere imagining of it seems utterly crushing, God knows what the reality is like.

The problem, though, is that each story, with all its promises of advice and precaution, only change my parenting method in one way: I worry more. I can't speak for every other parent on the planet, but every time I make any seemingly trivial decision, I am already haunted by thoughts of what could happen to my baby because of it; if I lie him in this position will it harm him, if I feed him this will it cause a reaction, if I don't do this will he catch such and such an illness... And the list goes on, day after day. 

And then someone posts something about a baby who, didn't die out of a matter of carelessness, but died in utterly tragic conditions, under the complete care of their loved ones. They died in everyday, routine circumstances - ones we do on repeat day after day. We relate because it could happen to us, not just once a day, but every time we repeat our baby's sleeping/eating/playing routine, several times a day. I read a story of a baby that happened to die whilst sleeping in his car seat, and all its done to me is make me stop and check my baby every few minutes when I'm in the car. The ridiculous thing is that I am probably more obsessed with checking on him than I am at paying attention to the road. The very thing I'm doing to try and avoid tragedy could end up causing it.

As well intentioned as these news stories may be, here's what message I think they give to parents: you need to worry more. You need to feel guilty every sodding time you put your baby down for a nap, you cannot enjoy a welcome extra half hour for a cup of tea if your baby over sleeps, instead you have to check on him to see if he is still breathing (gets me every time). 

The list of things that parents are told to worry about is endless. I worry that I'm not worrying enough, as though a life consumed with it somehow makes me a better parent. And then I'm faced with the news stories confirming that I am indeed not worrying enough. But do you not think I would take my son to the doctors if he started out with a persistent strange rash that caused his leg to swell? Or that I wouldn't follow safety advice on how to strap my baby in a car seat? If there are parents who wouldn't do these things, they are unlikely to be changed by a news story on facebook. These stories target the mothers who are already burdened with worry and guilt. 

And what message do these stories give to parents who have experienced such tragedies? That they could have done something to prevent it? That they didn't try enough? That they didn't care enough? None sense.

Here's what message I would like to give to parents: you are doing the best you can. You are doing your best to make sure that your family has a healthy and happy life, so that if, IF, God forbid, a tragedy were to happen, it would not be your fault. And to any mothers reading this who have experienced something utterly devastating, it is not your fault. I do not pass judgement on your parenting skills, I stand with you. I salut you. I cry with you. 

And for the rest of us, please let's not tell such brilliant parents what they should have done, as though we can find a way out of all of life's brutal blows. Please let's find ways of supporting and loving that do not try to give answers, but that give a brief moment of shelter from the torrential pain. 

So when you are confronted with another tragic news story on facebook, here's what I would like you to do before you repost: think: is this helpful or cultivating fear? Is this encouraging parents or scaremongering? Is there a charity or help guide connected with the story that I could post about instead? Raising children with worry can be utterly debilitating, not only for you but for them, believe me. I do not want my children to live in fear every time they try something new. I do not want their progress to be thwarted by a fear of making mistakes.

Tragedies happen. It is unlikely that you could prevent most tragedies, else they wouldn't be named as such. But they are tragedies because they are also rare. The majority of parents reading this will have perfectly healthy children. Along with every tragic death are the billions of children who have been in the exact same conditions and are still alive. Yes, we are the lucky ones, let's celebrate it and not feel guilty. Let's support those who aren't so fortunate without casting blame or assumption. And, please, do not supervise your child so much that you forget to give them the freedom to grow and make their own mistakes. Please don't be so obsessed with checking their car seat that you forget to enjoy the ride.

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