Things were a lot different for me before I became a parent. I was selfish. I was reckless. While I considered the consequences of my actions, many possible consequences felt unreal and didn’t truly seem possible. For example, I knew getting on a motorcycle with a stranger could have dire consequences. But before I had children, I didn’t fear the possibilities. I didn’t worry I would end up in situations I couldn’t handle or that it could result in harm. I lived in the moment.
Parenting has changed my perspective in so many ways. I now see the world through my “worst-case scenario” anxiety brain. Everywhere I look, I see dangers and possible harm. I worry about consequences of all actions and overthink everything.
That said, I also love more than I thought possible. I see joy in little things again. I can be silly and have learned not to worry about how I look doing so.
Parenting is the hardest job in the world. It is also the most rewarding. But it sure has changed the way I view the world around me.
Currently, we are facing a global health crisis. The virus known as COVID-19, or the coronavirus, is impacting all of us. As a parent, my fear of this illness is quite different than it would be if I were not a parent. Because of my children, I worry about germs and spreading of the illness. I fear one of my children becoming ill and not recovering. I worry about becoming one of the scary statistics.
While I don’t want to be cooped up in our house and have been anxiously awaiting spring weather, I was thrilled to hear that schools were closing for several weeks to minimize the spread of this illness. In the past, I would have bucked the system and continued with life as usual. I wouldn’t have been concerned with an illness. However, since becoming a parent, I try to prevent the spread of germs. I wash my hands often. I am mindful of dirty surfaces that could contain germs that could make me or my children ill.
I am aware that my children would likely recover if they did get this illness. But, I am mindful of others who may be immunocompromised and cannot risk exposure to the illness. I think of my friends children, with special needs, who would likely be at a high-risk of death if she were exposed to this illness. I think of my other friend, who is battling cancer, who would likely die if she caught this easily spreadable disease. I think of her children who would no longer have their mother. And so, I am content to quarantine and have my children make me a little crazy here at home for a few weeks rather than sending them to school and risk the spread of this virus.
I understand those who aren’t parents and who are worried about missing out on fun events or theme park trips that are canceled. I understand that because they are not caregivers to littles, they may not see past their immediate needs to the needs of those around them. I understand that behaving recklessly for them seems to have minimal risk. I was once that person. I took unnecessary risks in the moment, in the name of good fun. I thought that I was immune to severe consequences, and everything would be “fine.” And it was, for the most part. I wasn’t entirely wrong. However, as a mother now, when I think of the choices I sometimes made, I am horrified. How did I escape all the dangerous scenarios—unscathed? What would I do if my child were to behave in the ways I did? Who rides motorcycles on weekends with strangers? Who gives rides to people they just met without a second thought? Why did I take such risks?
The world has changed since my earlier years. At least, that is what we are told. Has it really though? Or do we just change along the way? Do we just start paying more attention as we become responsible for other little humans? Are we just more aware because information is more easily accessible?
I assure you illnesses existed prior to my becoming a parent. And although I haven’t seen an illness shut down public places like the coronavirus is right now, I have seen panic over illness before. When the AIDS epidemic began, there was panic. Nobody was sure what was risky and what wasn’t at first. People became afraid of touching other people for fear of catching a terminal illness by shaking hands or sharing a straw. Of course, we eventually learned the ways the illness spread, and we found treatments to help those affected. The panic subsided. But at the time, I wasn’t yet a parent. I didn’t have a genuine fear that the illness would affect me or anyone in my family. I didn’t worry about those around me. I continued life as usual, sharing drinks with friends, and not concerned about catching any terminal disease that was being talked about on the evening news. It didn’t feel like something that would affect me. And that is because it was during that time when we are old enough to know better but still hang in the “invincible” zone. You know what I mean…”Nothing bad will happen to me, it only happens to other people.”
Most of us can remember the first time someone you know, who was the same age as you, died—that moment that mortality smacked you in the face, the moment you truly felt that anything could happen, even to you.
For me, it was a drunk driving crash that killed some friends. It changed me. I became the designated driver on most occasions. If I did choose to drink, I always had a plan ahead of time on how I would get home. Yet, even though I became a bit more responsible, I wasn’t afraid of driving or of being in a car. As long as I felt comfortable with my own actions, I didn’t worry. As a parent, I know that I cannot control situations based on my own personal actions. I know that I may drive sober, but the oncoming traffic could be a drunk driver. I recognize fear in situations and a lack of control. I worry about worst-case scenarios because I love my tiny humans, and I know they depend on me for safety. Even though I cannot always control the variables to keep my kids safe, I do my best to try. And I worry in situations where there is a lack of control.
