Wrapping your kids in cottonwool

Caring for a sick child is no laughing matter, especially if you’re the main caregiver. Here are some honest reasons why we might want to over-protect our kids - and it’s not just for their own benefit!

To paraphrase “Charlie and Lola”: I have this favourite friend Tina, she is child-free and very funny. (Yeah, I probably have only one friend without kids. You know how it is: you simply lose touch with people who don’t have the same time constraints or topics to laugh about. But I digress.)

One day, Tina was taking the mickey out of her sister who took her children to a shopping mall during a gastro outbreak in the area and, upon returning home “did the big anti-bacterial biohazard wash-your-hands routine”. Tina’s perspective is that her sister is overprotective, that children are basically bullet-proof and that (I quote): “For crying out loud! It’s just gastro, not cholera! The day I stop seeing gastro
as a weight-loss gift from Mother Nature - somebody please drag me out and
shoot me.”

My offhand response, “The day you have children, you will change your mind about gastro”, almost cost me the friendship.

I know how she feels. Before I became a mother, I was an expert in child-raising and I knew I would be a super laid-back mum. I had all these sensible theories about things like child-proofing my cupboards (my mum never did it and I’m okay), washing hands (dirt is healthy, while excessive sterilisation of the child’s environment may lead to allergies) and chicken pox (the earlier
they get it, the better: let’s throw a chicken pox party).

Now that I’ve had my share of looking after my own children with no weekends or holidays off (that’s 24/7, 365 days a year, year after year after year), I’ve changed
my mind.

During my apprenticeship as a mother, I’ve been through weeks of unpaid leave from work with a child who’s passing stinking liquid right through the nappy and vomiting yellow all over the carpet and my hair (while my boss questioned my priorities and didn’t understand that I had no choice because daycare centres don’t cater for sick kids); I’ve stayed up three nights in a row watching over my gastro-stricken child
(and that’s on top of years of sleeping an average of five uninterrupted hours a night); I’ve spent eight hours trying to entertain a vomiting, runny-tummy toddler in the hospital waiting for somebody to give them a drip; and I’ve cried myself silly because she refused water and gastrolytes and breast, and would surely dehydrate and die and it would be all my fault.

When eventually my daughter did pull through and I saw the sunken eyes and the sunken cheeks ... that’s when I become one of those unreasonable parents who supervise hand-washing, discourage sharing an already-chewed piece of chewing gum and generally insist on wrapping their children in cotton wool.

Yes, my logic tells me that, in order to toughen up, kids should eat dirt and get sick and fall from trees. However, I shrug off the logic because my own sanity is too precious to lose.

Speaking of falling from trees, my funny friend Tina reckons that “one broken limb per childhood is reasonable”. I, on the other hand, tremble in fear whenever I watch my children climb trees. I imagine looking after a cranky kid whose skin itches under the plaster of Paris and who can’t sleep because the cast on her arm is bothering her and who wants me to think up a new story to tell her every 15 minutes. I don’t think of the dangers of the arm not healing properly and growing skew (or not growing at all), and I don’t think of the pain my beloved child would suffer. What I think of is the hassle of caring for a sick child.

Go ahead, call me selfish. I know that Tina does ... and she also says a selfish mother is a good mother. But what does Tina know, right?

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