I have always been sort of an anxious person. If I had a personal mantra, it would probably be “prepare for the worst.” One of my pastimes is thinking up the most disastrous outcome for any situation so I can figure out what I would do if it became reality. At any given moment, I’ve fully schemed how to tie a quick figure-of-eight knot and rappel out a window away from a fire, dodge a flying manhole cover, or perform an in-air Heimlich maneuver on my seat-mate. It’s what I do. So it makes perfect sense to me that my anxiety has increased ten-fold since becoming a mom.
Today at a friend’s house, I watched my son zip down a Little Tikes slide into a baby pool with about two feet of water. I half-listened to my friend talking as I watched him swallow a mouthful of water and stand up sputtering and crying. My mind automatically darted to a segment of CBS news I saw about a little girl who nearly died from “dry drowning.” The thought of rushing my son to the E.R. darted through my mind before I took a deep breath and told myself that he was fine. I wish I was able to turn off the crazy part of my brain that thinks every time my son coughs it could be a medical emergency, but I don’t think I could even if I tried. In fact, I think it’s nearly impossible to separate anxiety from the state of being a mom — if you have figured out how, I would love to chat.
We have access to way more information than our mothers and their mothers ever did and as wonderful as that is, I think it contributes to the anxiety many moms feel.
During a recent jaunt to the toy aisle at Target, I squatted down next to my son as he turned on every noisy toy, one after the other, and then went to race off into the next aisle. I stood up too fast and got a little dizzy... and my brain went into full panic mode. I convinced myself that I was seconds from passing out and needed to make a plan for what to do with my son as I lay on the Target floor, unconscious.
I began to look up and down the aisles for other moms or friendly and trustworthy-looking old ladies and planned out what I would say to them. I imagined myself going up to them and saying, “Excuse me, I think I may pass out, can you hold my son…” right before I would collapse onto the floor. My brain ran wild with this fantasy for a few seconds before I was pulled back to reality by my son who was still tinkering with the toys, blissfully unaware that I had just imagined handing him off to a stranger. This is not the first time something like this has happened to me and I am quite certain it won’t be the last. Being a mom is the greatest gift I have ever received and with that gift comes an overwhelming amount of responsibility and, quite frankly, that terrifies me.
There is so much pressure put on mothers from the moment they find out they are pregnant. We have access to way more information than our mothers and their mothers ever did and as wonderful as that is, I think it contributes to the anxiety many moms feel. There are the perfectly lit images of women breastfeeding under a tree wearing a flower crown and a flowy dress on Instagram and the photos of immaculate toddler playrooms with expensive organic wood toys on Pinterest that can leave you feeling like you are the hottest mess of a mom on the planet.
I have a tiny person looking to me to show him how to navigate this world when I have barely figured out how to navigate it myself.
We feel like we have to be everything to everyone and do it all with a smile on our face, and truthfully that just isn’t sustainable. We need more images of the frazzled moms, the moms who burned the dinner recipe they found on Pinterest and served up some peanut butter and jelly instead. Setting the bar too high and expecting yourself to be super-mom 24/7 is a recipe for disaster. Its OK to admit to feeling overwhelmed, it’s OK to worry that you’re not doing a good job and it’s even more OK to ask for help when you need it.
I have wanted to be a mother my whole life and now that I finally am one, it feels like the pressure is on to do this thing perfectly. I have always been a perfectionist and am not one to half-ass things. When I care about something I give it 100 percent of my time and energy, and that has definitely spilled into my parenting. I wish that I could relax and enjoy my son’s toddlerhood but I admit that I spend a lot of time worrying about the fact that every decision I make, every interaction I have with him, will shape the person he becomes. I know that I am a good person, therefore he will be a good person, but the weight of the responsibility of raising a tiny person just feels so undeniably heavy sometimes. My life is not just about me anymore, I am not the only one who feels the consequences of my actions. I have a tiny person looking to me to show him how to navigate this world when I have barely figured out how to navigate it myself.
When I am able to remove myself from the wildness of my thoughts and really think about what my son needs, I know that he doesn’t need me to be perfect. In fact, he will learn so much more from my imperfections than he will from the things I do well. What he needs is for me to show him how much I love him every day. He needs me to be honest — with myself and with him — and he needs me to show him that it is OK to be vulnerable, and to practice your figure-of-eight knots once in a while.