Thursday, February 9, 2012

To Do: Laundry, Dishes, Worry

Anyone who starts off a story with, "when I was a kid," is immediately tagged as old. The very phrase sets them up for ridicule because it inherently implies that things today are so vastly different from what they were 'in the good old days' that not only are today's kids in dire straits, but there's no way of saving them. The speaker is always, surely, one of the last surviving members of a generation that safely grew to adulthood without dying, a fact purely due to his or her own wits.

That said, I have a bit of a dilemma. When I was a kid, my parents weren't really involved in my schooling or social life, at least not from middle school up. There was no such thing as a 'helicopter parent' in those days; moms worked, dads worked, and on the weekend they enjoyed time with their friends. We played in the neighborhood with cousins and friends, rode our bikes, delivered newspapers and did our homework. Was middle school fun? Ahem. Well, let's see. Smoking, being bullied, declining grades, cliques and math. No, I can pretty safely say that middle school was a thumbs down for me in every way. But I didn't report it to my parents. We didn't talk about any of it. In those days, it was my life to deal with and I just got through every day as best I could. Did I learn a lot? Eventually. Like, 20 years on I processed a lot of social rules that I guess I had internalized from those days. Did it do me any good during middle school? Absolutely not.

But I was no different from any other kid.

So why am I waking up at 5:30am worrying about my middle schooler? He's on the high honor roll every marking period. What is there to worry about? you ask. Oh, let's see. Is he still being bullied? Will he be all right when his best friend transfers to private school next year? Is he too stressed to learn anything academically? Does he feel like a total misfit? Are there things stressing him out that he's not telling me? SHOULD he be telling me? I'm on the PTA, I take him to chorus, all-county chorus and drama club rehearsals. I support him in the newspaper club as well as help to supplement his artistic and musical interests. Should I be doing more? Could I be doing more? Which all boils down to the same question that haunts every parent I know:

Am I a bad parent?

I have stacks of parenting books on how to raise 'tweens, teens, boys, exceptional kids and every other category you can think of to stick a kid into. Have I read them all? Of course not. Who has time? But I wonder if I'm letting my son down by not making the time.

I'm not a helicopter parent by any means. I'm available to my son and he knows it. I'm involved in his school and he knows that too. We talk, and he knows I love him. But I also have a life and interests of my own. What I'm doing for him *feels* like it should be enough. So why am I waking up in the middle of the night worrying?

I'm starting to realize, it's because I'm a parent. And parents worry. No matter how much we can control, and no matter how much we *can't* control and so force ourselves to let go of, we still worry. I'm almost 45 years old and my parents still worry about me. I'm starting to think it will never stop.

The best I can do to ease my own mind is to liken parenting to teaching my kid to cross the street. If I hold his hand and we walk together, he'll learn to look both ways. Eventually he'll be able to do it himself, with me standing there watching and worrying until he makes it safe and sound. If I carry him across the street every time, I'll never have to worry because I know how to cross the street. But by the time he's too big to carry, all he'll know is that I'm not strong enough to carry him anymore; he won't know how to walk across himself.

I suppose that's my answer. I'm not a bad parent until I stop worrying. Because the day I stop worrying is the day I stop caring.

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