Joy and excitement await you the moment a planned pregnancy or adoption become a reality. It doesn’t take very long, though, for happiness to be laced with worry. “How will I manage? Will the baby have ten fingers and ten toes? Will the birth go as planned?” For the next nine months, the pendulum swings from excitement and wonder about the miracle of life to fears about the awesome task of having and raising a child.
After the birth and relief of having a healthy baby (because worries multiply exponentially if the child isn’t healthy), you discover the worry about fingers and toes was just the beginning. The reasons parents worry varies, but worry is another emotion all parents wrestle with.
Babies give parents lots to worry about. Is she sleeping through the night and growing appropriately? Is she still breathing? Standing by the crib, you watch for the rhythmic up and down movements of her chest as she peacefully sleeps. You can hardly wait until he learns to crawl, but then you’ll worry what he’ll pick up off the floor. You’ll look forward to when he can walk, but worry that he’ll wander away.
Eventually, you get a handle on the ins and outs of baby care. The high fevers and relentless crying become less frightening, less overwhelming. Gradually, a kind of rhythm develops. But then, without warning, things change. And then they change again and again.
You’ll worry if they cry on their first day of school – hiding so they can’t see you secretly spying on them. You’ll really worry whenever your children are unhappy or sick, barely sleeping as you listen for their calls in the middle of the night.
Then their bodies change, their hormones rage, and they learn about sex. You’ll worry about their education, happiness, and who their friends are. You’ll worry about their using drugs, getting into the college of their choice, and finding a life-partner. You will eventually worry about their careers and their children, since there is no real endpoint to parenthood.
Seeing your children grow and mature is one of the great pleasures of parenting. However, you also know that unforeseeable things can happen. Your children won’t always do what’s right. They’ll think they’re invincible. They’ll fall down, get sick, and do all sorts of crazy unpredictable things. If worry is unavoidable, then what are you supposed to do about it?
Find a New Perspective
Asking for help may conjure up all sorts of negative images. Fear and shame about appearing weak may make it difficult to admit when you’re feeling overwhelmed or unsure. In an attempt to appear competent and in control, do you suffer in silence, angry with yourself for how you feel?
- Stay in the moment. Don’t make up something awful as though it’s going to happen.
- If you’re going to make up an ending, why not think about how things could work out well.
- Work toward accepting your feelings, even the uncomfortable ones.
- Find someone to confide in.
Acknowledging your worries without over-reacting to them is a great goal, but it’s a difficult one. It’s not that you’ll feel indifferent. Stressful times will affect you and there’s no getting around that. Acceptance entails staying with your feelings without making them worse. It means loving and taking care of yourself, especially when you’re upset and worried. It means no matter how bad things get, somewhere deep inside, you know that you will figure out what you have to do next.
An accepting nature requires practice. Patience, compassion, and generosity with yourself and others are three ingredients that can help you attain it.
Loren Buckner, LCSW is a psychotherapist in Tampa, Florida. She is the author of ParentWise: The Emotional Challenges of Family Life And How To Deal With Them.