As a freshman in high school, wanting to be considered cool by my Senior brother and his friends, I listened repeatedly to a popular “song” they liked called, “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen“. More reading, than song really and although catchy when set to music – was actually the brain child of a 1997 theoretical commencement speech by Mary Schmich that was published in the Chicago Tribune.
At that point in my life, I thought these words spoke to me. I felt like my 18 years of cumulative life experience made this song relatable. Oh, to be 18 again. I’m sure at 50 I will look back at the “life experience” I think I have gained at 31 and laugh, but the bottom line is that most of the advice “dispensed” in this song still rings true at all ages.
However, one of the lines from this song that has stayed with me though a decade has passed since the last time I heard it and for all the wrong reasons, is this:
“Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blind side you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday.”
I think this line was meant to emphasize that worrying won’t get you anywhere and isn’t worth your time. But for me, a natural worrier (I am told it is hereditary), this line didn’t give me hope, or faith or make me feel like I should worry less. In fact, it made me suspicious and cautious of every phone call or text I have ever received around 4:00 pm on any given Tuesday, fearful it would bring bad news.
I am a worrier.
I was a worrier in my youth and early 20’s, but I failed to recognize how devastatingly intense this habit would become as an adult when I suddenly became responsible for the lives of three little people.
When we had our first baby, we had months to sluice out the places in our old home that were a safety threat (really, what was the rush? At first the lump, I mean baby, didn’t really move or go anywhere anyway), so except for making a safe place to sleep (don’t get me started on crib bumpers and breathable mattresses), we took our time adjusting as he grew and started getting into things. It took years to fully “baby proof” the house. Then we moved into a new house and I realized that actually, dangers do lurk in every corner. This house was built in the 1970’s and clearly, the rules have changed.
When we first toured this house, even before we made an offer, my daughter walked out on the second floor balcony, went straight through the railing slats and onto the roof! Oops, my bad! I didn’t realize those weren’t to code…
Since moving into the new house, we have spent every weekend installing railing, fencing, cabinet locks and electrical outlet plugs. I have plans to install new garage door openers so the kids don’t get squished by the door because the old mechanism doesn’t know to pop back open when the motion beam is broken. Having to do all of these projects at once is time intensive and expensive, and the list of risks goes on.
A Full Contact Sport
In this age of parenting, we have to have a zero tolerance policy for leaving our children unattended in a vehicle, even to pay for gas or buy a Little Caesars pizza because the kids could be abducted in a car jacking or die of heat stroke. These concerns for parents are real, and the struggle is real. I have even, on more than one occasion broken my toes by accidentally kicking the wall while trying to jump over one of my many baby gates. Protecting your children from death and dismemberment is a full contact sport.
Yes, I break my toes on baby gates.
I am not the only person who worries about these kinds of things. Another one of our contributors, Sarah, recently shared here experiences with worry and fear on our blog, here.
Realizing the stark contrast to how I was raised (man, I miss the wild 80’s- forget helmets, seat belts and supervision), I would throw caution to the wind and say forget it when confronted with logic, like how installing toilet bowl locks is impractical because my potty training 2 year old would be permanently derailed from her efforts. But not doing it causes me to worry incessantly if the baby is out of sight because I’ve been told a big headed baby like mine “can drown in 2 inches of water.”
Let’s Be Warriors
But I get it, just writing about this makes me feel like a crazy person. I know that I survived my childhood. But I also personally knew others who did not. I know that all of these product labels and warnings are derived from the loss of the most prized possession of some of the most unfortunate parents. But finding the balance of staying sane versus trying to protect your child from every possible threat can lead you down a dangerous and self destructive path. Of course, it is sensible to hang CO2 detectors and properly buckle your kid in their car seats. But we “worrier parents” are contributing to the formation of a generation of kids who won’t be able to take any risks. The truth is, it is far more likely that, “the real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blind side you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday” than the things we spend countless hours worrying about and trying to avoid.
Be sensible and astute, but don’t be a worrier. Instead, let’s pull ourselves together and be warriors for our kids. Be the kind of warrior that embraces life’s risks and rewards. Be aware of the danger, but not afraid of it. Instead of freaking out when you wake up to find your children have sneaked into your room and are playing with the strings of the old blinds you haven’t yet replaced, take a breath and take that moment to teach your children about the risks of cords and strings without transferring your fear to them. Build their awareness and ability to manage those risks. Because the best way to really protect your children, is to teach them to protect themselves.