I want to see if something drastic happens in the processing of threats when you go from being a nullipara to a primipara.
Prior to having kids – which was the first 41 years of my life – I occasionally had thoughts about horrible things maybe happening to my near and dear while I was far far away in Los Angeles. Like my parents would die prematurely, or my sister or brother or my nieces. Like, once a year. It would be mildly of an intrusive quality, and give me a shudder. And, then not lit upon again until perhaps next year.
I was rarely worried in cars. Well, occasionally I had boyfriends who drove too boldly, in my estimation (and I would sit and brake against the floor, while he would roll his eyes), and it was that time when I was anticipating the next star trek movie, and I thought that I really really really did want to live so I could see that and please I do not want anything bad to happen to me on the LA freeways.
Then I had kids.
I’d be mildly worried when Ben was away with one of them, that something would happen. I was doing a post doc at Notre Dame, and we were living in Charles town (those who live there will know). To get to daycare or for me to get to work we would have to get out on a fairly busy thoroughfare. Almost daily I would have visions of how we, on a particularly snowy morning, would hit the brakes, and then gently skid across the now invisible stop line, into the path of a semi. I also would worry that a tornado would come and hit my kids daycare. Daily. Mildly but daily. Not intense enough to be debilitating, but definitely unpleasant. I remember thinking that it was kind of like a bit too snug shoe. The grating is at first not bad, but after a while it is wearing holes in your feet.
It is not that bad now, when the kids range from 4-9 and we live where there are no tornados, and walking distance to daycare and school.
But, I still have this anticipatory vigilance. I automatically scan the surroundings for possible threats, and it is possible threats to my kids! We drove on Darthmoor on this terribly narrow sunken roads with two way traffic on sometimes one-way lanes (and no regulating signs or anything), and I felt anxious, not because of me, but because of my daughter!
I know I’m not alone, knowing a lot of mothers who report similar things. I’m sure this could be studied. Attention to threat prior to and after childbirth. Comparisons with fathers. Comparisons with threats to selves and threats to children. I can see a strong evolutionary reason for it too.
I’m finally relaxed enough that I don’t have to fight down panic when my kids are going on trips without me, (no need to scare them needlessly). But I still keep a vigilant eye on my generally very competent daughter, so she won’t mindlessly begin crossing the street right in front of a car, because she is busy attending to something else.