There are a few things I have always been afraid of. Some I’d categorize as phobias, and others are more anxiety-producing, rather than an actual hardcore terror.
However, one thing is certain; since becoming a mother I have been working very hard to at least dampen my reaction to these triggers, especially in front of my children. This is not to say that I feel they should not be afraid of anything. It is just that I do not want them to fear or have anxiety over something just because I do.
Here are just a few examples of my changes in reaction to my phobias:
1) The Arachnid
Recently, I was attempting to do some yoga at home before bed. Everyone else was asleep. While stuck in the downward dog position, I noticed something black and small scurrying across the floor.
SPIDER! My brain set off the alarm.
There was a time I would have screamed in a situation like this. The little voice in my head was yelling, “BURN THE HOUSE DOWN!” Then the voice of reason interrupted, “No, you’ll wake up the whole house. The kids can’t know you’re freaking out over a spider.” The first yelling voice responded, “THEN KILL IT, the kids are asleep anyway!”
Kill it? I can’t kill it. This is a fast little guy! I’ll end up missing with my swat and lose him and go into panic mode.
I ran to the kitchen instead, grabbed a tupperware container out of a drawer, and darted back to face my nemesis. The spider was easy to trap but putting the lid on the tupperware was going to be a bit more challenging; it was scurrying around and around the container faster than any other spider I’d ever dealt with. If I moved that container for just a second to get the lid under it, it surely would’ve escaped. I opted for slipping a piece of construction paper under the container, cutting and taping it so it made a lid. Then I jammed the whole thing into a larger tupperware container which I put the airtight seal on.
I set my makeshift spider trap on the kitchen counter. What next? It was late and a bit icy outside for me to attempt to release it. I wouldn’t be able to see well enough anyway, even with the outside light on. I did not want it to crawl back on top of me and hitch a ride back into the house without me knowing. All this thought was irrational, I know. In the moment, however, the anxiety was real and there was no reasoning with it.
Instead, I labeled the container,”really fast spider” in case my husband was up before me so he didn’t mistake it for a similar muffin container on the other side of the kitchen. Then I realized I couldn’t do that because the kids might be up even before us and open the container. I ended up shoving it in the garage because I couldn’t stand the thought of the spider running around my house while I tried to sleep. I vowed to release it in the morning if it was still alive and give it a shot at surviving the impending 40 degree weather forecasted for the next day.
Feel free to have a good laugh at my expense. I also wouldn’t blame you if you called what I did inhumane. Maybe it was, but I slept better knowing the spider wasn’t in the main part of the house. The internal scream in my body triggered by my arachnophobia was not going to turn off easily.
My reaction, however, was less intense than it would’ve been prior to becoming a mom. Before motherhood, I probably would’ve screamed and woke up my husband and put him on spider removal duty.
I have the same kind of intense fear of snakes as I do of spiders. I can only tolerate snakes when they are in glass enclosures or if I am far away from someone holding a snake (although this is difficult for me as well). Yes, even garter snakes, even though I know they won’t hurt anything. In the world of fight or flight, I am purely flight when it comes to snakes.
A garter snake once got into a classroom I was substitute teaching in, and I started running like I was training for the Olympic 100m dash. It took me a split second to realize I should be helping the assistant teachers organize the kids to vacate the room so the custodian could remove said slithering reptile.
The last time I saw a garter snake with my own kids was interesting. I jumped probably a couple of feet into the air, yelped, and started swiftly moving in the opposite direction from the snake. When asked by my children what happened, I quickly put on my poker face and responded, “Oh that garter snake just surprised me. Nothing to worry about. It won’t hurt you.” The rational came out but the irrational was still looking for which direction the snake retreated in response to my scream.
Prior to having children, a snake encounter like this would have sent me straight back into the house.
Of all of my phobias, my fear of heights is the most intense.
I’ve been working on this. Truly I have. All in all, I’ve avoided needing anything higher than the second step on a ladder in front of my kids. I try to avoid looking down. Even if I look straight out and realize how high I am, I get dizzy and my heart starts pounding. Panic sets in and sometimes even start to cry.
I tried some indoor rock climbing prior to having children and I think that helped some. Flying in an airplane is doable for me. I’m not crazy about it by any means. I refuse to fly in a small plane that accommodates less than 20 passengers. The only thing saving me on a plane is that I bring a distraction or utilize the airplane’s media offerings. I can look out the window briefly because often it just looks like a photograph on the wall. I’ve also tried sitting in lower sections of the balcony at concerts and sporting events and managed to remain calm. Finding one thing to hyper focus on makes things a little easier, but it takes a lot of effort for me to not panic.
At least for now, I have successfully avoided exposing my children to my fear of heights. My husband graciously puts up the Christmas lights that require me to go higher than I wish to on a ladder. I paint walls up to a certain point and he paints the rest. You won’t see me going on a roller coaster anytime soon. If my kids are ever into that kind of thing, they are more than welcome to go for a ride when they’re old enough.
I will explain all of my phobias and anxieties over seemingly silly things one day with my kids. Hopefully, they will understand that they do not need to be afraid or anxious of things simply because I am. I don’t want them to hang back from participating in opportunities just because there are factors included in them that I tend to avoid. After all, spiders, snakes and heights are usually not rational things to get worked up over when you live in Vermont.
However, I also want them to understand that sometimes you can’t help being afraid of something, no matter how irrational it seems. Phobias and anxieties are okay because sometimes our brains are wired to be afraid of certain things.
Having children has forced me to face my own phobias and try to keep my reactions under control. Whatever phobias or anxieties my children might end up having, I want them to know I accept them. I want to try to help them work through them to find some peace in certain situations. Just like I have with my own.
How have your reactions to your phobias and anxieties changed since you’ve had children?