What Should Parents REALLY Be Worrying About?

Who is the first on the scene? That would be Worry. If you are a parent, you may already be a professional worrier and not even give a second thought to why you do it or how to stop.

Wait, can I really stop Worrying? (Spoiler Alert: not really)

Have you heard this saying: A parent is only as happy as their least happy child?

If you don’t know, now you know. (h/t The Notorious B.I.G.) Parents can relax and rest their heads on the pillow at night knowing that everyone is doing fine. Or… We can stay up all night biting our nails to the quick.

The converse of this saying is also true: our kids don’t thrive when their parents are professional worriers, stress monsters, living off a strict diet of shame and blame, or barely holding it together.

In a parenting survey that I just made up, Worry beat out Shame by a nose. After making this survey up, I took it back in a time machine to 2015, and gave myself the push to write a book for parents that was short, readable, and meant to inspire, not depress. That’s why I published “Laugh More, Yell Less: A Guide to Raising Kick-Ass Kids” with zero calories of shame or blame.

(The short version of my first book: Do you want to handle things differently than your parents did? Start by giving yourself the space to breathe and to be imperfect. Learn a few tricks like zooming in and out and zigging and zagging. Then harness your own superpowers to inspire your kids to take educated risks. There, I saved you $16, or $3 on kindle.)

Why am I being all frivolous and loose with imagined surveys and time machines? Because we are serious all the time. The parent-industrial complex belches out guilt 24/7/365 and relies on us to take ourselves way too seriously. Punishing yourself for your weaknesses is the most ineffective way to change course for your own family. That’s why I am modeling the lightness and fun that our super-parent clients experience when we are in the “Field of Play” together, co-creating innovative solutions for their families.

Let’s get back to Worry.

What is it?

It’s not really an emotion, is it? It’s more like an action verb.

Why do we do it?

Worry is a self-protective function, alerting us to what might happen.

How does it work?

Worry pops up when you don’t have enough information to figure something out or decide what to do next. Your brain doesn’t put the pieces aside and wait until you can complete the puzzle. Instead, it takes whatever information is in front of you and extrapolates possibilities.

First of all, doesn’t “Extrapolating Possibilities” sound like it should be really cool and expansive? It sounds like a header from an inventor’s resume or an instruction manual for a life full of riches and abundance. Just picture the buffet table full of Extrapolated Possibilities! There’s Opulence. Oh, and Luxury. Relaxation. Fun! What else do you see?

But, no! Worry puts an arm around your shoulders and leads you away from that buffet. Worry cobbles together possibilities as quickly as possible, cutting corners if needed. It’s always a rush job and rarely something that you want to see. According to Jen Sincero, author of “You Are a Badass at Making Money,” worry is like praying, just for stuff that you don’t want.

Unlike the initiative we take to pray, Worry just happens without us even lifting a finger. Worry is ALWAYS first on the scene. It is ready to pop up at any time. Worry also has a second superpower: access to an unbridled imagination.

Knowing these superpowers gives us clues for how we work with Worry.

So how do you stop Worry?

Short answer: you don’t. It’s hardwired into your brain for survival. You wouldn’t want to live without it. Think about how dangerous that would be!

Longer answer: you can learn to adapt to Worry (and adapt it to your own needs). If your brain was a kindergarten classroom full of Worry and Fear and all the other unpleasant feelings (like Sadness or Frustration), you can be the calm but firm teacher who puts your hand on their arm. We can honor Worry’s contribution and guide it to be a more helpful contributor to the classroom in your head.

The key to becoming this teacher is also the key to becoming the parent that you are meant to be: choice.

You can choose to dive into the mud and wrestle alligators to someone else’s soundtrack. You can also choose to train horses to perform to your music by standing tall and clean and focused in the middle of the dirt ring.

The horse trainer moves very little and makes the training ring feel safe for the horse. The alligator wrestler risks life and limb, alternately giving away power to the untamed gator and fighting to get it back.

Which type of parent do you choose to be? The quickest way to choose to be someone different with your kids is to choose how you want to relate to Worry and other unpleasant feelings in your own head. Remember: a child is only as free to explore as their least worried parent.

photo credit: Jonathan Sebastiao/Unsplash