Friday, September 23, 2011

The Irrational Fears of Parents

There is a lot of scientific effort devoted to the study of fear and the way it is passed on from parents to their children.  As an example, when I was growing up, my mother had a fear of thunderstorms.  Why?  Because her mother was afraid of thunderstorms.  According to my mom, if there was a storm in the middle of the night, her mother would wake up the family and they would all go driving in the car since that was "the safest place to be" (which this video may actually prove correct!).  I just couldn't imagine getting my entire family out of bed to go joy riding in a thunderstorm.

As silly as it sounds, being afraid of thunderstorms is a rational fear, especially if you know someone who died of a lightning strike or your house burned down after being struck by lightning.   Rational fears are any fears that can be explained by the danger they impose.  If you are afraid of heights, it is because your mind is telling you that it does not want to become a pancake when you fall.  If you are afraid of dogs, you were probably bitten as a kid, and thus, your mind does not want you to relive that experience.

What I want to discuss today are irrational fears.  From my point of view, there are two types of irrational fears, those that are explainable and those that have no logical explanation.  An example of an explainable, irrational fear is the fear of snakes or spiders.  This type of fear is usually passed on from parent to child, and has its roots in the oldest tribal civilizations in Africa and South America where humans lived side by side with venomous spiders and snakes without access to modern medical treatment.  So at one point in time, there was a rational reason for being afraid of snakes and spiders - you could die if you were bitten by these creatures.  So, parents taught children to stay away from these animals, and the behavior was passed on for generations until the children realized that they could make money off of these fears.

The second type of irrational fear, is one that has no logical explanation.  In other words, it makes no sense.  First time parents can be very vulnerable to this type of fear.  I'm not talking about rational fears of first time parents like your child falling down a flight of stairs, dropping your child, or a dingo eating your baby.  Those things could actually happen.  I am talking about fears that cause your friends to give you weird looks when you try to explain them.  I don't have the time to catalog all of the inexplicable, irrational fears that we have as first time parents, but I want to talk about one.  This is a fear that my wife has, and it is totally beyond explanation.  My wife, for some unknown reason, believes that leaving my daughter in the car seat for long periods of time will stunt her growth.  To try to explain this to you visually, I have included the following picture:

Car Seat Growth Stunt Theory?  Whatchu talkin' 'bout, Willis?

I know what you're thinking: that makes no sense.  And yes, I agree with you.  But just yesterday, my wife was sharing her heartfelt concern that our child will be the next Webster because she rode in her car seat for a long time.  We have discussed how this fear is irrational. and I can't help but point out the irrationality every time she says something like, "Make sure she gets to run around outside because she's been in the car seat a lot today.  I don't want her growth to be stunted."  To which I say something like, "You know you could have stopped before that last sentence and you wouldn't sound like a crazy person, right?"  And I get a response like, "Yes, but you know this is an irrational fear that I have, so just deal with it."
I'm not sure what causes this irrational fear.  My wife doesn't know anyone whose growth was stunted due to prolonged car seat exposure.  I have been unable to find scientific research that supports her hypothesis.  I have only been able to uncover an old wive's tale that sleeping upright will somehow stunt your growth, but there is no evidence to support that either.  This irrational fear has no source, and I guess that is part of what makes it irrational.

I suppose that since I am a loving husband, I am stuck dealing with the irrationality of her fear, and I must make sure my child gets plenty of time to exercise after long trips in the car.   Or, I could be a jerk and try to disprove her theory by taking my daughter on long car rides every day for a month.  Then, if her growth is stunted, great, we don't have to buy new clothes for a while. If not, even better!  I can finally prove to my wife that her fear is irrational and get a lot of sight seeing in while doing it.  Sounds like a win/win situation to me.  Have you seen the car keys?


  1. Your wife actually would have been 7ft tall but those long drives to the Mall and grocery stores made her the shadow of the woman she is today.

  2. Thanks, Muggy! I'll be sure to let her know.

  3. Very smart post Matt! Hmmm, I'd better read your stuff more often instead of quickly deleting it like I usually do (just kidding)!

  4. Thanks Bruce! What's the saying? Even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut. Some of us young whipper snappers can make magic with the keyboard too. And I know you read because you're one of the few that take the time to comment. Thanks again.



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