As a Mom, I am definitely guilty of being “Momanoid” – the parental version of paranoid. Momanoia is:
- Believing that leaving my daughter’s bassinet too close to the painting will cause the painting to fall on her head
- Thinking that my son is DEFINITELY out of his crib, and sticking his fingers in an electrical outlet that his two-year-old chubby fingers have somehow managed to pry the protective cover off
- Supposing that my little girl will certainly have climbed on top of, and be about to fall off, the dining room table if I run to the bathroom.
The list of momanoias that I have experienced are endless. If you’re a parent, I bet your list is endless too.
These momanoias are built into the very fiber of our being. They are our personal alarm system, constantly making us check that our children are safe. An evolutionary survival tool.
And then there is the increased momanoia you experience when you parent a child with a disability or other special needs. I’m guilty of this also. My expanded worrying is about my beautiful, happy, non-verbal daughter – who happens to have some disabilities. This is the kind of momanoia that leads to you trying to wrap up your baby in bubble wrap, terrified that they won’t be able to do something, or that they may hurt themselves, or that you won’t be able to protect them forever and ever. It’s a slippery slope of momanoia that leads you to visualize conversations with 11 year old bullies, preparing how you will respond to questions from strangers such as “what’s wrong with your child?”, and “Doesn’t she know her manners? Haven’t you taught her how to say thank you?” No one has ever asked me these questions, but in my head I’ve decided I’ll be asked at some time… momanoid!
But this kind of worrying – this overarching desire to protect against absolutely everything – is not helpful to our children. Because what I think I am doing, and what I’m actually doing are two very different things. Do I believe in my daughter and her amazing potential? Of course. Am I showing her that belief by stopping her from climbing, or running too fast, or playing with children who don’t know about her disabilities? Absolutely not.
Time and time again, research has shown that adults expectations on children directly affect their behavior. Alix Spiegel from NPR recently conducted studies to show how expectations and behavior are inextricably linked. She said “Research has shown that a teacher’s expectations can raise or lower a student’s IQ score, that a mother’s expectations influences the drinking behavior of her middle schooler, that military trainers’ expectations can literally make a soldier run faster or slower.”
Pyschologist Carol Dweck from Stanford says that our expectations even change our body language: “You may be standing farther away from someone you have lower expectations for. You may not be making as much eye contact. And it’s not something you can put your finger on. We are not usually aware of how we are conveying our expectations to other people. But it’s there.”
Did you just hear my heart break?
If this is all true, then who is this increased momanoia benefitting? Not us parents, and certainly not our children.
I have started trying to live by a different mentality. Trying to calm the crazy mama inside, and change my mindset.
Who says what our children are capable of? Who says that they can’t, or won’t, or will never? To those who claim that certainty, I say “prove it”! No one has a crystal ball to see the future, and we shouldn’t allow ourselves to predict tomorrow based on a snapshot of today.
All our children are amazing, and we need to be the foundation that lets them show just how phenomenal they are. Yes, there will be tears. There will be bruised knees, and bruised egos. There will be heart-pounding moments when we have to sit on our hands just to stop ourselves from swooping in. But it will be worth it.
And worry. Of course worry. It’s only natural. But know that your child is, and will be, exactly who they need to be.
Just remember: you’re doing a great job, Mama.
Read the transcript of Alix Spiegel’s radio show about her research at http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/544/transcript