New dad Luke Edwards is finding it hard to distinguish between caring for his daughter and being a needless worrier. Do any of us actually have the answer?
New parents driving home from hospital are probably the most cautious drivers on the road. Notice I didn’t say safest. Driving home with our precious new cargo in the back, I remember taking corners slower than a one-legged donkey and braking more smoothly than I thought possible. That’s nice for the baby, but it’s not necessarily normal road driving and it’s not particularly safe. It seems the care and caution I was trying to practice as a parent was straying into worry and risk.
That’s an idea that’s stayed with me ever since. A dad mate once said, casually, over a few beers, “You’re going to be a worrier dad.” I’m not a worrier person. In fact I pride myself on being so laid-back I’m almost lying down. Yet, driving home from the hospital super slowly, I suddenly saw the prophecy become a reality – I had become that worrier parent.
Since then I’ve actively tried to fight the worry. It’s tough.
Should she be breathing like that?
When we first got baby Ivy home there was plenty of screaming on her part, and I was silently wishing she had a 'mute' button. Then she nodded off and suddenly there was blissful quiet. But, wait, is that too quiet? Is she OK? Is she breathing? I ended up leaning over to place my hand on her to feel her breath. Only then could I sleep, despite being more tired than I knew I could possibly be. But that’s care, not worry, right?
OK, here’s another. Milk spots are those little whiteheads that babies get on their noses. A little breast milk on them and they clear up. Ivy was born with hers and they weren’t healing. I worried they might leave her with scars as she grows and the skin beneath would never form properly. Then I felt bad for worrying about superficial things. Was I being selfish for wanting her to look nice, or was I worrying that she'd have the best chance in life? Worrier dad was back in full effect. I needn’t have dwelled so deeply on it, though, as they soon cleared up. But it was definitely worry which wasn’t needed.
That said, there are times worry is part of caring and actually keeps the little one safe. I lacked this once and nearly lost my daughter.
"Worry, like most of parenting, conforms to no rigidly defined rules. It’s down to us to decide."
When you’re tired, everything becomes tougher. It’s like being drunk. You think your body is working as normal until you drop your drink, or in this case something more precious. When you’re carrying a baby around a lot that dropping issue is no small problem. Before we go on, sorry to my wife Jo, as I've never confessed this to her.
I was burping my daughter over my shoulder in the kitchen, above a hard tiled floor at the top of my six foot height. I was reaching for a bottle, trying to multitask, when Ivy had a sudden back spasm, flinging her head and launching herself over my one-handed grip. I instinctively grabbed a leg and some body. I felt her hip go further than it should. She screamed. I felt terrible. Worry definitely kicked in then about whether her hip would ever be OK again. Thankfully, babies are pretty hardy and she was fine. But I wasn’t. I now consciously carry her more carefully, allowing worry to stay at the surface of my mind as a tool to help me keep her safer.
The question is, how many of these worry-tools do we leave running in our minds? That one is obviously necessary for safety. But the line isn’t always so clear. Worry, like most of parenting, conforms to no rigidly defined rules. It’s down to us to decide. These moments are when you realise nobody has ever really truly known the right answer. For thousands of years we’ve all just been muddling through. Yet babies grow into children and children into adults and the world keeps spinning.
So we might as well just chill out and enjoy the ride, yeah? Of course. That’s easy. Right?
Luke Edwards is a writer who specialises in technology, he’s looking forward to buying his new daughter lots of gadgets.