Last week my more introverted, internal-processing teen was quieter than usual for a few days. I tried to encourage him to open up, but I didn’t get far. A list of possible problems ran through my head. We have a pretty big trip coming up. Maybe he’s stressed about that. And when we come back, school will be starting. He’s been trying to decide between college-credit and AP classes. Maybe that’s weighing on him. Or maybe there’s an issue with a romantic interest.
I spouted off my endless list of “what-ifs” to my husband.
“Maybe,” he wisely suggested, “he’s just tired.”
But that didn’t stop me from being a worried mom!
I Worry Too Much
Worrying might be in my DNA. It started as some minor social anxiety when I was young that eventually morphed into more intense worrying by my middle and high school years. I worried way more than necessary about what others thought of me, and because I had some intense perfectionist behaviors, I invested many restless nights thinking about an upcoming speech contest, music audition or exam.
During my college years, an ill-informed pastor taught me worrying was a sin, so then I worried about my worrying. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t helpful.)
We started our parenting journey through adoption when our sons were 7 and 8. That’s when my worrying behaviors intensified. When should we get him a smartphone? Is he old enough to have a girlfriend? Should I let them go to the pool with their friends without a parent? Should we let him watch that TV show?
If we’d had our sons earlier, I’m sure I would’ve had even earlier worries about solid foods, potty training and daycare choices!
Today, I spend sleepless nights and add more wrinkles and gray hairs by ruminating over a neverending list of my latest worries. What is a reasonable bedtime for a 17-year-old? How do I convince him that a two-year degree is fine? When will he feel confident enough to start driving on the interstate by himself?
I could go on and on.
My pattern of worry often ends when I wake up one morning and realize the situation has resolved itself. My husband and I made a decision about smartphones, and it (mostly) worked out. After waffling for a while, we went with the later bedtime, and the kids’ sleep schedules adjusted. My older son and I practiced more interstate-driving together, and he decided when he was ready on his own. I avoided answering the question about the TV show, and he eventually stopped asking! (Okay, maybe that’s not a strategy I would recommend.)
I’m learning — slowly — my worrying doesn’t do much good.
Recently I was searching through an old text thread with a good friend when I saw a text I had sent her a few years ago. In the text, I expressed concern about a “phone issue” we were having with one of my sons. As I reread the text, I had absolutely no idea what “issue” I had been so worried about at the time.
Either I’m suffering from some early form of dementia, or (much more likely) I had worried unnecessarily about something that eventually resolved itself, probably without much intervention on my part.
Why I Worry
Of course there are lots of parenting dilemmas that warrant real attention. I’m not suggesting we should be flippant about everything. Important talks about sex and consent, race and privilege require time and attention. When our kids come to us hurting because of something said or done at school or by friends, it makes complete sense to be concerned. And in a world full of real hurt, a continuous bad-news cycle and skyrocketing numbers of teens suffering from anxiety and depression, there are times when worry is warranted!
In those cases, worry needs to lead to action and input from experts.
I also recognize that, through sheer luck, many of my worries have resolved themselves without any major repercussions or consequences — for me or for my kids.
Last week, I engaged in my own dangerous cycle again. Over several nights, I stressed about my quieter-than-usual son until I peppered him with too many questions. I’ll spare the details, but, unsurprisingly, the FBI-level questioning did not go well.
And then, like usual, the situation remedied itself.
Once again, the middle-of-the-night worrying about the small stuff was the opposite of productive. It stole my precious sleep, aged me faster than I’d like and frankly made me the kind of meddling, overly-involved mom I don’t want to be!
So I’m not learning as fast as I would like, but still, I’m learning!