I’m a bit of a pessimist. When I type that sentence, I’m at war with the feelings no one will ever read it, no editor will accept it and no writer will respect it. This defeatist inner monologue is annoying when trying to be creative, but it’s dangerous for a father of young children.
If I were to list all the reasons why I prefer my children to never leave my home, I’m confident I’d smash my word limit entirely too soon. As a parent, you don’t need me to detail the threats looming just outside the door. If the Netflix documentaries I torture myself with are a reflection of reality, for some kids, those threats come from within the home. Then there are the constant threats from strangers and people we trust, from foreign agents and domestic despots. How do any of us let the soft hands of our children slip our grip and find their own way?
Sometimes, I try to satisfy my parental anxiety by quoting statistics. The chance of anything really terrible happening to any one person, at any one time, is extremely low. I accept the truth of the math, but when I constantly feel like I’m white-knuckling a cross-wind landing with a couple of hundred other people, I’m not comforted. Nor am I comforted by the math when I’m kissing my kids goodbye. However small the chance may be, there is a chance I’ll never kiss them again.
Paralysis from parental anxiety costs your kids
I can always find a reason not to go to the zoo — and I love going to the zoo. Traffic is a chronic concern. What’s parking going to be like when we finally get there? We live in Florida, so it will be hot and uncomfortable and the kids will inevitably complain. We won’t stay nearly as long as I want, considering the effort it takes to mobilize our family of five. It’s too expensive to get in. It’s too expensive to purchase anything once inside. The place will be filled with annoying people. People who don’t watch where they’re walking. People who wear purposefully provocative, politically themed T-shirts just to see who might react. There will be rides for the kids, but the lines will be too long. Besides, when was the last time that ride has been serviced? How attentive is the bored teenager operating the controls? And you know what? That polar bear really, really looks eager to swallow a toddler.
A variation of the above paragraph flashes through my mind the instant my wife casually asks, “Hey, wanna’ go to the zoo today?” I often wonder what it’d be like to be normal, or at least open to the possibility that something good could happen.
These defeatist inner monologues are dangerous because the parental anxiety it arouses in me directly impacts my children.
Maybe they’d be signed up for dance, gymnastics or a team sport if I wasn’t so fearful of all the potential pitfalls.
What if the lessons they are missing out on about navigating the complex social dynamics of a team could allow them to be an effective leader when they’re older?
What if my parental anxiety keeps them from falling in love with the pursuit that could define their future?
The amount of untold damage my fears and worries could inflict upon my children is staggering. While I grudgingly accept I’ll likely screw them up somehow, I’d really love to not infect them with this oppressive mind virus that has haunted my entire existence.
Just go do it
If you’re not resonating with the above struggles, then use my words to help you see the silent struggles of many. If you resonate with my words, if this post about parental anxiety is giving you anxiety, then we are kindred spirits, and perhaps, with one sentence, I can help.
Just go do it. Whatever IT is, just go do it.
Listen, if that sentence came from someone who hasn’t been professionally diagnosed with chronic and crippling anxiety, you’d be right to reject it. The mantra of the ignorant is often to simplify the complex. But I have, so I’m offering you something different.
With that simple sentence above, I’m providing you the freedom you’ve craved, and a lifeline for your kids, who, whether able to articulate it or not, are desperate to experience more – more of everything.
The hard part about navigating complex mental health issues is that the solutions are often simple. So simple, they’re rejected. But just because a solution is simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. I know it’s hard to go do the thing. It was hard for me to admit I needed help. Hard for me to confess these feelings to my wife, and harder still to walk through the door of a licensed therapist for the first time. I just had to do it.
I’m not diminishing the effort. I’m not trying to make it sound easy. It’s not. But as dads, we have no choice. We have to go do it – whatever the “it” is for you. There’s no magic mantra. No special utterance. Appropriate pharmaceuticals are helpful for some, but they aren’t cures. They’re aids. You, yes you, have to do the work. You just have to go do it.
I’d like to say that over time my pessimism has been cured, but it hasn’t. I’ve accepted there is no cure for all this parental anxiety, but you know what? Things have gotten easier. It’s easier to get out of the door, to say yes to my kids when they want to try something. It’s easier to go to the zoo, and even easier to believe my children will return home safe after school. And as I overcome more and more obstacles, I get closer to believing tomorrow will be easier than yesterday.
Just kidding. I’m still pessimistic, and it’s all still hard. But I’m just going to go do it anyway, and so should you.