Thursday, June 5, 2014

Anxiety, Fear and Online Community.

I recently came across this article on Facebook.

It's the story of a mom who left her 4-year old son in the car for 5 minutes and ended up dealing with the police and criminal charges and CPS.  What a mess!

The article talks a lot about how parents' perception of risk has really changed. How just a generation ago, people routinely left their kids in cars and no one batted an eye.  Now, it is considered criminal.   I mean, if you really think about it...a child is infinitely safer strapped in a car seat in a car parked in a safe location (assuming it's not a hot day of course) then they are they are sitting in that very same car while it's moving, or even walking across a parking lot. But yet, no one blinks at eye at driving kids here and there and everywhere or having them walk across crowded parking lots, but heaven forbid someone leaves them in a locked car (on a not-hot day) for 5 minutes to run into a store. 

The article raises this question. 

But what I always find lacking in these warnings is some explanation, not only of how expectations have shifted so radically for parents, but of why they have shifted. The tip-of-the-tongue answer is often that the world is a more dangerous place than it was a generation ago. But it doesn’t take much research to debunk this myth and find that nationally, violent crime rates are lower than they were in the ’70s and ’80s. So how do we explain that activities that once seemed harmless — letting a kid play at the park without supervision or sitting in a car for a few minutes — have now become not only socially taboo but grounds for prosecution?
A friend and former classmate of mine, Julia Fierro, spent so much time thinking about these questions of parental anxiety, she ended up writing a novel on the subject. When I asked her what answers she came up with, she wonders if everyone doesn’t have “too much information — parenting books, birthing classes, a gazillion blogs and parenting sites and magazines, and anonymous online sites where parents are very judgmental, even when trying to help or give advice. I think all that info, all the conflicting extreme philosophies of parenting (attachment parenting vs. cry-it-out and few moderate philosophies being promoted) makes us not trust ourselves. Also, most of us who are ambitious young professionals move far from our families and so have little support or solid community.”

I think the Internet and our online communities are to blame in a big, big way because that is what is giving us "too much information."  A generation ago, most people's circle of contact was way, way,way smaller.  They had their family, they had their neighbors, coworkers, friends from school.   Now, we know all those people, plus the thousands of people we know through the Internet...the people whose blogs we read, or whose stories/articles get shared on Facebook.  The people who belong to the same message boards or Facebook groups.

Way back in 2001/2002 when I was pregnant with my first, I was not all that into the Internet.  We still had dial-up, we didn't use it all that much, I had to share the computer with my husband.  I was on the Internet so much less, and I was so much less anxious for it.  I didn't read message boards or belong to Facebook (it wasn't even invented yet) so I didn't know about ALL THE BAD THINGS that could go wrong. I wasn't constantly bombarded with stories of tragedy. Sometime in the months after she was born, I started to spend a lot more time online.  I discovered message boards and Internet groups.  And as I "met" more people online, my anxiety increased.  By the time I was pregnant with my second, I was a lot more anxious.  I read stories of ALL THE TERRIBLE THINGS, and I had myself convinced that A TERRIBLE THING was going to happen to me.

Thanks to the Internet, I know (of) people who have been affected by cancer, stillbirth, murder, SIDS, rare diseases, genetic abnormalities, seizures, tragic accidents, drowning, car accidents,  CPS involvement, false accusations...the list goes on and on.  Thanks to the Internet, I have read stories of babies who died from rolling off a bed into a pile of laundry, or babies that died of SIDS, or mothers diagnosed with cancer, or husbands/fathers who were murdered or children who drowned in a creek, or a toddler strangling in window blinds or kidnapped 12- year olds.   In real life...I don't know that many people who have experienced a terrible tragedy like that (just a few), but online, online...there are so, so many.  Prayer requests always coming through....via facebook, on blogs, message boards.

When I was pregnant with my last two children, I was an absolute nervous wreck before the 20-week ultrasound.  A nervous wreck.  What should have been a happy time, was a time filled with anxiety and fear.  I was convinced that something would be wrong. Absolutely convinced.  Reading all the stories online about all the adverse prenatal diagnosis had me just about convinced that I would be dealing with the same.  Convinced.  I was actually shocked when everything was fine and the technician said we had a healthy baby.  Shocked that everything was normal. How sad. 

Online community is a wonderful thing. I really do love it.  I have met so many wonderful people through blogs and message boards.  So many, many wonderful people.  I love reading about other's lives.  I love sharing prayer requests. I love the fact that so many wonderful people have prayed for us.  Online community is a huge, huge, blessing.

