A couple of years ago, I spoke to a panel of moms about why the “Mommy Blogging” genre had taken off. (I deeply loathe the cringe-worthy word “mommy” almost as much as I dislike the word “moist”—but that’s a different essay.) This was when the mom-blog market was at its height: Basically anyone with a Tumblr account and an infant had an opinion about breast versus bottle, co-sleeping versus cribs, public versus private school, helicoptering versus free-range parenting—and wanted to share it, preferably while also expressing desire for an at-home Chardonnay fountain. Preferably while drinking from a Chardonnay fountain. Oh, 2012. It was a good year.
An older woman raised her hand and wanted to know why “moms today” were so anxious to spout their opinions, to justify and critique and analyze parenting choices online. At first, I didn’t know what to say. People aren’t born to be defensive or judgmental, and I don’t think parenthood automatically transforms some people into raging windbags. Most people, I think, are by nature accepting (or at least in possession of basic social skills). But there’s something about motherhood that makes us anxious. Nervous. In constant pursuit of self-definition. Driven to get it “right.” Whatever “right” means.
Driving home, it dawned on me: fear.
Since becoming a parent, I basically spend a huge chunk of my time entertaining some form of low-grade terror. At the very least, I feel vulnerable in ways I never did before having kids. In my 20s, nothing sweepingly terrible could really hurt me. I was indestructible. The worst thing that could possibly happen was overdrawing my Bank of America checking account or forgetting to refill my Ortho Tri-Cyclen prescription.
Now I’m afraid of not having enough money to pay for my mortgage or daycare. I’m afraid of sending my son to school and someone bursting through the door with a gun. I’m afraid of childhood cancer. Commercials about sick kids make me sob. I’m afraid of dying in childbirth due to some obscure bleeding issue and leaving my 5-year-old without a mom. I’m afraid that my husband will get sick and that I’ll end up raising two children alone with nothing but a Kickstarter campaign to remember him by. I’m afraid of bullies, terrorist attacks, car crashes.
I hide it well. I think most people do. I don’t walk around in bubble wrap with a Xanax drip. It’s more of an ongoing, internal monologue that plays on a quiet little loop, all day, every day—one that gets louder with each horrifying news story or heartbreaking commercial or completely unexplainable tragedy. The older I get, the more out of control I feel.
Why? Because I’m now old enough to know that bad things can and do happen. I’m old enough now to know people who have gotten terminally ill and died. I’ve known families whose children have cancer. I know that people really do lose their jobs, or succumb to violence, or undergo terrible births that make human autonomy seem like a quaint concept, a little joke.
Fate: the great equalizer. I look back at recent texts and chats with friends, and they all possess a fear-based component: horror over the latest school shooting. Terror over childbirth. Anger about work and money and childcare.
You might be thinking: Wow! This lady has some depressing friends! And I don’t. Really! There’s plenty of happiness and good news, too. But a lot of what drives us to communicate and to reach out is plain-old anxiety.
And so I wish I’d told that woman in 2012 this: I think we’re afraid. I think that’s why people are so eager to share and defend and write about their choices. It’s a little way to wrest control from an incredibly unpredictable world. The more we explain and hyper-engineer our parenting choices, the more in control we feel. It’s a small way of rationalizing a completely irrational world.
Of course, consuming too much of this type of media creates its own anxious feedback loop. Even articles meant to inspire people to chill out—“Give Your Kids a 1970s Summer!”—can inspire nervousness. (Oh dear, where did I put my Tang and Slip ‘n Slide?)
And so I’ve also started to wonder what role religion could play in my 30-something life, especially since I’ve interviewed lots of rabbis and religious figures (and therapists, and so on) in this role and for my other journalistic work. I’ve found myself searching for someone to decipher the world and interpret it for me.
Right now I’m seven months pregnant and undergoing all the typical blood tests and monitoring (diabetes! pre-eclampsia! extreme foot bloating, which really should be its own disease!) that come with the third trimester. Each appointment and test is its own miniature roulette.
I have health insurance, disability insurance and life insurance. Now, as a parent, I basically want an insurance policy against doom. Is this why people find religion later in life? Is it somehow cheap or needy to do so? I find myself craving a broader framework to explain the unexplainable. This seems like a pretty shoddy reason to believe in a higher power, but maybe even the exercise of crawling outside one’s own psyche for a bit is helpful. Now, more than ever, I want answers to questions I just didn’t have before.
And maybe that’s why this culture of over-sharing is so prevalent, too. It’s a way to interpret and translate the world, but it’s also a way to feel a little bit less lonesome. Our fate is ours alone, but as long as we have the Internet with blogs and advice columns and social media feeds that never stop refreshing, we can keep up the illusion a little bit longer. It’s our connection with others, the next best thing to salvation.