At the end of last month, the world was hit with the news of the passing of Susan Jeffers, whose bestseller Feel the Fear… and Do It Anyway has been busy changing people’s lives for 25 years. I was thoroughly glad that Jeffers had the opportunity to know the impact she’d made, and enjoy a long – I hope, mostly fearless – life, but I felt genuinely and deeply sad to think that this woman has been lost to us.
I read Feel the Fear… for the first time this year, after nagging from a close friend. I thought that I already got what it was about, and that I’d find it patronising or glib, and I wasn’t going to enjoy it. How wrong could I be? While you think you know it all from the title, reading through it is an entirely different thing. In the last year, the two books that have made the greatest impact on my mental and physical health have been this and Linda Bacon’s Health at Every Size. Both speak staggeringly of common sense, and of understanding that employing that common sense within the context of a derailing and distorting cultural context is hard bloody work.
And that’s where parenting comes in. Every week – every day, it seems, sometimes – I read, or see, or hear something that fills me with fear and dread. Sometimes it’s the usual sexist bad news: the pink and blue segregation, the gender pay gap, the mindless deluge of casually misogynist crap that comes from anyone from a member of the government to someone on Twitter you thought was cool… until now. And you wonder how on earth you’re going to give your child the skills to navigate such a miasmic bog of eternal stench. Sometimes, depressingly, it’s the joy of someone else; surely we’ve all read that delighted blog post from someone whose child potty trained at two and half minutes, or the family that only ever eats organic produce from their back garden. And you really don’t begrudge them their happiness (for the most part), but the sinking feeling of failure assaults you nonetheless.
The fact is, that the path of parenthood, especially with this extraordinary glut of information and opinions available at our fingertips, is, for all its beauty and joy and rewarding wonder, also seasoned liberally with fear and guilt. But you know what? It’s the ultimate course in feeling the fear and doing it anyway, because that’s what you’re doing every day. You’re feeling those worries and acknowledging those concerns and then just getting on with it.
This weekend, we achieved one of our own little victories, and I credit Jeffers with getting us to this point. Our daughter is wonderful, and clever and brilliant. She’s also loud, quite highly strung and a bit of a drama queen. For that reason, right from birth, I’ve struggled with taking her out into potentially overstimulating situations because I don’t react well to thinking people might be staring or judging me for not handling her perfectly. Indeed, I was far more scared of being thought ill of as a parent than I was of her being upset – just think about how topsy-turvy that is for a moment. So, hearing about Jeffers’ death and then being handed an opportunity to do something as a family that usually I’d be stressed out about (a day at the BBC Good Food Show which meant a good chunk of travelling and no nap time, plus no child-focussed activities)… well, I knew it was time to bite the bullet and get on with it. And guess what? With careful preparation and just a little dash of relaxed nonchalance, everything was absolutely fine. And if it hadn’t been, well, then we’d have just got on with it. Plenty of other kids there had a moment, after all. I was so busy having a good time, I didn’t even think to feel relieved the tantrums weren’t coming from mine.
I can’t fix the world. But I can give my daughter the tools to approach it fearlessly. I can’t stop myself being stressed out about stupid things. But I can stop letting that prevent me from getting on with it. I know I can’t be the only parent out there who feels that way so to anyone else who feels the same I say read Susan Jeffers, know you’re not alone and just feel that damned fear… and do it anyway.