What – Me, Worry?

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    My youngest daughter, who is sixteen, would make art all day if I left her alone, but is not in love with reading. Unfortunately, like her mom, she suffers from chronic and recurring 2-page narcolepsy – accompanied by a tendency to fall asleep with a book on her face. She is also one of the most creative people I know.

    As August days peeled off and casual time to wrap up assigned summer reading disappeared, one of my first Mom-thoughts every single morning was, Will she finish that book?

    That’s what waking up is like for me. Work things, world things, my things, their things – in rapid-fire mode, the things flash across my mind-screen. It might be this daughter’s part-time job, that daughter’s allergies, or another’s transition to college. I could also worry about whether one of the new grocery chains will open a store in the East End. Or if I’m a horrible parent for never taking my kids to Disney World.

    All the things cycle through my head as soon as consciousness is achieved, and when it happens in the wee hours of the morning, there’s no going back to sleep. I’ve read that insomnia is a part of perimenopause (who knew hormones were such multi-taskers?) for women as young as forty, so I guess I should be thankful I fall asleep as easily as I do in the first place.

    But oh, how I worry about stuff I neither have, nor want (that’s what I tell myself) any control over. And it’s true what they say: Worry is a lot more exhausting than work!

    For the record, when the morning to-do list goes off like an alarm, most days, the best strategy is to get up and get to work. That’s easy, if the things you worry about are your things. For example, at the beginning of June, I worried about my medium-sized daughter’s upcoming graduation. She had a fantastic four years of high school – great teachers, nice classmates, solid grades – and now it was time to celebrate with friends and out-of-town guests from both sides of the family. At a party. At our house.

    This would require a guest list, a clean home, a well-groomed backyard, a caterer and/or homemade food, rented chairs, and being social and upbeat while all of this was happening. At a party. At our house. Have you figured out that I don’t host many get-togethers?

    It was a lot, but I was on top of it. If I woke up worrying about my dirty house, I cleaned another room. If I woke up worrying about chairs, I checked the rental confirmation email to make sure I knew when and where to pick them up. But what I worried about the most was the actual party. Would people show up? Would guests have fun? Would my daughter even enjoy the dang party? These were the things over which I had no control.

    Which forces me to acknowledge the control-freak energy pulsing through my parenting veins. When the kids are younger, the worries seem quaint: birthday parties and dances, science fairs and art contests, sports practices and school teams. But today, according to some estimates, anxiety disorders affect 25 percent of teens. Which in our family means not only do I worry, but there’s a good chance my daughters do, too. At home, we try to talk about the root causes of the worry as much as possible and bring all the daily challenges out of hiding. And many times, yes, work can chase off the worry. But when there’s no more work to do, you just try to be present and appreciate every moment for what it is – whether it’s filled with laughter, angst, joy, or tears.

    And with my youngest woman-child who is still at home – and who in many ways is the most like me – I will do my best to focus on work versus worry, and to help create concrete action plans and strategies to reduce anxiety. Although I’m not at liberty to discuss how this year’s reading went, I did recently find out she also had summer assignments for other classes. So, while I was worrying about the reading, she was working on amazing creations in her sketchbook to prepare for her AP studio art class.

    On a final note, there’s another saying that tends to be true – in parenting and in life – and especially when you’re looking backward. It all comes out in the wash. But when it doesn’t, believe me, it won’t do you any good to worry about it.

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    Karen Schwartzkopf
    Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family: husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director, and their daughters—Sam, Robin, and Lindsey. You can read Karen’s take on parenting in the Editor’s Voice.