Our Darkest Fears

January 3, 2013


I’ve been writing this post for a long time. Not actually writing it, but letting it float around in my mind, pick up dust, become something safe to share.

Parenting is strange. It brings out your best and your worst, all in the same breath. Suddenly I am stronger, but then I am brought to my knees. Weak with worry, weak with love, weak with fear.

My fears with Waylon started early.

It is not uncommon for new mothers to obsessively worry about their babies. SIDS hangs over us like a dark cloud, causing restless nights and panicked sprints to the nursery. I tried not to think about it when I stared at my newborn’s face, but every night I had the same prayer, “Please let him live.” A year later, my prayer is not so different. My fear consumes me at night, the darkness closes in and there I am, heart pounding, wondering what would happen if he wasn’t there the next day.

When I share this with friends, they assure me it’s normal. Of course you worry about your child. But at 1am when I’m still lying there, listening to every creak of the house, wondering if someone is creeping up the stairs–I think, “this is not okay.”

In my limited defense, I am not a person prone to worry about germs, bumped heads, or high fevers. You will not find me ringing my hands over choking or wondering “Is that chicken pox?!” But I do fear others. I worry about baby snatchers and unneighborly neighbors.  I worry about facing life without one of my limbs, because that’s what children are, an extension of ourselves.

I hesitate to write about this in the daylight. It all seems so silly now. As Austin often says, everything is the same at night. It’s just dark. He tries to be reassuring and I try to be reassured, but this fear of Waylon being taken or harmed at night is just a part of a larger problem that continues to grow. Despite a healthy and untraumatic childhood, I  am afraid of the dark. My overactive imagination kicks in and all of a sudden I can’t do anything else but picture someone who looks a lot like Kevin Bacon waiting around the corner with a knife.

I blame the movies, I blame Dateline, I blame my sensitive psyche. Mostly I just blame myself for being such an ignoramus. No matter what the cause, fear finds me every night over the hum of the monitor and noise machines. It finds me lying there and shows me horrible things. Things I would never repeat out loud.

And so I whisper please Jesus and everything is okay. I take my deep breaths and wait for sleep. It’s all I can do.

Our darkest fears are often the most revealing. My hope is that they aren’t defining. My hope is that the more we say I am not afraid, the quieter fear becomes.

We press on.


57 thoughts on “Our Darkest Fears

  1. Meg G

    Did you know Kevin bacon is from Chester county area? My dad went to Boy Scouts with him. He totally creeps me out (KB, not my dad, well except when he dates girls my age but that’s another story for another day)
    But I’ve had the same baby snatching fear since the moment Avery left my womb. I strap her in tight to her stroller/cart because I’m afraid i will turn my back for a second to grab bananas or check the rack for my size and someone will grab her. And as annoying as the creaky door to her room is, I find comfort in the creak because I know when it’s being opened. Same with our front door. I cannot even begin to think about preschool or kindergarten.
    This fear is quite maddening. And I fear it doesn’t end.

  2. shelahn

    Consider yourself hugged. Those fears are real, debilitating and exasperating(in the daylight)
    I still find myself bound by these very fears too
    God says that He has not given us the spirit of fear so it is not from Him. Therefore the closer we deliberately walk with Him, the more they will diminish. (It doesn’t remove the reality of possible harm, just adds a greater understanding of what true reality is and thus comfort)
    Also singing has a tremendous calming, comforting and empowering effect. My father as a child was always scared to walk out to close the chicken house on the hill each night and his Mom wisely counciled him to sing as he went, thus empowering him to overcome those fears. Learn some scripture songs to run through your mind and sing aloud when appropriate, hymns work great too. And teach them to Waylon, most kids benefit from that skill.

  3. Suz

    I think I told you about this book already? I can’t remember. I just remember reading it and then emailing every other parent I knew to read it because it is so good. So I probably emailed you. He also wrote The Gift of Fear, which from what I’ve heard is also very good, but I haven’t read it. This book on fear and parenting though was really empowering and I think you (and others) will like it.


