Worry. It seems to be the one constant that comes with being a parent. I know myself to be a worry wart of epic proportions and that my very fertile imagination can create all kinds of scenarios that keep me awake at night and send me to the yoga mat in hopes of a little peace of mind. Worry is definitely in the job description of a parent and there is no doubt that much of it can be wasted energy. The rub is that you never know if it’s wasted until after the fact.
Worry starts at the moment of conception or at least it did with me. Reading pregnancy books can be informative but for a person like me, the only advice that jumps out is the negative kind. So many things can happen during pregnancy that it’s a wonder so many healthy children are born at all. At the time of my first pregnancy, information was just coming to light on the effects cigarette smoking and drinking alcohol while pregnant can have in the development of the baby. I stopped both but what about coffee? That was suspect to. What about eating sushi, or cleaning the cat’s litter box? Those had their own set of dangers. It was hard to know what to do. Would my baby be alright?
Once I delivered a healthy baby those worries were replaced by others. Infants are so fragile and the advice continued to assail my worried mind. Do not shake, drop or wrap too tightly. Only breastfeed; no, formula is okay but only at this age and then only this kind. It was mind boggling. And then I learned that although my kids sailed through the various stages of life, the worry remained a constant although the tenor of it changed. I could keep track when they were in their baby seats but then they started walking. And then they went to preschool and then school. I had to let go a little more each time but the more I let go, the greater my worry. Were they okay without me? Did they make friends? Are they happy? Safe? I would wait outside in my car to pick them up from one event or another, a million scenarios playing in my head, worried for them.
There has been much advice from authors and musicians alike about the pitfalls of worry. Bobby McFerrin released a light hearted song called “Don’t worry, Be Happy” in which he sang that if we worry about all of the trouble in our lives, it will multiply. Bob Marley admonished us not to worry because in the end it will all work out. Comedian Erma Bombeck stated that worry doesn’t get us anywhere no matter how much energy we spend on it.
Truer words were never spoken. I worried that my worry would smother my kids. It was my worry that motivated me to interview parents where my kids might be spending the night or to research every activity they wanted to try. It was my worry that made me make them call me the minute they arrived at their destinations or when I went back into the workforce, the minute they got home from school. I worried that my worry would make them distrust their own instincts or decisions. Or that my worry would make them distrust the world in general. I knew it was close to obsessive. I understood what all those people were trying to tell me but I was convinced the minute I stopped, the worst would happen.
To constantly worry about your children is a singular endeavor. The worry is mine alone. They are free from my worry. I remember feeling what they are feeling at this time in their lives. The first time I was alone in the big city, I was fully confident in the knowledge that I belonged there. Girl meets world. The worry then belonged to my own mother. From this perspective I wonder how she ever dealt with it. I believe it was because she was still parenting young children and she could focus on the worry that was right in front of her. She didn’t have the energy to send her worry for me so far away. I cannot blame her, she did what she could with what she had. We all do. “Don’t worry, be happy”. It is such good advice. Such a catchy tune to sing. So wise in its simple message.
I have come to learn from these few words that the one way to let go of worry is to sing and dance. Who can worry while you are rocking out? Letting go of it is hard but once I did, the freedom is ecstatic. Ultimately, worry is love. We love the ones we worry about. We don’t want them hurt or sad or feeling badly about anything. But that is not real life. Would I myself trade in all those scared and lonely times I had when I was navigating myself and the world around me? Not a prayer and I would not want my children to miss them either.
A wise doctor gave me the worry mantra “no panic without the evidence” and I must happily admit there has been little evidence these past few years and I am forever grateful. Instead I work on letting go and finding the joy and happiness of every day. And of course I sing those lyrics to myself whenever worry threatens to overwhelm me again. After all, I believe Bob was onto something.