Written for Daily Hive by first time parent Lewis Krell. His little girl was born in the middle of the pandemic.
Perhaps you are familiar with the concept of the Butterfly Effect because you are an avid enthusiast of chaos theory. Perhaps you are a new dad and your brain is mush so you think the Butterfly Effect is what happens at the end of the Very Hungry Caterpillar.
More likely, you are like me and you were introduced to the Butterfly Effect in the 2004 Ashton Kutcher film creatively entitled, The Butterfly Effect.
Regardless of how you initially learned about this phenomenon, what’s most important is knowing the baseline concept; a very small localized change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere. Most easily the concept is applied to time travel and how a tiny change today can lead to massive changes in the future.
What does this have to do with being the parent of a newborn? I’m glad you asked.
In the hospital the very first night of her little life, I gently rocked my newborn daughter in my arms and watched her sleep so peacefully. I stared down at this perfect angel and I thought to myself, “this is the happiest moment of my life.” Approximately 10 seconds later her neck snapped back a little harder than I’d ever seen it move before, and I immediately thought, “I just ruined her entire academic future.”
Prior to my daughter’s arrival I was given so much advice (even a small percentage of the rarest category of advice — solicited) about what to expect as the big day approached. I read so many helpful books and I watched so many videos about sleeping and eating and diaper changing that I felt at least semi-confident in my ability to keep my child alive. I actually felt moderately prepared for much of the labor, delivery and hospital experience. What no one warned me about however, was how absolutely psychotic I would be about how my every move today would impact her distant future.
She accidentally scratches herself and I think she’s going to have a hideous scar forever. She doesn’t finish a full bottle and I assume she just lost out on three inches of height later in life. I catch her staring at my phone and now I’m certain she will be held back at least two grades. All of this is insane and yet the more I talk to other friends experiencing parenting for the first time, the more I find that I am not alone.
You are conditioned early as a parent (and rightfully so) to think that If I do this today, my child will have a better chance for future success. You are bombarded with research about the links between certain baby related decisions and long-term outcomes. Breast-feeding versus formula, c-section versus a vaginal birth, for some reason a home birth with no medical professionals around where death rates are doubled versus a birth in a hospital. This discourse automatically sets your brain to this weird state where you are always extrapolating your child’s future.
You constantly talk with friends about how maybe my daughter will marry your son or you already jokingly worry about future high school drama. You even do it with physical attributes. For example, my daughter’s chunky but strong legs have me convinced she will be the star player on Canada’s Gold Medal Olympic Soccer team in 2040, 2044 and likely 2052 as well (she takes 2048 off to complete her MD/PHD).
The good news is that I’ve been informed that this sensation dulls considerably after your first child. You see that the minor mistakes you made in their infancy did not cause irreparable damage. You will of course always do everything you can to set your child up for long-term success and health, but the Butterfly Effect related stress will diminish.
I’m pleased to hear that it does because I’m not sure I could handle the mental stress again of assuming my every move will doom her future. It will be nice to know that when my little girl is in the middle of her third prison stint as a single mother of four (from three different fathers of course), it won’t be because of a Butterfly Effect outcome due to me skipping one feed so I could sleep another few hours.
It’ll probably be because she was born via C-section.