    Thanks for this post. I often feel something similar.

  4. bridget

    I totally know what you’re saying. I’d say the death-germs still freak me out more than the baby-snatchers but God, it’s such a freaking vulnerable undertaking to have a baby. Like, your greatest love that you can never live without is out there climbing on chairs and walking towards the traffic-y street and!! It’s hard. I feel you, Kate. It’s smart that you don’t watch intense shows and movies.

    Also, here’s the bright side? It’s just one more sign of how big your love for Waylon is. And while it’s kind of a painful love when it’s so full of worry, it’s love.

    1. Kate {motleymama} Post author

      Thanks Bridget.

      I have noticed a difference since cutting out any movie/tv show/media that is even slightly scary. I even covered my eyes for a lot of Les Mis last night (even though it’s not scary, there is still violence). I wish I could unsee/unhear so many past movies.

  5. Anonymous

    Yes. Yes. Yes. One of the littles eats something off the floor in a public place? No biggee. Falls off the swings? Walk it off, kiddo. But come bedtime I can hardly stand the paranoia that someone is outside waiting for me to fall asleep.

    1. Karen

      I won’t go down to the basement at night. And I nearly ran to pick up Marc after Newtown. Even though he was completely fine and safe. Life is hard. Xanax helps.

  6. Olivia

    I feel you on this one big time. I too lay in bed each and every night filled with so much worry, gripping fear, and sometimes even tears. We finally put Cooper in his own room about a month ago and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Sometimes I feel like my faith in God isn’t where it needs to be since I worry so darn much about Cooper and his safety. My daily prayer is to please let Cooper live, a life without him would simply be no life at all!

  7. Anonymous

    I know just how you feel. As soon as my son was born, I was overcome with a fear of losing him. It was this huge, crazy-making need to have him with me always; I dreaded any time apart from him. Don’t even get me started on my fear of SIDS; I flipped him over to sleep even after he was able to turn himself over on his own. I am convinced that this is why he still sleeps on his back 9 years later. I remember running downstairs to put a load of laundry in the washing machine while he was in his pack n play upstairs. I would always rush back up, with an irrational worry that he had been taken, even though we were in a locked house.
    After months and months of this overwhelming fear, I finally went to my doc and discovered the gift of anti-anxiety meds. I really believe that my brain chemistry is off; I have always struggled with anxiety, but it became magnified 1000 fold when I became a mom.
    I was much better able to deal with my postpartum feelings of anxiety with my second child. I knew what was coming and I knew how to treat it. My parenting now is much less angst driven. BUT, I still don’t let my kids play outside unless I can clearly see them, there are very few homes where I allow my children to play without me, and I don’t let much “quiet” time go by without checking on them. Maybe this makes me a “helicopter parent,” but I can’t imagine parenting any other way.
    I trust the Lord, believe deeply in His care for me and my family, but still feel it is my job to protect my kids as I am able. With God’s guidance, prayer, and anti-anxiety medication, I believe that my parenting style is cautious but reasonable. (Although who knows what my dear offspring will tell their therapists 20 years from now!:)

    1. Kate {motleymama} Post author

      Thank you for sharing this. It helps me feel like I’m not alone. It also makes me wonder, again, if something is chemically wrong. The amount of paranoia does not seem normal. I shouldn’t be asking Austin to check the downstairs at 3am because I heard a noise.

      I like what you said about how it’s your job to protect your kids as you are able. I like that a lot. Thanks so much for sharing your story!

  8. Holly

    My boys are 22 and 25. My oldest lives in NYC. When the guy got shoved onto the oncoming subway train…I was for a few minutes convinced that it could be him. My youngest is an aggressive inline skater. Fear I know. For me it’s all about the things I can’t control. It feels horrible, ugly sometimes, consuming. Unfortunately, some of my biggest mistakes as a parent were decisions made out of fear. Hardly ever did they prevent what I feared most. My best decisions and hardest ones were made out of love. The sticky wicket is trying to figure out in the moment where the motivation comes from love or fear?

