The Unhinged Side of Parenting No One Prepares You For

I guess I just wasn’t ready for how complicated some feelings around parenting would be. Like, obviously, we’re all aware of the immense highs and lows that come with raising children. But there is this unhinged side—this side that the “protective mama bear” trope comes from, that makes you feel like an absolutely wild animal.

And it’s there, in that feral place of crazy, that I find myself today.

I enrolled my kids, age 5 and 7, in a half-day camp for the first day of Thanksgiving Break. I did my research about this camp. I’m familiar with its location. It’s nestled inside a nice mall in a safe area where I often shop. It’s a highly credible organization that does kids’ sports camps daily. They clearly know what they’re doing and know how to keep children safe. This Thanksgiving day-camp they provide is something kind they do for the community, in particular for working parents who don’t know what to do with their kids during short breaks like these.

Despite all that, I am sitting here, stationed right outside the doors of the camp, anxious as shit. I’ve watched the other parents drop off their kids and head out the big mall doors to go reclaim what small bit of their workday they’ve purchased with this camp. I want to be like them. I would like to have the cool calm of a parent who trusts.

But, I just don’t.

So, here I sit, doing my work from outside the camp doors. It’s not a bad gig, to be honest. I’m nestled in nicely between a coffee kiosk and a Le Macaron pastry kiosk. There’s a bathroom nearby. Frankly, it could be a lot worse. Nonetheless, I wish I could go do some of the errands I need to do that are certainly easier when the kids aren’t with me. I wish I didn’t have this deeply anxious feeling in my chest, telling me that it would be so easy for someone to sneak out of here with my children, right under my nose. It would be so simple for another kid to bully my children when the camp leaders aren’t looking. So easy to miss someone touching my children inappropriately.

Am I being dramatic? Yes, I am. I accept this. But also, I won’t belittle myself for being dramatic when it comes to my kids’ safety.

I guess the motto for the day is “leaning in.” I’m just leaning into this feeling and being okay with it. I’m not shaming myself for camping out right outside the doors. Not feeling embarrassed for slapping my Apple Watch on my son’s wrist and teaching him how to use it so that he can contact me if he needs to—and so that I can keep watch over his location from my phone. Hell, I won’t even laugh at myself for having a nice big old cry as I walked away from the camp to sit down literally right outside of it.

I’m just embracing that, sometimes, parenting is complicated. It’s impractical. Sometimes, it is unhinged. And sometimes, you just have to embrace the feral mama bear in you.

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

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