Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox

Imperfect Mothers

The Falling Shoe Syndrome

We can learn to enjoy our happiness without fearing that it will end.

Posted Mar 11, 2013

“I know it’s pretty crazy,” I told her, “but sometimes I want a second child in case something happens to Cricket. You know, in case she . . . dies.”

I felt my face turning red, because I was sure she didn’t, in fact, know. For nearly the first two years of Cricket’s life, I was haunted by the fear that she would die or disappear. Out of the blue, I’d imagine her drowning in a pool or falling over a railing. One evening I heard a loud crash, and I was certain that someone had placed a ladder against our house and was climbing into Cricket’s bedroom window to kidnap her. I couldn’t bring myself to talk about my morbid thoughts to anyone for a long time, because I was afraid they’d think I was becoming unglued.

When I finished telling Nora my secret, I prepared myself for her response—and her suggestion of intensive therapy. I was shocked when she said, nonchalantly, “Oh yeah, me too. I’ve had a million visions of Jackie getting hit by a car and dying.”

That night, I went on a mom website and entered “fears of my child dying.”  I couldn’t believe how many mothers were sharing their stories openly about what I had kept hidden. Moms talked about imaging their children falling down the stairs, getting shot or dying from sudden infant death syndrome. Reasons for these fears ranged from post partum anxiety to sleep deprivation to the primal impulse to protect our children.

Regardless of the reasons, I was relieved to see that I wasn’t alone. But then I realized that most moms had these fears only when their children were very young. There wasn’t a lot of chat on this website about moms like me having these thoughts as their kids grew older.

It wasn’t until I started reading about children of alcoholics that I discovered that this is a classic pattern, a “waiting for the other shoe to drop” mindset. After growing up in a home where the other shoe often did drop—periods of sobriety followed by relapses, perhaps—adult children of alcoholics often mistrust periods of peace or success, and keep themselves on guard for the next catastrophe or failure. Even if a daughter of an alcoholic had healed from this issue as an adult, this pattern may resurface when she becomes a mom—and more healing is required. What mom wants to be enjoying time with her child while dreading the possibility that it will end soon?

Here are some things I suggest (and have done) to acknowledge and resolve this issue:

FIND an empathetic, trusting person with whom you can share your anxieties. I regret not telling anyone what I felt. I can’t help but think that it wouldn't have lasted almost two years if I had.

FORGIVE yourself if this long-gone issue has come back to haunt you during the motherhood phase of your life. It might help to recognize that most moms have childhood wounds that resurface in their parenting. And it often happens subconsciously, in a blink of an eye.

on the gratitude you feel in the moment. Consider a personal gratitude journal or get the family involved by creating a gratitude jar. Encourage each family member to think about things for which they are grateful, write it on a slip of paper and add it to the jar each day. It’s pretty hard to fear the future when you see your blessings mounting each day.

* All names have been changed to respect the privacy of those involved.