The Oxford Dictionary describes fear as being: the bad feeling you have when you are in danger or something frightens you.
It’s a useful emotion and can: stop us from doing reckless things by helping us assess risk; help small children when they are learning a new skill; prevent us from making mistakes from which it would be difficult to recover; warn us when a situation or a person ‘doesn’t feel right’; and at its most primal level, fear kicks in when we are confronted with danger and helps us react quickly in assessing the level of crisis and whether we should RUN or FIGHT!
But what if fear is more complex than we think and as well as protecting us from bear attack and guiding us away from ruthless manipulators, it can also stop us from reaching our full potential as humans and from deeper connection with our loved ones.
When I was a new mother, a mere two weeks into my journey, my newborn moved out of that phase where they simply sleep their days away, falling into deep slumber anywhere, at any time of the day, contentedly full and most often with a slightly far away looking milky smile, and into quite a different stage of being wakeful, refusing to distinguish day from night, steadfastly resisting sleep until we were all at the point of tears. But mainly me! This was actually manageable while my husband was on leave from work but the thought of having to care for this sleepless and demanding infant all alone sent me into waves of panic. By day 2 flying solo, as it were ( and hell it sure felt like it – who knew 8-6 could feel like FOREVER?!) I was on a mission to get this kid to sleep and we walked to the nearest bookshop – my month old babe stubbornly awake the entire way, despite me taking the scenic route! I purchased a now very well known, and quite notorious, book on infant sleep, which affirmed all my fears and provided neat answers to them.
And so began my troubled relationship with sleep training, which I believed at the time, to be the only way I would ever sleep a full night again. “But your baby was only 4 weeks old”, I hear you say. And you’d be right to attempt to pull me up. Unfortunately, at the time, no one did. And I’m not sure I wouldn’t have listened anyway. So consumed with fear was I. FEAR. Of being robbed of the sleep that I’d always naturally and dedicatedley enjoyed (it’s a family trait so also a genetic need – or so I thought); FEAR of having a baby that would never ‘learn’ to sleep without being fed/rocked/patted/ ssshhhh’ed/ white noised/cuddled….FEAR of the judgement of others, including my family, if I ‘gave in’ to my babies fairly clear expressions of what I now know is an instinctive need; FEAR that if I didn’t step in my infant would develop a lifelong dependence on her mother! Of course it all seems slightly laughable now, that I would be so governed by fear that I would ignore the ancient wisdom of thousands of years of motherhood. And my own instinct.
It wasn’t until the birth of my third child that I realised that my first 4 years of parenting had been governed by fear. There’s almost too many to list but I’ll give it a go!
- FEAR that my toddler and infants sleep cycles would misalign and I wouldn’t get a break
- FEAR that my house wouldn’t be tidy enough (see also first bullet point!) and visitors would think me a lazy, slovenly stay-at-home mum
- FEAR that my husband wouldn’t be satisfied with his home cooked dinner and force me back into paid work (anyone who has met my husband will testify to the ridiculousness of this which only affirms how irrational fear really can be!)
- FEAR that I wouldn’t have to time to make chutney and that my family and friends would think that I spent my days reading and watching day time TV
- FEAR that my third baby would continue to be so demanding that I wouldn’t have enough time for my first two children
- FEAR that I wouldn’t have time to take our dogs for their twice daily walks
- FEAR that we would have to start buying bread because I wouldn’t have time to bake
- FEAR that if I sat down I would literally never get up again
- FEAR that child #1, 2 or 3 would be so demanding in the evening that I wouldn’t be able to get to the gym and people would stop complementing me on my ‘post baby body’
I could go on. Maybe you can relate to some of these. In case you didn’t notice, the common theme in many of my fears is EGO. That’s almost a whole other topic! But for me, it’s been pivotal in identifying and breaking down my fears.
