The beauty in the beast

It started with a story.

And then it became a call to share. And now it’s this beast below, listed in black and white: all that we, collectively as mothers, are trying to hold at bay, every hour of every day. Your worst fears. Mine, too. In no particular order.

But before you read them, I have to tell you two things. Firstly, these submissions are raw. They are honest. All of them are haunting. I did not edit them (for content) or soften their edges in any way. Use your discretion when reading them.

Secondly, it’s been an honor to see these emails, all labeled ‘worst fear’, land in my in-box. To open them and absorb them has made for a surreal, somber, and kind of wonderful week. And as I read them, then copied and pasted them, verbatim, to this space, the beast morphed from monster to shadow. It lost dimension. Flattened into submission. Stilled to reflection-like clarity. It became not the sum of what we fear, but of what we are capable of facing, day in and day out, as our children live and laugh and play and spew food out of their mouths and whine in the car and forget to say thank you and score home runs and ask for a quarter and ask again and spill their drink and hold our hand and drive us crazy and make us proud.

And in so doing, we’re left with a new kind of beast: a fierce and terrible one that is our strength, and courage, and a token of the beautiful love we harbor for our kids. But it isn’t pretty. Beauty doesn’t mean pretty. We all know that.

My worst fear as a mother is…

to have my child disappear, and go a lifetime without knowing if they are dead or alive.

for my daughter. Skin and bones in a hospital gown, hair dirty and lank. She’s starving and she’s doing it to herself and she’s killing herself slowly and cannot see it. And there’s nothing I can do.

of going off a bridge into a river and having to choose which of my kids to try to save.

of dying before my kids, especially when they are young. (Worst case scenario being a long slow lingering death).

of one of the boys being kidnapped and/or molested. Another more rational fear is that I will live too selfishly for them to really know that they are so loved and that they always belong and that I love being with them. I fear that they’ll be broken, emotionally, because of me.

that I won’t be around to see my children grow up. I don’t want to leave them alone with no mother.

that one of my children ends up a drug addict, homeless and dies of an overdose.

to be forced to go on with my life after one of my children goes missing. And stays missing. Perhaps for years. To suspect she is dead but not ever know. Not ever know.

that something I do causes severe harm to my child (injury or death).

that one of my children dies in front of me and I am helpless to do anything to stop it.

that my child has endless suffering–physical or emotional–and I can’t do anything to help.

that I have to pick which child to save.

that my daughter will run into the street and be hit by a car.

that my children will be molested. Every man and older child is a potential molester in my mind. I don’t want them playing alone with or holding my children. When my daughter was little, I’d have panic attacks when grown men asked to hold her–including her grandfathers. I don’t trust that older boys won’t sexually hurt or abuse my son. Everyone is a potential abuser–and I don’t know how to be everywhere and protect my kids from everyone.

of a child who, despite all my efforts, self destructs before he or she has time to make a detour.

of a car accident…my own father died instantaneously in a car accident, my husband came very close to becoming comatose after a serious car accident.  My daughter is only a few years away from driving…

that I will have failed my children because I have not been a good enough mother.

that they will die silently. I sometimes have to force myself to open the door to my children’s rooms or turn a corner into another room where the kids have been quiet without me. I just know they’re dead in there. Suffocation in their sleep, sudden injury while playing…something that quietly snuffs them out. It flashes through my mind multiple times a day. Will they survive to adulthood? I don’t know how to confidently say yes.

to suddenly realize my child is gone in a crowd and have it really be real…not a scare, not temporary, but really gone.

that I’ll die and no one will know, and my three-year-old will be all alone for weeks by herself. (My husband is only here six months of the year since he’s in a special unit in the army.)

that some day my sons will grow up, move away and we’ll grow apart. I fear not being part of their lives as adults and part of their families’ lives.

that I would drive off a bridge and not know what to do. Should I open the windows right away or wait until the pressure had equalized? What if I couldn’t get her out of the car seat in time, or what if the windows wouldn’t open? How fast would the car actually sink? How much time would we have to get out?  When I was pregnant with my son…the second child in 18 months…my fear became that I would have to choose. Which one would I unbuckle first? Which one would I hang onto in the water? How would I handle the situation with two under two? Underneath it all is the fear that I don’t know what to do in every situation… that I can’t protect them all the time…

that I live to see one of my children commit a horrible and violent crime.

that my kids will disappear in one of two ways: either they wake up in the night and wander off (this has never happened) or they slip away in a large area where there are many people (this has never happened either).

that I will go insane.

of one of my children or myself dying. I feel bad saying it but if something happened to my husband I know I could go on because I would have to for the kids. If something happened to one of my four children I just don’t think I could. I worry about myself until the kids are adults just because I am such a big part of my kids’ lives that it would be devastating for them.

that I drive off a bridge with my three kids and can’t decide who to save first.

that my perfectly happy and adoring daughter will turn into a somber and miserable and anxious teenager who hates me (because my mom told me I would receive payback for all the shit I put her through).

