That’s what we do. As parents, we worry. We wake up in the morning and we worry and we go to bed at night (if we can sleep at all) and we worry. We worry about them not making friends, about them not being caught up with their peers. We worry about their handwriting and their math skills. We worry about their tantrums and we worry about the days they are too quiet.
Nearing forty I feel like I finally understand the anxiety my mother still feels today. And I know it will never go away.
Being a “good parent” means more than anything else, worrying. All. The. Time.
I didn’t realize the degree to which this worry had permeated our lives until a discussion I had had with my 9yo began to settle in at midnight, lying in bed, eyes wide open. As much as I want to, I cannot fix anything. I can listen. I can follow-up with teachers and therapists and social workers and (Cthulhu help me) the internet. I can remind him that I consider myself “weird” and “different” and that these are qualities that serve me well as an adult. And that I know this doesn’t help him right now. And I can wait to be angry and sad and allow a tear or two to drop until I am with my wife in bed, talking it through, reminding each other what we can and cannot do.
Just yesterday, opening a new tab in a web browser, I was targeted for an article with a properly clickbait-ey title like “The Four Things You Need to Know to Raise a Successful Adult.” I laughed. Not because it was absurd, but because I almost clicked it.
No one has the answers. There is no sound byte that will explain the ultimate technique that will work for every child. And what the fuck is success anymore? It often feels like the things my oldest son is constantly getting into trouble for, the things he says that make children and adults confused, the way he communicates to me, deep in thought, just before the lights go out… those are the things that will serve him well as an adult. And it is this thought that then spins the worry three-hundred-and-sixty-degrees around to my youngest – the one with all the friends, the athletic one who never stops, but who is content to follow whoever is loudest. Is it him I should be worried about in ten years?
The answer is “yes”. To all of it. The worry means we are paying attention. As much as I cannot stand hearing about the latest party drug I am supposed to catalog, or the latest news in “puberty is happening earlier and earlier”, it is all part of the job. Possibly the most important part.
And as if that were not enough, now we worry about the world burning up during their lifetime.
So the next time you are hit with a pang of anxiety, a shot right through your gut to remind you of all the terrible things that can happen to your child — take a moment, breathe, and recognize it for what it is: A sign that you are doing things right.