I am about to state the obvious now: parenting is some scary shit. Pregnancy is scary, labour is scary, birth is scary, babies are scary and toddlers are fucking terrifying. (I will be writing a whole series about toddlers soon.)
I’m not going to tell you to chill the fuck out and not be so scared because you really can’t. I’m no evolutionary biologist or professor of complicated science, but this sort of fear makes complete sense to me; it seems to be a hangover from when we had to worry about something eating us. As we all know, predators often target their prey’s young. Besides, having a child is a selfish act and we selfishly want to see our progeny survive.
Now of course, we don’t have to worry about something eating us but that doesn’t mean our fear has vanished. We live in one of the safest societies in human existence but we still scare ourselves stupid about our children.Most of this is down to fear of the unknown.
If you can, cast your mind back to before you had kids. You were Johnny Bad-Ass– fear had no place in your mind. You walked along, merrily kicking fear in the balls and having a swell time. You woke up refreshed every morning after dreaming of more ways to give fear a beat-down. Life was ace.
Then you had children and fear strode up to you, ran its icy, spindly fingers up and down your spine, gave you a haunted grin and said “I’ve arrived now and I’m staying until you kick the bucket.” Suddenly, things that never scared you before are terrifying. You have a list of shit that frightens you. Maniac drivers mean your children can’t play out unsupervised. That lovely little Bichon Frise of your neighbour’s? That’s a fucking Cujo that thinks your toddler is one tasty bit of kibble. Add to that paedophiles*, diseases, accidents, foxes, and just about everything else you can think of. You don’t think “worst case scenario,” you think apocalyptic scenario.
Why do you think we do this? Again, not being a professor of complicated science or biologist, I think it’s because we live in a very safe society and don’t have to worry about survival. I think all parents fear something bad happening to their child– that’s natural. No parent should outlive their kids. Like I said earlier, we fear the unknowns. Many of us know someone whose child has been in a tragic accident or has had a life-threatening or even a terminal illness. If we don’t know someone, then we’ve certainly seen it on the news or read about it. We see it, we think that could happen to our own little kids. We can’t help ourselves.
My beef isn’t with parents because I’m a big ole’ scaredy cat myself. I’m scared shitless about my kids constantly. No, my beef is with an industry and media that seems to feed off parental fear like hyenas around a zebra’s carcass.
Let’s put aside the Unknowns (stuff out of your control) and talk about the What Ifs. The What Ifs are far more scarier in my opinion. These are things you possibly can prevent. The Parental Fear Industry play on the What Ifs.
So who are the Parental Fear Industry? They are all of the experts who tell you exactly why everything you do as a parent is wrong and their book/DVD/seminar is the correct and only method to use if you have any hope for your child to turn out as a balanced human being. They are the companies that sell you “peace of mind” products that only the most caring parents will purchase for their child. They are the media that are damn near pornographic in their reports of tragedies that involve children. Fear’s no longer running its fingers down your spine; Fear now has your spine in a Kung-Fu grip and is shaking that fucker like a maraca.
Let’s start with the experts. Parenting books can be great for all parents no matter if you’re on first or third child. I just borrowed Penelope Leach’s excellent Your Baby and Child from the library. I’ve also read books on how to deal with boys (I have no brothers,) potty training and books about mixed-race kids. Some of the advice has been great, some has been so-so and some has been crap.
I don’t like anything that makes a parent feel inadequate and there are plenty of books out there that do just that. Anything that makes you feel like a failure because you didn’t follow a precise routine, no matter how impractical it is to your lifestyle, is not worth reading. These books prey on the “What If I get it totally wrong” thoughts. Some of these so-called experts aren’t child psychologists, paediatricians, former teachers or anything that require some high-level of qualifications to deal with children. Some don’t have children and have only ever worked with them as nannies or carers. I’m sure I could find The Sith Guide to Raising Perfect Kids if I looked hard enough.