But it has a dark side, at least for me.  All these prayer requests and stories and articles and caring bridge pages create anxiety..  I love to pray for others, but for my own sake...I really should not be reading about every rare disease, every tragic accident, every cancer diagnosis, every shooting, every false accusation with CPS, every toddler drowning, every kid who fell asleep and never woke up.  Thanks to the Internet, I know what SUDC is (sudden unexplained death in children)....and it's just one more thing to worry about that I really should not worry about.

You know how teens have the it can't happen to me, I'm invincible mentality...well I'm the opposite.  I have the all the terrible things are definitely going to happen to me mentality.  Maybe it's my melancholic personality.

And, I think that is a large part of where the hysterical paranoia parenting comes in.  When Heidi was a newborn I remember reading a story of a car that was stolen in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Texas with a newborn baby in it (the baby was later found, unharmed).  The mother had just gone to return a shopping cart.  For the longest time after that, I was afraid to leave my baby in the car to return a shopping cart. Which is crazy....because the chances of someone stealing a car in that amount of time is so, so, so, so small, it's not even worth worrying about. And, the chances of someone stealing *my* car (which is basically junk) is even less. I've actually seen entire online debates where mothers ponder how they should return shopping carts.  It's sad, really.  Just return the thing.

Some of the spreading awareness is good.  Because I am aware of the dangers of window blinds, I can keep long cords  out of reach.  Because I am aware of the danger of backing over kids with my big van, I always do a quick head count (making sure everyone who is supposed to be in the van is in it and everyone who's not is well out of the way, before backing up).  

But, is it necessarily good for everyone to be aware of every single tragedy that happens?  I've heard people say things like "Well, we don't want to have anymore children, because we don't want to push our luck" (meaning they've already had their healthy 1 or 2 or 3 children and don't want to risk a child with special needs). First the chances that everything would be "fine" are still fairly high.  And,what if it's not? That is where reading these stories of people who had difficulty can be a GOOD thing. Because, they can inspire us to take a chance, to take a breath and realize that even if everything isn't fine, that we will survive.  That life will go on. That we may even come out a better person. 

Furthermore..these are real stories of real people suffering. And, I do believe that they need our support.   I want to offer my support and prayers, which is the least I can do. And, I want to read their stories because some of them are pretty amazing and inspirational.

And, in many ways I do benefit from it.  Reading about ALL THE TERRIBLE THINGS and how other people face them, gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, I could maybe survive A TERRIBLE THING. 

So, what's the solution? The solution is not to hide from the tragic stories, but to put them in perspective. We need to rethink how we think about risk.  And, we need to realize that even if THE WORST happens, we will survive, because that is what people do..they survive (unless they don't and then hopefully they go to heaven, so it's all good anyway).  Really, when I really think about, the only thing we should be really be scared of is sin.  Not tragedy or disease or death, but sin...because the only real tragedy in life, is dying and not making it to heaven. (Now, if I could just get myself to believe that!).

(Linking up with The Fike Life for One Hot Mess, because I usually turn myself into a hot mess when I read about ALL THE TERRIBLE THINGS).  


  1. Great post, Amelia! I have so many of these thoughts floating around in my head - it's a tough balance between ignoring so many of these struggles of *all the people on the internet* and trying not to worry too much about how all the unlikely things might happen to me...

  2. Very thought-provoking. I have experienced the same, inexplicable increase in anxiety with each child. I never thought of it being linked to the Internet. I do think that because I've had so many children, I am old and *wise* (ha!) enough to know what CAN go wrong, when it didn't even occur to me with my first. You took the humble route and attributed that new wisdom to the Internet, instead of yourself. Although, I definitely think you're a wise parent. And now I'm just putting my foot into my mouth. Off to find the mouthwash!

    But, oh, these people that interfere and judge and tell parents what to do drive me ABSOLUTELY BONKERS!!! And I know they mean well, but puh-leeze!!!!

  3. Amen. I am with you 100%. I would even add that the constant internet connectivity leads me to be more distracted and less present to my kids. So, yes, in small doses. But I'm really happier when I limit my online time.

  4. This is a great post, and so, so true.

    I bought drapes instead of window blinds for our house because of the danger of cord strangulation, and once every couple years I have to wash and iron all those blasted white drapes and ask myself, was this really worth it? I mean what was the likelihood??

  5. Just found your blog...I am EXACTLY the same as you in regards to all this! I am constantly going back and forth about getting off FB because, though it is great for many reasons, it brings me so much fear sometimes! We have one little guy and my anxiety levels have gone through the roof since having him. This world is just so crazy and I hate how it is so easy to hear about every. single. crazy. thing. that goes one these days. Well! This is why I have been searching for other Catholic mom blogs....hoping to find some hope and inspiration in y'all, especially in the subject of raising kiddos in this nutzo world (; Glad I'm not alone!

  6. This is great Amelia. I've got a post in my drafts folder for next week on a related topic!


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