The scariest thing about being a parent, so far, is making choices that will have a permanent and lasting impact on our kid. We’ve never even met him… how are we supposed to make these decisions for him? One of the downsides of our current world is an over abundance of information. There are strong supporters of completely opposite views for almost any choice we have to make in life. Parenting is no different. Already, my husband and I have had to make some significant choices for our son’s future. Some were easy to make. Some took us months to decide.
For the next five weeks, I will be publishing an extra post each Friday. This series of “bonus” posts will focus on our first five important parenting decisions. Each of these will reflect the personal choices that Kenny and I have made for our son and our family. They’re not all popular choices. In fact, one or both of our mothers disagrees with each one of these decisions. Many of you will have made the opposite decision. Whether you and I have made the same decision or not, we can agree that we love our children and only want what’s best for them based on our beliefs, research, and perspective. This is a five-part story, not about why our choices are “right,” but about the journey my husband and I have taken over the past six months or so to learn to make decisions as part of a parental unit.
Part 3 of 5- Decision: Avoiding the News
About two or three months into my pregnancy, I had a dream that I was taking the bar exam when a boy I knew from law school stormed into the test an hour late. Proctors rushed to usher him out into the hall as he pulled out a machete, declared he was a terrorist, and started cutting peoples’ heads off. Ignore the fact that I obviously was still stressed about the bar months after it ended and the absurdity of this person saying, “I’m a terrorist.” This dream was a turning point for me. I realized that I was letting world news and current events literally haunt my dreams. I didn’t sleep often and when I did sleep, I had terrible and vivid dreams. I knew (based on mom intuition, not based on science) that my stress and negativity would affect my unborn baby. I eventually made the decision not to read or watch the news…. Or talk about it… Or be exposed to it. At all.
The truth is, I can become a little bit news-obsessed. I read multiple sources from multiple political standpoints and multiple countries to get a clearer idea of what’s really going on. I get super angry about the decisions of world leaders. I spend hours talking about, thinking about, and formulating opinions about the current state of affairs. I bring up news and politics constantly to hear other perspectives and ideas and to share my own thoughts. Sometimes, I really enjoy the discourse. I’m always fascinated by the different viewpoints of people and all the thousands of things I could never have thought of on my own. I love knowing what’s going on so I can jump in on any conversation and sound intelligent.
But there are downsides. The news is constant and pervasive and stressful. There is always more to read, more opinions to gather, newer events, events farther away. None of them are good. And if they are good, there’s still a lot of stress involved. For example, if the person you’ve been rooting for to win an election does in fact win, does all your stress go away? No. You’ve still spent months arguing and socially campaigning and worrying. And now you’ll spend months defending the person and the process and every action taken. And if your candidate doesn’t win? Stress, stress stress.
Some people are great at handling this stress or channeling it for positive change. I’m not. I worry and fret and feel upset all the time. And apparently when I’m pregnant, this all manifests itself as long, vivid, terrible dreams.
Now this part, you can take or leave… there may be some science to back it up, but I don’t know and I don’t really care. I felt like my stress was affecting my baby. How could it not? I was constantly thinking of and dreaming of the scariest, worst, most stressful situations I could imagine. I remember in law school, around finals time, when you walked into the library, it felt like the stress in the room was palpable. I could feel the weight of everyone’s agony stifling the room. I remember trying to explain to Kenny that I can’t be in there because there must be some sort of pheromones or hormones or other –mones that the body gives off when it is undergoing stressful situations; something that can be detected by others. If I can feel the stress of other people by being around them, why would my tiny little baby not be able to feel mine? He is, after all, physically attached to me and completely dependent on me for blood, oxygen, nutrients, etc. And at this point he was about 2 inches big. That’s so tiny to take on the stress of modern current events!
At first, I tried to just scale back my exposure to the news. I stopped scouring the sources and tried to stick to a few basics that covered various political persuasions. But it’s too confusing! Every source completely contradicts the others.
Then I tried only reading, but not watching the news, knowing that visuals are strongly imprinted on the mind. That was easy- I don’t have cable and lots of news stories don’t have video. It didn’t make a difference.
Then, I got “drastic.” I turned off the notifications for all my news apps so I wouldn’t get pinged with the important updates, committed to only reading the headlines in the apps I had and just accepting that I had an incomplete picture of the news. That made things worse. Then I just was bombarded with the tagline version of things which is meant to be attention-grabbing rather than accurate. I found myself eagerly bringing up the headlines so other people would fill in the details for me.
I had to make a clean break with the news. I deleted all my news apps, deleted my internet bookmarks, and unsubscribed from my news emails. As I write this, I realize, I must sound a little crazy. I guess I had become really obsessed with the news since moving home to a politically divided house during a crazy election. The final step, and the most time-consuming, was to unfollow on Facebook people who only post the news. Turns out, this group was about 99.9% people from law school whom I don’t really care much about following anyway.
Then, the hard part- I had to communicate my intention to my family because I lived with them. I explained that I couldn’t handle the stress of the news and I was worried about the effect all the stress (and lack of sleep) would have on Baby Weiss. I asked that we not discuss current events at dinner or have the news playing while we ate. It didn’t go over well.
My mom flat out hates the idea. She said it is “un-American.” My brother refuses to abide by my wishes and says that my attempts to control everyone are borderline terrorist themselves. I have several friends who are disappointed, at best, with my choice. I think the problem is that for some reason, not reading the news is confused with apathy. My mom once said she couldn’t believe that she had a daughter who didn’t care about what was going on in the world. Apathy is the opposite of my problem. My problem is that I care too much. I can’t read about the news and get informed and then go about my day. I want to cry when I see the families of people who have been gunned down. I want to hug every person displaced by fires and hurricanes and rebuild every house that was burned or torn down. I want to scream at every politician who lies or abuses his/her power.
Once I stopped watching the news, the dreams went away. I slept better, I had lighter and happy conversations. I had more time to have deep conversations about so many other things. I stopped feeling like I was in a world where we are all running desperately around, simply in order to survive.
I have one month left in my pregnancy and therefore one month left of avoiding the news. Truthfully, I’m not sure I want it all back when this is over. Yes, it has been hard to hear about things so late in the game (I still hear about major events just by word of mouth, but I avoid what I can and purposely do not seek out information). I’m always behind when people talk about Puerto Rico and Las Vegas and the like. It upsets people who are affected that I know nothing about what’s going on. That’s hard, too. But the positive is that I can live in a world where I feel less stressed and less scared. I no longer feel like my emotions are negatively affecting Baby Weiss. I don’t agree with everything that’s going on in the world, but I don’t have to take it all to heart. I can hear about the shooting in Las Vegas and feel a normal level of sadness and anger without feeling devastation and rage that continue for weeks.
Maybe this makes me irresponsible. Maybe it makes me un-American. Maybe it does reveal that I’m apathetic. But it makes me happy. I have quieter thoughts now. I can hear about hurricanes and check in with loved ones and say a prayer for people and then sleep at night. I can hear about world leaders making decisions I don’t agree with, and choose not to argue about it and not to agonize over the repercussions. For one more month, I can just trust that the world will not collapse because I decided to remove myself from the news sphere a short time.
My hope is that by the end of this six month journey, I will not only have grown a human who isn’t exposed to that kind of stress, but also that I will have detoxed myself enough from the need to be inundated with news and current events and political discourse, that I can set up a healthier boundary for myself. I want to be a mom who knows what’s going on in the world and has informed opinions and a few causes for which I am passionate. And one who can sit at dinner and talk about other things and who can truthfully say to her child that I believe we are safe.
Other Posts in this Series