    1. Lindsey

      I check all our house windows before going to bed, then creep into Gracie’s room, check her windows (even though they have not been opened since September) check her closet and under her bed. What am I looking for? Miget ninjas that are capable of stealing my baby. Ridiculous? Yes! But I can’t help it. Same prayer, until I fall asleep. Thank you, now I don’t feel like such a freak.

    2. Kate {motleymama} Post author

      “The sticky wicket is trying to figure out in the moment where the motivation comes from love or fear…”

      I never thought about that. Something I will definitely need to think about as he grows. Thank you for the wisdoms.

  9. Liz

    I love your blog! Kate, I can ABSOLUTELY relate. I thought I was crazy having these thoughts at night. Sometimes I will lay awake at night devising exit strategies for every possible scenario of someone breaking into our home. I think of all the neighbors I don’t know and assume they’re mass-murdering, child-stealing rapists. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve made Jared get up in the night and check on noises. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one! They’re not completely irrational fears, and my mom assures me this never goes away. So cheers to motherhood and sleepless nights till the day we die.

  10. Ellies Wonder

    Oh my, you just confirmed all my fears about motherhood. Fear and anxiety are some of the main things holding me back. I am already scared of the dark (I think more people are than they admit), and anxiety about trivial things like dog snatchers are already a problem. Thanks for sharing Kate. It helps to hear other people talk about it. It must just be a part of womanhood…

  11. kit

    Same here. I have the same fears…the part about them being so irrational that you don’t want to say them out loud…I was shaking my head yes. I too am scared of the dark but have a wonderful past and childhood. I think it is just in some of us to be natural worriers and as my husband says “worst case scenario people”

  12. mamasminutia

    I’ve been crafting a post about fear, too! It’s taking me a while to formulate my ideas, most of which haven’t even been written yet. It’s a tough subject. You wrote about it well.

  13. A

    I don’t have those kinds of fears.

    But I used to be consumed by the anxieties of daily life while lying awake at night or in the morning–until I made a rule: I’m not allowed to think about the coming day, or anything of consequence, while horizontal. The thinking is always skewed, flawed, worse, irrational, and plain incorrect. If it persists, as its fond of, I think “Well, I know that’s a bunch of s—“ because that’s what night-time thinking is. When vertical, the thinking corrects itself—some anxiety may still be there, but it’s in a different light and based on reality. Reality, even if unhappy, is worth working with.

    A visual for the above: An anxiety in the day time is an object. The same anxiety at nighttime is the same object but backlit by the nightlight, making it a huge looming shadow of doom on the wall. Is the shadow real? No. It’s a product of the night time. The anxiety object is sometimes real (technically some kids get abducted), but in the day it can be dealt with rationally (the chances of it being yours are probably lesser than winning the lottery).

    Also, I recently read a book that advocated thinking Grateful statements constantly, even if absurd. “I’m Grateful that Kevin Bacon has not been in my house any night up til this one.” A friend pointed out that doing this–approaching a situation by finding 10 Grateful statements to every scary one–is Deliberately Choosing what to Focus on. And by doing so changes our Focus. “I’m Grateful my son is sleeping safely in his bed. I’m Grateful my caring husband is beside me. I’m Grateful we have a car to go to the ER if necessary, I’m grateful we have the caring support of family and friends that would envelope us in a calamity.” That’s four Fully True thoughts to battle the sissy one that’s trying hard to dress up its “What If” in a 3D hologram to make it LOOK true.

    Lastly, if the thoughts act like they’re refusing to be cowed, I agree with the writers above. Ain’t no shame in the anti-anxiety medication game. God invented pills for a reason. Banish those suckers. Mama needs a peaceful mind.

    1. Kate {motleymama} Post author

      Most helpful, wonderful comment yet. Thank you.

      “I’m Grateful my son is sleeping safely in his bed. I’m Grateful my caring husband is beside me. I’m Grateful we have a car to go to the ER if necessary, I’m grateful we have the caring support of family and friends that would envelope us in a calamity.”