Working with children is very different to having them; I’ve done both. The nanny experts will tell you that none of the zillions of children they looked after ever gave them problems because of the methods and routines they used. I should hope so since they are getting paid for doing it. This seems to escape a lot of people: the reason Awesome Nanny’s style and method produce children that behave for her is because she has a financial interest in those kids responding to them. If they don’t, she’s not doing the job she’s been paid to do. Parenting is not a job, it’s a lifestyle. You carry the can as the parent and Nanny does not deal with the real difficult issues your children dole out. (Don’t forget, your children have a way of fucking with you that no one on the planet comes close to topping. Your children will almost always behave better for someone who is not you. )
Awesome Nanny can quit and become something else. You can’t quit being a parent. Awesome Nanny can devote her time to routines, schedules and the like because that’s all she has to do. You on the other hand have your job, your other life commitments and your kids to deal with. If you have to stay late at work or tend to a sick relative or deal with a broken boiler, chances are routine and schedules will be shot to pieces. These “experts” don’t seem to make allowances for real life events. No, they expect parents to stick doggedly to an overly strict way of parenting because “the book says if we deviate, we’ll undo all of the progress we’ve made.” Tell the book to kiss your ass. It’s just words on a page and some people act as if the expert is going to leap off the cover and slap the shit out of them because they put the kids to bed a minute later than the book said. If following a routine and schedule means your life is easier and pleasant, by all means do it. If deviating from a routine and schedule means you panic endlessly and stops you living a fun and normal life , then in the words of Edwyn Collins and Orange Juice, rip it up and start again.
My next beef is with the “peace of mind” safety products. I’m not talking about standard safety kit like car seats, safe baby beds, strollers and the like. These are common sense items and only lunatics wouldn’t understand why you need this stuff. I’m talking about a whole range of things that seem to create fear where was none. For example what the fuck is this all about? Is a kitchen table not safe enough? What did we do before companies started selling cupboards for children to stand in? My grandmother used to have a stool in the kitchen and the youngest grandchild sat on it and watched her cook and the older child who could reach the counter would help her. All of us survived into adulthood.
Another one that gets me is the video safety monitor. Apparently you hook up a camera in your kid’s room and you can watch your kid on either a hand-held CCTV or have a feed into your real television. Again, why? Baby monitors I understand. (I’ve actually never used one in my home). This CCTV for babies seems beyond weird and I read a lot of dystopian fiction. Stone me, Orwell didn’t have one of these in 1984. I’m struggling to understand how this gives you more peace of mind than going into your kid’s room and checking on her.
I find all of this shit really sad and cynical. The companies selling these devices exploit parents’ fears and then sell them some piece of crap to assuage those fears. There’s a baby monitor on the market that also monitors a child’s breathing. This is supposed to alleviate the fears from SIDS. It would do nothing but keep me up watching the damned thing to see how my child was breathing. Of course you could co-sleep, and let nature regulate your child’s breathing, but then you wouldn’t be spending your hard earned money on that baby monitor. What if you can’t afford to spend a load of money on these safety devices? Does that mean you are a shitty parent? Let’s have some perspective here: none of our parents had these things and all of us survived infancy and childhood. These things exist to make you more fearful and scared. They make your job as a parent harder. It’s the What Ifs playing with your mind again.
Finally, the media. Jesus Christ, they are the biggest fear pimps going. The media are fertile ground for the What Ifs. If you took to heart everything that was printed or broadcast, you’d be living underground with your children. Thanks to the media, the hysteria around paedophiles is wild. I remember a young French photographer asked to take a picture of my middle son who was running around a sculpture in a plaza in Spitalfields in London, in front of the RBS. I was delighted and said it was fine and the guy snapped away. I told someone this and they said what if the guy was a paedophile. I said my child was fully clothed, seeing as it was March and I typically don’t let my children run naked in the City of London. They said, yeah, but sometimes they superimpose the heads on and… I looked at the person as if they were a fucking fool. That is some leap of the mind and I still can’t believe someone would say that. But that’s hysteria for you. It defies logic and reasoning.
You’ll never rid yourself of the fear but you can lessen the impact. You can’t do anything about the Unknowns. Bad shit happens and sadly it happens to kids. Rest assured that the only reason you hear about bad shit is because it’s rare. Some of the bad shit happened as a result of other people’s rank stupidity. You aren’t stupid. You can’t let the What Ifs take over your life and you have to tell the fear hustlers to fuck off. If you do what YOU think is best and what is comfortable for your child, you’ll have little to fear.