One of the things about having young kids is that you quickly have to get used to watching some films over and over (and over and over) and over and over again.
Recently in our house it’s been “Paddington,” which is good fun even on the 114th viewing, but the repetition also helps drive home some of its themes. The one that made me concerned (pun intended) was Mr. Brown and his anxiety about health and safety.
Mr. Brown is the dad of the film, played by Hugh Bonneville, and he gets quite a few of the laughs (certainly from me) as well as transforming the most.
He starts off as the stereotypical British cold fish, cynical about Paddington’s motives and backstory, and reluctant to offer help. More than that, he’s also anxious to the point of paranoia about his kids’ safety, much to the frustration of his son. It’s explained that he’s a risk analyst, so he’s got the risk calculations and stats at hand to deny his son any kind of fun whatsoever.
However, the Browns’ housekeeper, Mrs. Bird, changes our understanding of him (and his children’s perceptions of him too) with her own backstory of how he used to be an easy rider without a care in the world right up to the moment Mrs. Brown went into hospital to give birth for the first time. By the time she comes out, he’s had a sensible haircut, swapped the bike for a beige Volvo, and become the risk-averse Lord Grantham we’ve already come to know.
(SPOILERS FOLLOW!) Of course, Mr. Brown finds his courage and sheds his paranoid ways to help save Paddington and bring his family closer together by the end of the movie, but life isn’t a movie, and we don’t all get marmalade-obsessed bears to help us on our journey.
When our first child was born, I prided myself on being quite calm about most things (well, as calm as any new dad can be amongst the general terror), with my wife the one more likely to worry and panic.
When my kid started to toddle around, I was okay. I didn’t jump every time he took a minor tumble, and again I thought I was pretty cool. Then his little brother came along, and I swapped my Harley for a Volvo (metaphorically speaking; I’ve never had a Harley or a Volvo).
Now I’m the helicopter parent who hovers over them, barking anxious instructions at them when they’re running around the house or the garden or a park or a supermarket, or basically anywhere.
“No” and “Stop” are two of my most-used words, and I hate it. I don’t want to fuss over them when they’re having fun, I want to be the cool dad that they have the fun with, but for some reason, my instincts have been set to Mr. Brown.
So what has caused this? It’s not that I love our second child more than our first, of course not, but there’s no doubt that his arrival has coincided with my loss of calm. I think it’s more about the loss of control (or at least the misconception of control I had before), particularly since Kid B learned to walk.
Now, instead of one child on his feet all day, there’s two of them, and they work each other up into a frenzy, running around, knocking each other over, and oh my God there’s a hard surface right there, do you want to end up in the hospital?
When you have two children, it’s impossible to feel like you’re in control of what’s happening. The chances of something going wrong are at least doubled, if not quadrupled. Those hard surfaces and sharp edges loom larger, at least in my mind, and risks are everywhere.
It’s normal to worry about your children’s safety, but you also need to let go and trust in their growing self-preservation instincts. Otherwise you can end up driving yourself into an early grave with high blood pressure and letting it affect your relationship with your kids, just like Mr. Brown did.
So please help me! I don’t have Paddington to show me the way, and our cat is no help whatsoever. Does it get better? Will I regain my cool or am I stuck in anxious dad mode for the rest of my life?