A friend once told me about a new mom who called her pediatrician about 50 times during the first two weeks of her sonís life. Finally the pediatrician called the mom into her office and said, ďListen, you have become a parent. You have opened yourself up to a lifetime of worry. You have to pace yourself.Ē
As a world-class worrier myself, born into a family of champion worriers, I often wonder what the opposite of worry might be. For us parents, I donít think that the opposite of worry is calm serenity. I havenít met too many calm and serene parents (unless they arenít paying attention!). Perhaps, though, we donít have to worry all the time about everything. Perhaps the opposite of worry is trust Ė trust in development, trust in your parenting, trust in the power of friendship, and trust in childrenís resilience.
Every spring, I get frantic phone calls from parents who are desperately worried because their 4-year-old children arenít ready for kindergarten. Of course, theyíre not! If a short phone call doesnít reassure them, I will meet the family, have a few sessions of play therapy with the child, and lo and behold, in September they are usually ready for kindergarten. I am happy to take all the credit, but the real work was done by development (donít tell anyone!).
Of course, itís hard to trust the power of development if your sisterís toddler can count to 20 while yours is happier blowing bubbles in the tub, but donít worry. Development happens. On the other hand, if your child seems to be more than one developmental stage behind his or her peers, or if there seems to be no maturing happening for several months, then itís time to see if there is something more serious to worry about.
Trust Your Early Parenting
As children enter the world of peers, many parents panic about losing their influence. How could my sweet child come home with all that bathroom talk, those bad manners, that sassy attitude, or that burning desire for the latest toy or video game? (Itís funny, isnít it, that it is always other peopleís kids who start these trends and influence our innocent children.)
At these times, it is important to take a deep breath Ė maybe a few deep breaths Ė and remember to trust in the power of your early parenting. The attachment bonds we established might be strained by the pull of peers and the lure of stuff we canít stand (like toy guns, perhaps, or super-girly dolls). But those bonds donít crack. In fact, the best predictor of success in childhood Ė success in school, with friends, in emotional well-being Ė is a secure attachment in infancy. So remember the times you gazed lovingly into each otherís eyes, and trust that the headaches of later childhood will be fond or funny memories one day.
If your child didnít have a secure and confident early childhood, then it isnít too late, but you may need some help maintaining the link of connection during those later years when peers and media try to pull them away from you.
Kids Are Resilient
Friendships and other peer relationships are areas where itís very hard for parents to trust instead of worry. I wish I had a nickel for every parent I know who has been terribly upset because their child didnít have a best friend, or had a fight with their friend, or was teased at school, or wasnít put in the right classroom Ė the list goes on and on.
As a friend of mine put it, ďYou have to let things happen as they happen, without overreacting, but you also have to be there, ready to listen.Ē This friend wasnít always so philosophical about her sonís social life Ė she is, like me, a champion worrier. But she worked at it, realizing that she had to listen to her son without being so empathic that she was flooded with her own painful emotions.
A few years ago, she was beside herself when her son wasnít invited to a birthday party. She focused so much on the pain Ė her sonís pain of exclusion and her own remembered pain from middle school Ė that she forgot to trust in her sonís resilience, his ability to bounce back even after a big upset.
My friend nurtured her trust in resilience by recognizing that a large part of her emotional reaction to her sonís social pain was from her own difficult childhood.
ďThatís often the source of the intensity of my emotional reaction,Ē she says. ďSo if I just respond out of that feeling, itís usually not very helpful.Ē
At the same time, she makes sure not to go too far in the other direction, dismissing her sonís pain as trivial. She listens, and sympathizes, but remembers in her heart that ďthis too shall pass,Ē even if it truly seems devastating to him at the moment.