      Not absurd at all. That makes a lot of sense. I really, really like it.

      I also like the rule about not allowing anxious thoughts while horizontal. I try to do that every night but I need to be more vigilant.

      Again. Thank you.

  14. MB

    I am 27 years old, have no kiddos (yet) and am still afraid of the dark. I insist that my husband close all doors that lead to our bedroom before we turn the lights out. Why? Because apparently ghosts and demons can’t open doors (really, that’s my thinking?!) I sometimes worry that I’m nuts, so at least it’s helpful to hear that I’m not alone in these irrational nighttime fears!

  15. Hayley Denker (@hayleydenker)

    Thank you, Kate, not only for this post, but for the great readers you have attracted, because their comments were really helpful. I’ve struggled with worry/anxiety for awhile now, and have at times found it debilitating. I add to the many lists of fears that nothing actually bad will happen, but by WORRYING I will turn my child into a fearful person, or I will be an “annoying”, anxious mother.

    Whew. It’s totally exhausting. Worrying about worrying…

  16. Merry

    I am 31 and TERRIFIED of the dark. I would be embarrassed to share the thoughts and scenarios that go through my mind once those lights go out…but in that moment the reality that they could happen and happen imminently is downright suffocating. I literally wake up in the morning and roll my eyes at myself. But I assure you I can relate to how real those fears feel in the dark. Lions and tigers and bears, fo real.

  17. Peri

    I can’t even tell you how many times I have said to my husband, “what if he dies?” since our son was born 10 months ago. We are blessed with a very healthy and happy baby and I should be so grateful for that, but everyday I find myself worrying, “what if he dies?”

  18. Meggie

    Read this last night as I was lying in bed listening to Gray coughing in his sleep in the next room. It’s hard to not give anxiety a foothold, especially when your heart is walking, or toddling as the case may be, outside your body, completely oblivious to the harm that could befall him.

    When Gray was first born I had horrible dreams of him being in danger and not being able to protect him, they were terrible and I remember them vividly.

    I am trying, without much success to remind myself that anxiety and fear are thieves of joy and gratitude. It is such a fight to drag my mind from the land of what if’s and focus wholly on the present, being grateful for what’s right in front of me. Also, in my case, medicine helps.

    That said, I still don’t like sleeping alone in the dark and I check to make sure Gray is breathing every night before I go to bed….he’s 19 months old.

  19. Danielle

    Sometimes I get chills when I read your blog because it feels like you’re inside my mind. After I put Taylor down to sleep at night I often stand there for 10, 15, 20 minutes or more “feeling” the room around me, trying to sense the danger lurking in the shadows. And I hate the dark.

  20. Elizabeth Rossi

    In high school, I lived in one of the safest towns ever. Yet I would be awake every night, imagining a “bad guy” creeping into our house. I imagined the route he would take– what bedrooms he would enter first and whose lives he’d take. I imagined his shadow and the weapons in his hands. To every noise, I would think, “Here he is.” It was terrible. I was paralyzed with fear for absolutely no good reason. And, of course, nothing ever happened.

    Now, as a parent, my fear is (as is yours) about my child. Every hour that she’s asleep and I’m awake, I have to put my hand on her chest to feel that she’s still breathing. Sometimes, I wake in the middle of the night and I can’t immediately tell that she’s breathing, and I feel my heart literally stop. Then I see her chest rise, and my heart starts again. But those heart-stopping moments come often.

    The fears hurt. They feel so unwarranted and silly. Still, I think we all have them and it feels good to say them out loud.

  21. Anonymous

    My sister has recurring nightmares about homeless men crawling into her bed. She insists on sleeping in pants to “prevent” this scenario from playing out. Even now, in her mid-twenties. Fear (especially at nighttime) completely unravels rationality…

  22. Jenee Bare


    I so enjoy your blog. I never post comments, because I feel like an inadequate writer. I marvel at your ability to write tenderly from your heart and experiences. Although, for this post, I just could not keep quiet.

