This is my very first Father’s Day as a dad. My partner has just given birth, so the end is nigh. Or so everyone seems to be telling me. “Say goodbye to your sleep and relaxing days, mate,” my friend said to me – encouragingly, I think. Others had far more ominous warnings. Some people even grimaced as they congratulated us on the news.
I’m starting to think that the real reason people don’t want to have kids isn’t climate change or the cost, but the stress. Having children and looking after them seems impossibly complicated in the modern era. Every day brings news of awful diseases or viruses that children can catch, allergies I need to worry about, or behavioural issues I should watch out for. Every article of advice I read warns me of a multitude of impending risks, and the more I try to arm myself with knowledge, the more I find new things to worry about.
All of this is enough to drive anyone into a state of anxiety. At the ripe old age of 45, I can handle it, but I can’t imagine anyone 20 years younger approaching parenthood today without an overwhelming sense of stress.
Apparently, it will all be worth it! But I’m not convinced that all the fearmongering is helpful.
It makes me want to push back. Sure, it’s undoubtedly more complicated and expensive to raise a child today. But how much of that is necessary? Is everyone worrying too much? Even writing that out fills me with trepidation, because I know some people are going to call me irresponsible, or worse.
We live in a culture in which it’s “better to be safe than sorry” – to the point where being “safe” means constant worry. That doesn’t feel helpful, either. I want my child to take some tumbles, eat things that make her ill, play-fight with our two dogs and get bruised. I think being overcautious all the time makes us weaker – physically and mentally. I want her to take risks and not be afraid of falling down, or of not getting things right the first time. I think that will make my daughter more resilient.
Moreover, there’s little point in worrying about things I cannot control. If she’s born with an illness, or develops one later in life; if she develops mental health issues; if she’s unable to make friends – there’s little I can do in advance. I can only deal with such challenges when they arise. There are a million things that can go wrong, so why drive myself crazy thinking about them – or worse, trying to prevent them? It is impossible to plan for everything.
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I’m not passing judgement on others – I think to do so is to add to the problem – so they are welcome to disagree. Some may prefer to be safer than sorrier.
Does this make me irresponsible? I don’t believe so. I think it’s sensible risk management. Our parents raised children with far less support, convenience and expert advice on hand. They managed, didn’t they? Of course they weren’t perfect, but we won’t be either. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to be safe where possible. But it’s like the saying goes – you can’t find love without kissing a few frogs. Trying to prevent any heartbreak at all is worse than having your heart broken in the quest to find love. Or to put it another way, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. And I plan to raise a strong daughter.
Of course, I could be proved wrong. It might turn out that everyone’s worries were justified, and I am entirely unprepared for the tsunami of chaos heading my way. In which case, you can be sure I’ll be back with my mea culpa. Until then, happy Father’s Day!