Dear Caring Parent,
Because of my work with parents and kids, wherever I go people tell me their stories about parenting. And I hear about volumes of worrying! So of course, it gets me thinking about the things I worried about as a parent and to wonder, did I need to?
It seems like worrying goes quite naturally with the territory called parenting. But since I know it is distracting, energy-sucking, dis-empowering of others, and not creative in a life-giving sense, that can’t be true. Because parenting requires focus, energy, empowering, and creative juices all the time. However, parents DO do a LOT of worrying. Is worry worth it or not? Some of my worries were…
Barefoot in the grass. Yes, my first recollection of worrying about anything that had an implication for the future was when my 18-month-old daughter did not like to run barefoot in the grass. At first, I was just disappointed because I spent most of my summers barefoot as a kid. I loved it and wanted that pleasure for her. Then I let this move into worry – what did this mean about her enjoyment of summer, her sense of freedom, our ability to share sensory delight? I kept trying to encourage her to go barefoot, but it wasn’t going to happen. So I stopped. Except for those darn thoughts, they kept tumbling around in my head.
- Outcome? By 3 years she loved to run barefoot in the grass. By 10 years we had two dogs and I didn’t so much want her to run barefoot in the grass. And of course, barefoot in the grass did nothing to limit all the other sensory delights we shared. I wasted mental and emotional space in worry instead of just enjoying her current quirk.
Would she make friends in school? My daughter is shy so that was an easy worry. I didn’t have confidence I guess in my social skills guidance, or her easy likeability. Instead, I worried about her being lonely, being the dreaded outcast, not having a playful time. This one I worried about quite a bit in the big transitions (preschool to kindergarten, then to each new school year start, each new activity). This went beyond the lump in my throat with every new venture she went off on.
- Outcome? It was a crazy worry because even in preschool she had great, lively, mutual friends. Life was very busy socially. Shyness and all. But wait, along came that huge transition to middle school and then early teen years. In fact, friendships became challenging. Girls are tough with this one – they go through shakeups in friends, and, activities they were interested in before are no longer of interest so activity camaraderie disperses. Negotiating these years was in fact challenging. Then by junior year in high school it started to smooth out again. She was still shy, but she found her way with it, in part because worry caused me to focus on communication and social skills with her. That’s when worry helps – when it prompts us to plan. If I could have taken on an attitude that she’d find her way with this, I’d have saved myself some fretful times. That’s hard for parents though, when children are in the midst of their challenge. If you can though, shift your attitude and see what happens.
Drugs, alcohol, and sex. Was my daughter going to succumb to peer pressure? Did she have the gene for addiction (which runs on both sides of her family)? I remember the day she came home from school saying how not doing drugs is talked about so much in classes that it makes you want to try them just to find out what the deal is! It was one of those times I held my breath and just listened. The conversation about drugs and sex continued for years. In conversations, I stuck with the facts as I understand them, explained about the lineage of addiction, talked about how incredibly cool we humans are just on our own, explored what makes a full life etc etc etc. And at times worried.
- Outcome? She got into her early 20s without substance abuse or unwanted sex or pregnancy. Yep, she had her explorations of a few things, but she had an ability to stand back and determine if she liked the results or not. She now says how our honest talks took the charge out of it all (mostly!).
Mental health. Those years, 13 – 19, when depression, anxiety, OCD, and all kinds of other things come up in young males and females was a biggy for me because of family history. And I will be the first to say, because of my worries and NOT wanting her labeled, medication debilitated, or taking on an identity that would be hard to crawl out of, I was slow to move into getting support when it was in fact needed. I put my protective, worrying arms proverbially around her and shouldered on. Worry wasn’t just my middle name, it was my first name.
- Outcome? The first therapist she went to was a hit. And hugely helpful. No labels (diagnosis, yes), no medication debilitation, no succumbing to an identity. Yes, things to learn and a journey. But all her sensitivities and intelligence that generated conflict were in fact about her strengths (I knew that). The confusion those strengths generated went with the territory of those teen year. She deserved the extra, caring but objective support. And frankly, so did I – it was a huge relief for me. Did all my worrying help? Yes and no. It prompted good conversation between the two of us. But, it also kept me from openly exploring options for her, which was incredibly stressful for me and her.
Is she going to get into college and have a productive career? I was never a great student. If I was interested, I learned. If not, so be it. I passed this along to my daughter in the sense that I always encouraged her to think about and pursue what she wanted to know about a given subjec. So, guess what, sometimes she could have cared less, and it showed in her grades. And sometimes she was enthralled and aced courses. I actually worried about the college thing because she did. So my worry took the shape of worrying about what it would do to her if she didn’t get into a college of her liking. And as she went through her emotional ups and downs about this, I worried about that! I also worried that maybe my seeming ‘softness’ about grades was not a good thing.
- Outcome? With good solid research based on the kind of person she is and all her strengths, she got into a great college of her choice. AND, she left it! She has other paths to explore, fired up from her own motivation and inspiration. AND, you know what? I’m not worried!! Because I’ve learned that for me, all worrying does is make me suffer. Not to mention, it kept me from enjoying the process of moving into a solution, the strengths of my daughter, my own strengths, and the power of active love.
I’m sure I’ve had other worries, as I was a worrier extraordinaire. It’s like parenting turned me into another creature! Now, while I think worry serves the purpose of notifying me that there is something to pay attention to (and not always what I think it is at first awareness), I find myself looking back on my earlier worries and wanting to say to you, “don’t worry, but, do pay attention.” My attention always mattered. But worry just spun things around and wasted time and energy that could have been spent in more fulfilling ways.
So dear caring parents, why do you worry? What does worrying do to you? What are some ways it’s calling you to listen differently, or relax, or envision a different outcome, or explore options you haven’t yet looked at?
Take care now, Natasha