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Little Spouse On The Prairie: Be Afraid

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Research shows children really do inherit phobias from their mothers.

I have many fears - probably more than most people, I’m afraid. Do I have more than most? I do, don’t I? I hope my kids don’t inherit this flaw. They will. Won’t they?

Hey, my anxiety is justified! Research shows children really do inherit phobias from their mothers.

I read about a study in which scientists trained female rats to be afraid of peppermint. When the rats became mothers, they were exposed to peppermint in the presence of their babies. Even though the baby rats had never been conditioned to be afraid of peppermint, they exhibited fear too, and that terror carried throughout their lives, even after they had been weaned and removed from their mothers.

So, see, I could, even as I speak, be weaving an elaborate legacy of maternal fears, and ruining my kids’ lives in the process.

Speaking of phobias, don’t you all find the names for fears fascinating? I love to look at lists of phobias if only to find just one or two I don’t have. My favorite phobia is Hippopotomonstrose-squippedaliophobia, the fear of long words. I do NOT have this fear. In fact, I am very much a sesquipedalian, and proud of it.

Phobophobia is another favorite, although I can’t say I do not suffer from it. In fact, my chest is tightening and my palms are sweating at the thought that I may be developing more fears at this very moment. What if I develop pedophobia and can’t even be around my own kids? Wait -- I might already have that - viscerally. Well, what if I develop gerontophobia, a fear of old people, and can’t be around my husband?

My teen daughter inherited my emetophobia. From toddlerhood, Millicent has been abjectly afraid of vomit. This didn’t work out too well when her baby brother turned out to be the puking-est kid any of us had ever been around. Perhaps I could have calmed her fears early on, had I steadily tended to her and discussed the science behind vomiting after her brother hurled the contents of his stomach all the way down two flights of steps. But it’s hard to do that when a person is pushing people out of the way to escape the stairwell faster than the other family members. I’ll have you know that as she got older, and it became apparent that Millicent shared my emetophobia, I would take the time to grab her roughly on my headlong rush out of the room. Once her fear had profoundly taken hold, it made the perfect excuse to get out of there quick.

Scientists point out that fear has a rational and evolutionary explanation. Phobias can be a positive thing. I just keep this in mind as I parent my children.

Millie still exhibits emetophobia. Not too long ago, after going to a movie where we gorged on theater snacks and sugary drinks, my son and daughter wanted to ride back to our hometown with their dad. At first, I was reluctant, because I cherish my weekend time with Millie and Dashiell. But, as their father and I have done now for over a decade, we worked it out without a scuffle, and they hopped in with him, while Joel, Clementine and I headed to do a little shopping before we left for home.

It wasn’t long before Millie called. She explained, in a hysterical voice, that her brother had vomited theater snacks all over her dad’s car and she needed me to come get her, “like, immediately, right now, like, I’m not getting in that car, like ever, and you need to be here, like now. Please, Mom! You have to save me.”

Millie was only doing the natural thing by reaching out for maternal protection at a stressful time. This incident is also an example of how co-parents who keep the kids’ best interests at heart will be rewarded. If I had given in to the selfish instinct to make the kids ride with me, all that puke would have ended up in my car! Not sure what the underlying message is for their dad, but why overanalyze?

Follow Little Spouse at facebook.com/littlespouseontheprairie or on Twitter at SpouseOnThePrairie@ValerieKuchera .