If there is one piece of advice I wish I had gotten before I got pregnant with my first child it is this: Enjoy this worry-free time, because once you are a parent, you are in for a world of worry.
That’s not to say that I was Ms. Calm and Rational before I got pregnant. It’s possible that one time, after having a minor vision disturbance I may have said to my husband “It’s probably either cancer or a stroke,” and meant it. (Spoiler: It was neither.)
But things change from the moment you find out you are pregnant. There is so much unknown, so much beyond your control. I remember when I was pregnant with my first just wishing for the baby to arrive so I could actually see him and know he was okay.
Ha, naivety. Once they arrive, it only gets worse.
Little did I know that the world is absolutely littered with hazards. A grape, once seen as a deliciously sweet fruit, is now seen as a choking hazard. Stairs, once seen as a useful means to get one from one floor to the next, are now seen as a fall hazard. Magnets: Death traps. Hot dogs: Death traps. Sockets: Death traps. Table, television, dishwasher detergent: Death traps, every last one of them. Look around you. Everything you see right now is actually a deathtrap. Nor do we live in a society that sugarcoats this fact. My infant son’s bathtub has prominently displayed in bold, large print letters “Babies have DROWNED in infant bathtubs.”
And that’s just on the inside of your house. Outside is where the real terror begins. Strangers, once seen as people you haven’t met yet, are now seen as potential kidnappers. Cars, kiddie pools, sticks, plants – seriously folks. Everything has some element of danger to it. How did I never see this before having children?
Despite this knowledge, however, and although it goes against all my instincts, I have made the conscious decision to step back. When they climb up to the top of the play structure, I shield my eyes from the sun and smile up at them proudly. When they have battles with sticks, I try to let it happen. When they want to play in the backyard and I’m in the middle of dinner preparations, I let them go. Because when it comes down to it, I have to trust my kids. And I have to trust myself that I have raised children who understand their limits.
And do I get worried? Of course. Do I worry that they will fall from the play structure and break their neck? Yes. Do I worry that the stick will poke out their eyes? Yes. Am I worried right this second that by publishing that my children sometimes play outside in the backyard unaccompanied I have opened the gates to a herd of kidnappers who will track down my address and take my children? Well that’s ridiculous. But actually, yes. Does this topic make me resort to rhetorical questions? Apparently.
But I want my children to be independent. I want them to feel free to explore the world. I want them to push their limits. I want them to know that I am there if they fall, but that they may actually fall before I get there. Because that’s what childhood is. It’s about figuring out the world. It’s about taking pride in what you can achieve, and trying to figure out how to achieve the next thing. And while I am happy to guide them when I can, ultimately that’s something they need to do on their own.