As you may know, my son has a bad tree nut allergy. This means we need an epipen, and epipens recently increased in price by something like 400 percent. Even that scumbag Martin Shkreli is appalled. (That’s not even a joke; he really is.) The one time my son required the use of his epipen, we hesitated, unsure if it was necessary, and didn’t use it. He’s okay, but it was scary. (Turns out we should have used it, and we’d dodged a bullet.)
His allergy is scary. Needing an epipen is scary. The fact that we’ll probably be faced with that exact scenario again some day is scary. But what else is new? Everything about parenting is scary.
I’m always scared, and I bet you are too.
I’ve written before about the anxieties and fears and stresses that come with having kids, and that’s all true, but that’s not exactly what I’m talking about here. Those things can be resolved. Maybe they can’t be entirely overcome, because one stress is usually swapped out for another, but they can be tackled, one by one. The fear I’m talking about today is different. It goes deeper. It’s a part of me. It’s a part of every parent.
It’s kind of like depression, as opposed to sadness. It’s less easily identified, less easily surmounted. It’s just something that’s always there with you, in the back of your mind, enveloping your life. This isn’t a cry for help. I’m not actually depressed (nor am I attempting to minimize depression), but I am always aware of the fear. I also accept that there’s nothing that can be done about it. It’s simply part of being a parent.
Everything we do as parents – as people – is suffused with an importance it didn’t have before we had kids. Every action we take regarding our children, every mood we weather while in their presence, every decision we make about our own lives, these things become our legacy, and their baggage. Everything we do impacts them, directly or indirectly.
I’m scared of doing something that might somehow turn my sons into failures, or monsters, or drug addicts. I’m scared of not doing something and somehow allowing my sons to become bullies or criminals, scared of missing a sign of something that might be corrected, scared of overdoing something and making it worse, scared of things I can control and can’t, and scared of not knowing the difference between the two.
I’m always scared. I’m always terrified of letting my kids down, in ways I both constantly imagine and can’t possibly fathom.
My five-year-old has a dangerous tree nut allergy. My baby is still in the SIDS zone. My five-year-old gets on a school bus every day. My baby is surrounded by tiny LEGO pieces. Bullying. Global warming. Kidnapping. Terrorism. Car crashes. Cancer. Getting laid off. Trump.
None of these things are new, few of them are even likely, and not a single one of seemed to matter before I had kids. Not like they do now. Now I have so much to lose. The responsibility is intense, and it’s probably best not to think about it too hard.
The fact is I am scared literally all of the time and I don’t have a solution. I just keep living, keep parenting, keep trying to do a good job, trying to block out the realization that no matter what I do or don’t do, something will probably go wrong, one way or another, at some point, somehow.
Both the inevitability of that and my anxiety over it are inescapable side-effects of parenting, things you carry with every day, and there is no getting rid of them. Making jokes helps. Venting helps. Writing this blog helps. Some days you’re less aware of it than others, but it’s always there. And it always will be.
The good news is it’s not alone. When you have kids, you don’t just have kids. Fear comes with them but love comes too. Neither of them is going anywhere, and the rest of your live is spent balancing those two emotions. All you can do is your best, and hope to have more days on which love wins out.
Parenting is intense. There is a ton of responsibility, and it can be overwhelming. I’m always scared, and I’m not afraid to admit it. Because all that the constant fear ultimately does is remind me how much I love my kids.