I’m so grateful for my third child, who showed me (and here is my turning point in recognising and challenging the fears I didn’t even know I had) that I wouldn’t actually die of sleep deprivation and that ‘giving in’ to your babies need for unconditional love and physical presence wouldn’t actually ruin him and stop him from being able to move away from me, gradually, and when he was ready.
By the time my third child was several months old, I did indeed notice that I hadn’t died from lack of sleep like I’d assumed I would. Remember, it had been that fear that had led me down the path of sleep training. Sure I was tired. Bone tired – yes, I now understood just what that expression meant! So tired I might have, at least once, forgotten to strap one of my babies in their car seat. So tired that I did literally fear sitting down or stand still lest I actually fall asleep where I stood. Or sat. So tired that the thought of getting out of bed in the morning would send me into floods of tears. And fits of rage that my husband was lucky enough to leave the house. But I didn’t die.
Also, my attached, sleepless, highly dependent baby was now moving away from me – exploring the world confidently and with so much joy. By the birth of my fourth child, my 2 year old third baby was weaned (his choice) and sleeping (mostly!) without touching me!
I SMELT A RAT. And a lie.
So, just to recap….I hadn’t, in fact, died from lack of sleep as I had been convinced I would and my baby had started to show signs of independence, contrary to what I’d been told about babies who showed strong attachment to their mothers. I realised that some elements of my parenting journey to date, had been built on a lie. I had developed fears based on what I thought might happen in the future (potentially years into the future), founded only in the truths shared by other people. I had actually created an imagined future where my children would be completely dependent on me and if I wasn’t dead from lack of sleep, I’d surely be close to it! Realising that not only had these things not yet happened, but that I surely couldn’t predict that they would ever happen with any certainty, provided me with a blueprint through which I would go on and examine other fears that could, if I let them, dictate my life through many sets of imagined future circumstances that may, but probably never would, happen!
I have found this method of questioning perceived truths to be so helpful in moving past fear that it’s now become a practice through which to not only move forward in big ways, but to work through small, seemingly inconsequential obstacles daily. Here are some of the other barriers I’ve worked through that were driven by fear, based in hypothetical and unfounded ‘truths’ or, if you like, stories that we tell ourselves about how the world works:
- If I don’t show my infant how to use the stairs, they’ll fall and surely hurt themselves and everyone will blame me for my child getting hurt
- If I don’t make my child get dressed in the morning, they’ll wear pyjamas (or worse, stay naked!) into adulthood and everyone will think me a terrible parent
- If I don’t force my child to brush their teeth, they’ll never see the value in it and most likely develop cavities…and think me a terrible mother
- If I don’t put my child into school, they’ll never be able to read (and everyone will judge me as a poor mother – see where I’m going here?!)
- If I let my baby sleep with me, they’ll never leave my bed and sleep on their own and other’s will judge our choices (…aaaand think I’m a terrible mother for not trying to foster more independence)
- If I don’t make my child say sorry, they’ll never feel empathy and will never know the healing power of an apology. Oh, and everyone will think me an awful mother
Applying this method to worldschooling, or any lifestyle that steps outside of the norm, you might say these things to yourself:
- Removing my child from school to travel will limit their opportunities for social interaction
- Selling my house and belongings will deprive my child, and me, of community
- Stepping outside of the usual 9-5 routine won’t prepare my child for ‘the real world’ and they’ll never learn how to get up to an alarm, get to school/work/planned activity on time
- Trying to get what I need in a country where my mother tongue isn’t spoken will be too hard and anyway, I’m terrible at learning other languages
- I’ll have no idea how to earn money without a regular, salaried job and I won’t be able to fulfill my dream of travelling
- My family disapprove of my plans to travel and they’ll possibly withdraw support if I follow through with it
- We might get sick outside of our home country and we won’t be able to access good healthcare
Any one of these concerns could stop you in your tracks. Maybe they already have. But questioning the validity of these very real fears by examining first the likelihood of your projections actually coming to fruition and then asking yourself what the worst case scenario would be, even if they did, could just be the path to liberation. Like it was for me!