    Everything you said described me two years ago. I was the best worrier I knew…my husband, my children, my family…they were all excuses for me to practice what I did best, imagine the worst scenarios that could possibly happen and dwell on how to prevent them.

    I say this tenderly with lots of love for my fellow fearful sister-worriers, things CAN be different.

    Two years ago I entered a bible study of Beth Moore about “Breaking Free”. It took the 10 week study for me to realize that I had a “worrying problem” and that I wanted to do something about it. Over the next many months I used scripture to battle the thoughts and scenarios that played out in my mind. It was not an easy road, but I can stand in freedom today.

    I still have thoughts that go through my mind, but as quickly as they come, I “beat them” with the truth I cling to in the scriptures.

    One of the great tools that I use specifically for my children is entering their name in Psalm 139. It is a great reassurance that God created our children and will always be with them, even if we are not able to be, for whatever horrific reason.

    My prayer is that through your vulnerability in this area, you may be encouraged and gain tools to battle.

    My two cents humbly given…

    1. Kate {motleymama} Post author

      Thank you for sharing, Jenee.

      First of all, you don’t need to be a professional writer to comment on a blog! Sharing from the heart (even if you miss a comma or misspell something..which I do all the time) is what matters.

      I really appreciate your note and will check out Beth Moore. Your journey is really encouraging. Thank you, again.

  23. Elizabeth Berget

    You could have written this for me. In the darkness, I know that the monsters in the closet exist…monsters of abduction, monsters of infant death, monsters of adultery, and even more irrational monsters like WWIII go zooming over my head with every airplane that flies over our house.
    Two things that have been so helpful to me in my efforts to overcome this.
    1. A counselor once advised me that for the 16 or so hours that I am awake, these fears plague me far less. He made me wonder why I trusted Jesus to protect us during those hours…but not at night. Did I think God was sleeping? Did I think he was looking elsewhere during the night? Super helpful for me to remember.
    2. Also, I get the impression from these few months reading your blog that you are a spiritual person. I am not sure where you stand on the Bible, but this past year, I have started memorizing…passages about fear, worry, God’s bigness, His character…and in the middle of the night, I whisper these passages over and over to myself. It helps my heart calm down; it helps me remember the reality of who He is, and it occupies my brain so the monsters can’t.
    Press on. “It is for freedom (from fear) that Christ has set us free. Freedom indeed.” -Galatians 5:1

  24. Sarahejoseph

    These thoughts are so scary, and so true. I’m glad I didn’t know how terrifying it would be to have a baby, because I don’t honestly know if I would have gone through with it. I remember when I used to think about my husband dying, and I thought my heart would break, but…

    When I think about my baby dying, or getting lost, or even just being sick, my throat closes up and my head gets cloudy. Little James got croup at 3 months and I can honestly say that that croupy cough was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. Motherhood’s love is the strongest there is.

    The only thing that ever helps me is knowing that Jesus loves my little one more than I ever could. Even that doesn’t really “make it all better”, but it gives me something to hold on to.

  25. Jenn

    I don’t have time to read through all the comments, but I had to make sure at least one commenter (me) suggested that maybe this isn’t so normal and you need some help. I don’t want to be mean, and I was mad when someone suggested it to me, but after my third, I became obsessed with his death. If he wasn’t in my arms, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that he had died. It was HORRIFYING. And I lasted a year feeling this dread, and got pregnant again and it subsided, until she was born and it started all over. It was anxiety, awful, debilitating anxiety that caused me to not be able to function. Seriously. So I got help, and thank God, because now it’s gone. I still worry, of course, because I am a mother, and that’s what we do. But I can function. I can breathe. So. Just consider it.


  26. Crystal

    This post touches me so deeply. Mostly, it makes me happy (maybe not the right word?) that I’m not alone. I can remember when I was 8 and my fear of the night started. And now, my newborn is just a week old and my prayer is the same as your every night–please let her live. Before I had this baby, I didn’t fully understand when Anne Lamott said her most earnest prayers were “Help me, help me, help me” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” but oh how I get it now.


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