Today, I feel in control. We are staying indoors. It is just our family in the house. We are not being exposed to anyone else who may be ill. That said, the illness is said to be contagious for weeks prior to symptoms. We could still have this virus and not yet show symptoms. This means I will avoid friends who are pregnant and have small children. I will not visit my mother during this time since her immune system is compromised. While I wish I could help my friend who is struggling with cancer, I know I have been in contact with too many people to feel like it is safe for me to help right now. The risk is just not worth the potential consequences.
This is how parenting changes you. My perspective on the world is less self-centered. I see a bigger picture. I am more considerate of others. I am more patient and cautious.
When I was younger, I didn’t worry about how my attitude might affect a situation. If I was angry, I reacted in an angry manner. I didn’t worry about the consequences of my anger. It didn’t occur to me that the person on the receiving end of my short fuse may be struggling with things of his own and that my attitude may be more than he could currently handle. I didn’t worry about other’s mental health or the reasons they may behave in the way they did. I worried only about my immediate needs. Did the waitress take too long bringing me my refill? I was going to be short with her and not tip well. I didn’t consider that her coworker had called in sick and that she was handling twice the tables she usually did. I didn’t think that maybe her baby had kept her up late, and she was exhausted but needed to work to buy diapers.
As a parent, I think of these things because I have been there. I have been in positions where I wished others knew what I was dealing with and acted a bit more kind than angry.
And, as a parent, I worry about how my children will be treated as they move through this life. And because I worry, I adjust how I behave because of my parental insights. Everyone is somebody’s child. We all need to look out for one another.
My perspective on judging others has also changed. Parenting is hard. We all lose our patience sometimes. So, when I see a parent overwhelmed in the store, I give a nod in solidarity. If I can help, I will. But I am not going to judge the situation since I have been there myself. I am only seeing a few moments in that person’s day and do not know what happened to make the situation overwhelming.
When I am at the park and I hear a kid drop the “f-bomb,” I am not going to harshly judge that child’s mother. I am also a sweary mom. While I have informed my kids that swearing is not acceptable for them and that it is something adults do sometimes, I know they likely try out the words from time to time. Let’s face it, we cannot control every moment. Our kids will make choices we wish they didn’t. So, if a kid swears, I am not judging that mom. Instead, I realize that she is doing her best and that kids do not always listen to rules.
I have changed my perspective on blame. I cannot blame my parents for choices I made. I cannot blame others for the choices those around them make either. This is true for kids and adults. We are all making our own choices. We try to guide and give advice, but in the end, we are all our own person—doing things in our own ways. We do our best to educate each other on the possible consequences of actions and choices, both positive and negative. We cannot control the actions of others, including our children.
I do my best to keep things in perspective. I do my best to be kind. I do my best to leave a positive ripple in my wake. These are things that I didn’t necessarily think about before being a parent. Somehow, knowing that a little human is looking to me to be the example and is counting on me to teach him or her has really changed how I respond in many situations.
While I definitely think I have more fear and anxiety since becoming a parent, I also think I have become a better person. I try harder to do good. I am more generous. I am more kind.
I am worried about violence. I am worried about injury, sickness, and death. I see ways to become injured in simple, everyday moments like playing on the playground. But, I also try not to let my anxiety overtake my ability to parent. I try to let my kids climb in the tree without showing my fear that they are going to break a bone. I try not to limit their potential because parenting has turned me into a nervous nelly.
I do think I am more anxious than most, having been a foster parent for many years and having to explain every bump and bruise each child managed to get while staying in my home. You never really realize how many situations end up with bruises until they must all be explained. But, I try not to let that interfere with allowing kids to be kids so they can explore the world around them and learn as they go.
My perspective has changed more than once since becoming a parent. And it will continue to change as I continue to learn and grow. Shouldn’t that be the way it is? That we continue to learn and grow and change? The hope is that this growth and change is positive rather than negative. With all the negative stories in the news, it is hard to keep a positive attitude and not allow negativity to cloud how you see the world. Perspective.