Parenting and Emotional Changes

July 13th, 2015
baby, kids
Content warning: harm to babies.

I've never been an especially emotional person. I'm generally reasonably happy, sometimes excited sometimes bored, but almost never sad, anxious, or angry. [1] One of the more surprising things about becoming a parent has been feeling a change here.

When Lily was just short of three months old, I was flying to play a gig in Florida. Sitting on the airplane I read a 1970 account of the Altamont Free Concert. Then I got to a section that included a baby getting hurt:

Another man with a medical problem related his run-in with the promoters: "I went up on the stage to make an announcement to find the father that was stoned on acid and got separated from his wife and baby, because the baby had been stepped on by an Angel and they thought the baby was dead. The Stones' manager said, 'We're not making any personal announcements; we've told people where lost and found is, we've told people where the Red Cross is. There will be no personal announcements. I don't care if you die; there's not going to be an announcement.' He was the most uptight dude anybody ever saw."
In the past I would have read over this paragraph like any other, but now the image of a baby being stepped on struck me so hard I couldn't think about anything else. I flashed between panic, fear, protectiveness, and anger, over and over, emotions I'd felt extremely rarely before. This was a third hand account of something 45 years earlier, in a world where far too many children die, but babies must not be stepped on just sat there, burning into my head. I was completely thrown.

Something similar happened yesterday, reading about a potential Cascadian earthquake:

Depending on location, they will have between ten and thirty minutes to get out. That time line does not allow for finding a flashlight, tending to an earthquake injury, hesitating amid the ruins of a home, searching for loved ones, or being a Good Samaritan. "When that tsunami is coming, you run" Jay Wilson, the chair of the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission (OSSPAC), says. "You protect yourself, you don't turn around, you don't go back to save anybody. You run for your life."
I just sat there on the bus with a huge hole in my stomach. I was 3000 miles away and Lily wasn't in any danger, but the tension between the official advice to save myself and the fierce need to protect her was strong enough to bring me to the edge of crying.

The other place I've noticed a change is that now I'm occasionally angry. Someone does something not the way I think they should have, and I start to feel a bit of red rising up. I'm pretty sure this one is only an indirect change, mediated by long-term sleep deprivation, but it's frustrating how counterproductive it feels. I try to push it back down, and get back to "what did they believe and why, when they made their decision, such that this was the best option for them," but at times anger does get in the way.

This wouldn't have changed my decision to have kids, but I do better now understand the arguments people make about how we should encourage or discourage having kids based on how being a parent changes your experience of the world.

[1] I'd be tempted to say that not being anxious etc is mostly my being very lucky overall in my life circumstances. I'm going to have food and shelter; what is there to be anxious about? Except that lots of other people with similar life experiences do have substantial anxiety, depression, etc. Which makes me think this a different kind of being lucky and is more something about the way I am, for mostly unknown reasons.

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