Worrying about Your Kids Isn’t Helping Anyone
There was a time when I lived in a galaxy of zero worries. I fit into the saying ‘happy go lucky’ like a tee and tell others, mostly my mother, to relax. The adults in my life tried to explain to me it wasn’t so easy, but I perhaps felt none tried hard enough, because I kept spinning round and round without anything obstructing my orbit.
Then I had a child.
The day after I had Ochoa, he was taken away from me for a few hours. The doctors had to run some tests on him and I needed the sleep. But I was kept awake by a constant worry about my child. It was the fear of unknown, terrible things that could happen to the child I had made with my flesh, blood and bone. It was as if my universe had suddenly reduced to a pin point of focused concern.
As a parent, worrying about your kids is part of your job profile. Every proposition regarding the kid goes through four stages: of straightaway saying no; pretending in front of others that you will think about it; actually thinking about it; and finally, taking the leap. In between each stage, sleep is lost, god is remembered and the inner self is put through a grind.
Nothing prepares you for worrying about children. The fear that something will happen to your kid when you are not looking, or even when you are, is more intense than any worry you’ve felt before. It starts from the day they are born, almost like a hormone that is released in your body along with all the other, more popular ones, only this one hasn’t been given a name. And unlike the rest of the hormones going about their duties, this one lurks in the shadows. It makes itself known every time the parent is presented with a new concern. Should the child be given candy, should he go to playschool, should he be left with the neighbour for half an hour? In all such instances, big and small, this fear answers before any other part of the brain can, and its only response is a huge NO.
Yet, we can’t say it. At least, not as much as we’d want to. I had a friend whose parents didn’t let her leave the house or make friends because she was a girl and those were (apparently) indecent things to do. The girl grew up to resent her parents and is a lonely adult today. When another friend’s mother stopped her from going on trips with friends, even long after the girl turned 20, she simply started lying about office tours and went anyway. Exercising our right of refusal over our kids – even when we feel the concern is legitimate — can mould their personalities, possibly for better, but probably for worse.
Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” A child needs to have new adventures, eat new food, see new places and know more people. I know I did. Parents may be the guardians of their tiny galaxy, but that galaxy needs to constantly expand to gather all the knowledge the child needs to become an adult. Swallowing our fears and superstitions and allowing kids to do and try – this prepares them for a time when we’re no longer around.
I am scared, most days, before letting my 2-year-old try something new. But I’ve gotten good at deep breathing and imagining how his world would look without knowing that ‘something.’ A few weeks back, my neighbours asked if Ochoa would like to join them at the playground. I could only think of disaster: He could let go of the neighbour’s hand in the middle of a busy street, he could hurt himself on the rickety swings, or he could be chased by a cow. (Hey, it happens.) It took me 15 days to decide to let him go with them – and even so, for that one hour, I sat on my sofa, numb.
By the time I began contemplating going after them, they returned. I saw Ochoa, as dirty and happy as I had ever seen him, and discovered my deep desire to see him grow had won over the worry and fear. I have since decided to give more things a go, and to trust this universe and my child. And in doing so, I have realized that my own galaxy — which had contracted into a pin point of parental worry — has started to expand again.
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