that I’ll have some moment of insanity and hurt my kids. By driving off the road, dropping them off a balcony, etc. My fears have lessened as I’ve gotten farther away from their infancy, but it still scares me.

that I will die before I am able to raise my children. There’s no basis for this fear–I’m healthy–but it sends black jolts of fear throughout my veins every time I think of it.

that my child will be diagosed with an incurable disease.

that someday, one of my children will commit suicide, and I won’t have known he needed help. Also that I won’t be able to keep living myself if this ever happened. But knowing I’d have to, for my other children.

that my child will be orphaned, and alone in the world.

that I will wake up one morning to a natural disaster I cannot control, putting my children in immediate danger. That they’ll be looking to me for help and reassurance and for what to do, and I won’t know. And they’ll know that I am powerless to save them.

of cancer. My own. My child’s. Living with it. Dying from it.

that my children will die silently in their beds at night. I think this stems back to early SIDS fears.

that the order of our society (political, physical, or otherwise) will dissolve, and I’ll have to try to survive with my children. Meaning, I’ll have brought my children into a world that is frightening and dangerous and perhaps deadly.

that one of my boys will be drafted into a war.

that a plane will crash with myself and my children on board. And I’ll know we are going to die, and be unable to comfort them well enough that they are not afraid. Whenever I’m on a plane alone that has severe turbulence, I don’t even mind…just thank God my children are not on it with me.

That my daughter will learn life lessons the hard way like I did, and be hurt by a man, physically and emotionally.

that my kids will be forced to watch me suffer. Maybe in a home invasion, or some other situation they are powerless to stop.

that my children will remember my moments of frustration or anger and not my moments of pure joy in mothering them.

that I will lose my daughter to death. She’s an adult now, but I still have the same fear. I’ve been through hell in my life but that is the one thing I couldn’t bear.

that it won’t be enough. (What I do for them.) That I won’t be enough.

that I will be a bad mom. A mom that they don’t want to talk to or hate when they grow up. I fear I will be to strict or to lax on some of them.

that I will fail.

Thank you, to all who faced their fears and submitted. My worst fear is in here too, so I know how hard it was to type the words. If you submitted, or even if you didn’t, feel free to spread this list around. Post it or link it on your own blog,  to your Facebook wall, on Twitter…whatever you’d like to do. This is your list. You own it. (And you’ve certainly earned it.)

33 thoughts on “The beauty in the beast

  1. I thought I had a worst fear until I saw this list, and am reminded that every day, SOMETHING haunts me depending on the day, and my mind never rests. Part and parcel of parenthood I guess. Probably my least favorite part.

  2. wow. motherhood comes with much fear.
    and the fear is just as uncontrollable as the things we fear, if that makes sense. I mean, these things hit me in flashes, like right as I’m about to sleep. It’s funny how it especially happens when I’m thinking about how much I love my boys…a fear always follows.

    We seem to wait for the other shoe to drop, even if it most likely never will, because that’s how much we love. I heard Brene Brown talk about this very thing, about how our mothering minds wander to huge catastrophe especially when we’re thinking about our joy and love and our kids. It’s as if we’re too afraid to feel those good things because we think it’s going to make THE bad thing happen. Which steals vulnerability…which steals intimacy…which sucks.

    It’s so good to talk about this. Just saying 🙂

    • Yes, it’s as though things are going so well with these little people in our homes and arms and care, that we fear its ruin…which must be right around the corner. It’s awful, but you’re right: it speaks of our love and joy.

    • It’s a horrible list, isn’t it? And yet…somehow its horror is only as strong as our feelings as mothers. It’s hard to care this much, sometimes.

  3. I was teary eyed at the end of the list,too. Also found it interesting how many people fear driving into the water and having to choose which child to save.

    • Yes, the few repetitions were interesting to me as well. The water, the bridge, the car…maybe because driving is something we all do every day.

  4. Real, and very raw. What an amazingly accurate account of my every nightmare and the fears that creep into my peripheral vision as I struggle to ‘mother’. It’s the hardest job in the world. The fears make it more difficult, but remind us to live in the moment (equally as hard)

    Thanks for sharing, Amy. Great idea too xx

    • Glad you found me. Love the SITS community! And sorry you found me on such a sad post…I’m not always so depressing, I promise! 😉

    • They are universal, yes. Which is what makes us all nod along with all of them, but it’s also what scares us so much, I think. Thanks for stopping by to read!

  5. Pingback: My Nightmare |
  6. Somehow, I missed this post. As I was reading our collective fears, I couldn’t remember which one was mine at first because I worry about so many of them. Even disguised through other mothers’ words, they are haunting and devastating. But I am comforted, knowing I’m not alone.

  7. Such a list! Full of fears each of us has, and some so unique and personal to the writer of the fear… I have a fear, one that as the day goes on is gnawing at my mind. My fear is what my children will learn about love from me – really I need to get away for an hour or two and regroup.
    stopping by for your SITS day

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