I am a mother; therefore, I worry. I wish it weren’t so, because frankly, it wears me out. Can you relate? What is it about having a baby that seemingly flips a switch that makes us into professional worriers? We worry about our children’s health and happiness, their successes and failures. We worry about our significant others, about paying bills on time, about making certain our home runs smoothly. Our worry comes from a place of genuine love and concern for those we care about most. But sometimes, our anxiety can get in the way of our own happiness and well-being.
If you are not one who tends to worry, more power to you (and by the way, can you let me in on your secret?). As for the rest of us, I hope to provide some solace.
Here’s a common worry: My child fails to turn in his homework. Perhaps it is not all the time. But it’s enough to cause us concern; and then our worrying sets in, because if he fails to turn in work, it could lead to failing the class. And failing one class could lead to failing in school, which would make it more difficult to get into a good college. And then he won’t find a decent job. Do you see how this grows?
Wow. Our worry has blown up a fairly common problem, a child who isn’t turning in homework on time, and made it into something much more ominous: a child who may be at-risk for failing in life. That’s giving a lot of power over to our worries.
There are two concerns with this type of thinking. First, we cannot know what the future holds. And second, this type of pessimistic forecasting can actually do more harm than good for our children, by creating unnecessary anxiety that negatively affects our child as well as ourselves.
Think about how you respond to your child when he or she isn’t doing their best. If you personalize their failure to turn in homework, your response may be casting doubt on your child’s abilities as a student. That doesn’t help him solve the problem at hand. You’re better off giving him tips on how to better manage his time, rather than making him feel bad about himself.
Here’s my friend’s advice. “Worry about what’s in front of you.” No forecasting gloom and doom. This approach means addressing the behavior or problem of today, without assuming it is tied to something more. This is particularly helpful when it comes to managing our kid’s health. We’re often faced with accidents that make us worry about possible long-term issues. But by stopping ourselves from trying to predict the future (over which we have no control), we save a lot of wasted energy. I have found this to be a much healthier mindset.
Worrying about our loved ones is natural; we want to take care of those around us. But allowing those worries to diminish our own sense of happiness and well-being is counter-productive.
When my son was little, he tended to be a worrier. So at bedtime, after we’d read our stories, I would ask him, “Is there something on your heart?” If he said yes, we would talk about it for a bit. Then I’d say to him, “Would you like for me to put that in my worry box?” I would hold out my hand so he could put his worries there and I could hold them for safekeeping.
So create a worry box for yourself. One where you can safely store away concerns without letting them cloud your thinking or weigh heavily on your heart. A movie I saw recently sums up my new outlook. A memorable line from the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, spoken by the hotel manager, Sonny, says, “Everything will be all right in the end ... if it’s not all right, then it is not yet the end.”