OK, you can stress about the HUGE stuff.
Like your kid has been diagnosed with a dreadful disease or profound learning disability. Trauma, heartbreak – you’re allowed to be devastated by those. But there’s an awful lot of stuff that seems huge to parents that just. Isn’t.
For example: When my five-year-old was ready to start school, I found the perfect place for her.
We visited this lovely little school along with my sister, an elementary school teacher, and all agreed that it was PERFECT. In fact, it was so incredibly great that they had one single opening. Which we did not get.
I was gutted. It felt like a shattering blow, even though somewhere inside I knew it couldn’t really be the death knell to her future happiness.
Let me pause here to say that I’m a HUGE supporter of public schools. At that time, we lived in a small rural town; the public school administrators didn’t understand why we had a problem with a faith-based aftercare program. We respectfully agreed to disagree and looked elsewhere.
It’s not like there were a ton of other options. Eventually we found something else, and of course it worked out. It’s rare that there’s only a single decent choice. But at the time it felt so big. It seemed like there was so much riding on that one outcome.
Are The Stakes Growing Ever Higher?
My parents didn’t seem to engage in worry as a full-time pursuit. It just wasn’t the style in the 60’s and 70’s. They didn’t assume they could control every outcome, and they were better at taking things in stride.
In contrast, I seem to have worried about every single aspect of my own children’s lives!
I hear parents say that things are different now. And they are – things are different for every generation. But the fact is that kids have always had to deal with a lot of difficult things. And, it doesn’t help them to have their parents freaking out.
Part of the magic of parenthood is that there’s another person in the world whose happiness outweighs your own. There’s a human for whom you’d bleed. Their sadness is your sadness, their fears and humiliations are hard to bear.
So we worry, and worry, and fix and fix and fix.
This isn’t a lecture about letting your kid take their lumps and grow from difficult experiences. This is about letting go of your own worry and fear. Because so many of the things parents dread are simply not going to happen.
Or they will, and they’re not going to be that bad.
We Can Choose Not to Amplify
Here’s a thing I managed not to panic over: My ten-year-old had tics. Lots of tics. At this age they were supposed to be disappearing, but instead they were increasing exponentially.
I talked to her doctor, who sent us to the pediatric neurologist. Which in itself was a rather daunting enterprise. The best and worst things happened in that exam room.
My kid was diagnosed with Tourette’s. And that fabulous doctor looked her in the eye and asked, “What do you want to do?”
She let my daughter know that there was medication available if she wanted it. I let her know it was her decision. She could start taking it that day, in three months, never. Absolutely up to her. My kid decided to think about it and ride out the tics for the time being.
Eventually they faded. I don’t see any at this point, though she tells me she still has them.
Now, I’m not saying that her tics disappeared because I didn’t freak out about her diagnosis – though I wish I had that kind of power! I’m saying that the outcome had nothing to do with me.
In the moment I could have decided that her life was going to be one of pain and struggle, but I refused to succumb to my usual catastrophizing. And I’m grateful to my past self for avoiding the agony that would have turned out to be for naught.
Look, I’m not saying that everything always turns out for the best. Or that tragedy doesn’t befall us. But we don’t have to lend fate a hand by describing disappointment as disaster.
We can let our kids struggle. A little. We can be okay with them getting the third-best outcome and the option we’d hoped to avoid.
This generation that’s coming up right now? They’re going to have to do a lot of heavy lifting. Let’s build their resilience by wishing for the best but being okay with the thing that happens.