“Does it ever get any better or will I always have to worry about C?”
This was the plea from a friend who has recently become a mother.
It was followed by a suggestion from her husband that she starts a Women’s Fear Forum, presumably for new mothers to express their inner-most fears.
It’s one of the things that isn’t often mentioned when you embark on parenthood. Suddenly, you are responsible for another person. Apart from worrying about whether you can step up yourself, you now find yourself worrying about, well, everything.
In the early years, you worry about their development, in the latter years you worry about their behavior, their safety, their friends, their schooling … the list goes on.
This is made worse by the relentless comparisons from family and friends and stories in the media about who or what your child should be.
If you are natural catastrophiser like me, worry seems to be a normal state of mind, especially if you come from a long line of worriers.
My own mother worried so much about my sister and I being sunburned, that we were the only kids who went into the water fully clothed – wearing shower caps on our freshly washed hair and shirts under our bathers, as well as plastic sandals on our feet.
Mum may have been sun smart before her time, but for me at least, her worries led to a lifelong fear of the sea, and to becoming a worrier myself.
These days, my parental worries are fueled by the 24-hour news cycle where other parents whose children met foul play are featured as sobbing, broken wrecks, forever robbed of the happiness of seeing their children grow up to reach their full potential.
Such worry is a natural product of caring, but it can be detrimental to you and your children.
For a start, it affects how you relate to them. “Take a coat, eat your broccoli, don’t stay out too late, drive carefully, don’t drink too much … ” etc – everything becomes a warning, a foreboding.
The message this gives is alarmist and undermining: the world is a dangerous place and I have no confidence in your ability to navigate it.
I know this because my own children get furious when I do it.
Not only is it unhelpful, discouraging children from learning from their mistakes, it can backfire hugely, as American satirist and author David Sedaris wrote in his book Naked.
Sedaris’ mother, fearful that her son would have an accident on the roads when he eventually learned to drive, continually told him horror stories about road accidents. In the end, he became too fearful to drive and instead spent his youth hitch-hiking, which as the book shows, turned out to be far more dangerous.
Experts call this futurizing, and it’s never more prevalent than when a child is in their VCE or HSC year. A friend whose son is in VCE now is worrying herself sick because he doesn’t do any work, while I worried myself sick because my daughter did too much (and made herself sick.)
But my friend’s husband isn’t worried at all, although he agrees their son should work harder. “No point,” he said when I asked him why didn’t worry.
However he pointed out that this did not mean he would not pressure their son to work harder. As he said, the latter was useful while the former was not.
He’s right, but not worrying is easier said than done. These days, the thing that stops me is the realisation that none of my worries have come true.
In fact, my children have exceeded my expectations in terms of their ability to cope with life, often facing it with more courage and creativity than I could have imagined. This may be despite me as well as because of me.
When I look back now, what I remember is not the fear but the joy, helped by the numerous family photos I took.
Photos are a record of the happy times in our lives and are a reminder that while we all worry about our children, they are also a source of joy and happiness.
This joy and happiness does not have to derive from the things they achieve, but can often be in the moments, fleeting or otherwise, when we have shared something wonderful or when we observe our child enjoying life or accomplishing something.
If you are natural worrier like me, it’s hard to enjoy who your children are now, rather than worry about whomever they will be in the future.
But it is worth trying to do because not only will you find parenthood more enjoyable, children who feel they are a joy rather than a burden will approach life with more confidence and happiness, whatever life brings.
And take it from me, it hurts that when in looking back themselves, your children collaborate in sharing all those embarrassing stories about when your irrational worries made you do or say something stupid.
Image credit: kadmy/123RF Stock Photo