How parents can shift out of over-worry and into more ease
For a few months, I was plagued by a recurring nightmare. I was alone in a canoe, going down a swift river about to plunge over a huge waterfall. I’d wake up shaking, my heart full of fear and every fiber of my body poised to run. More about this in a minute… First, let’s talk about worry. As parents of kids in their teens and twenties, we have visions about all sorts of things that could go wrong for them. We’re concerned about their friends, jobs, emotions, grades, relationships, mental health, driving, eating, sleeping, etc. We worry. That's part of the job. But sometimes we worry too much. So today I’d like to offer some perspective around the tendency to over-worry and practical approaches to creating more ease in parenting. ~ How do I define “too much” worrying? Basically, it's getting in the way.
It’s causing tension and sleep deprivation.
You’re stuck in the future. Your mind is creating a whole collection of stories about how this is going to play out. Your head is spinning.
Your way of worrying, prying and interfering is causing a rift in your relationship with your kid. They say you’re too easily freaked out or sticking your nose too far into their business.
You don’t feel comfortable with how you’re operating. It doesn’t feel aligned with who you are and what you believe.
It can be so frustrating, I know. You truly want them to find their own way but, right in that moment, when they leave late for work again or come home upset after hanging out with certain friends, you can’t help yourself. You circle and fret. You’ve got an 'auto-worry' system running in the background and it's always ready to take over and choose your responses for you. It compels you to prevent any adversity or catastrophe. It urges you to say something about their lack of punctuality, to protect them from these cruel friends, warn them and steer them in a different direction. And you know what happens when you act on that impulse. Your kids walk away and barely speak to you for ten days. Or they scream in your face that you don’t believe in them. Or they double up on rebellious behaviour to assert their autonomy. It ends up widening the chasm between you and your child. ~ After being catapulted out of the nightmare a dozen or more times, I began probing for ways to avoid the tragedy that awaited me below. In one night’s version, I tried grabbing a limb, but the rough bark ripped out of my bloody hands. Another night, I gripped a branch firmly, but it swung me around and I ended up going down the river backwards, which was even more terrorizing. Well, at least my questions were uncovering new possibilities. And new questions were being generated: Is there a paddle? Or a back-eddy? Q: How can you stop worrying and over-stepping and give your kids space to find their own way? A: Turn toward the concern and ask questions to open your field of vision. Here are two practices that help:
Begin the wondering within your own interior landscape:
Take a moment to become still and quiet. Let the voices in your head tune down. Bring yourself into this moment. Soften your gaze. Know that your worries, anticipations or problems can be experienced in a different light. Breathe gently.
Let your breath sequentially open your throat, chest, spine, kidneys, belly, bladder, and pelvic floor. Roll your shoulder back and lift your heart toward the light. Soften your face. Open to new information.
Ask for guidance from your ancestors, guides, divinities or the One Love. Open your palms to receive.
Keep your mind quiet for now and invite learning from your gut and your heart. Where do worry and fear live in my body? What does fear feel like in my heart?
Ask fresh, unusual questions. What colour is my worry? What does it sound like? Be willing to be surprised.
Make room for deeper questions. What does worry allow me to do? What does it shut down? What teachings are available to me here and now? Take your time and allow the answers to make themselves known to you.
When you feel complete, rub your hands together, open your eyes and return to the room.
There will be nuggets of awareness in here for you – capture them in your journal. New questions may also emerge for further inquiry. As always, go forward with curiosity and lots of self-compassion.
Apply the same kind of wondering about your child:
Again, quiet the mind and sink your awareness more deeply into your body, becoming present to your physical being in this moment.
Breathe gently until you can feel your heart opening, a readiness to try on some brand new viewpoints, feelings and directions.
Then soften and let yourself wonder, with no need for arguments or excuses. Just wondering... Why isn’t he leaving for work a little sooner? What’s keeping her from ditching those friends? What might they be imagining would happen if they did? At this point, resist any temptation to be rationalizing their behaviour, jumping to conclusions or planning your next move. Your only goal here is to widen the range of your own vision so you can see and appreciate more of what is true.
Ask interesting questions to which you cannot know the answers. What might your child be learning through this experience? What might also be true? Create space for more possibilities.
When you feel complete, take a moment to express gratitude and then gently return to the here and now.
Your wonderings are steppingstones in your shift from worrying, prying and interfering toward a new way of inquiry and learning. From the constant tension into an approach with more ease and openness. Pausing and asking questions bolsters your ability to respond to your child in ways that align with the kind of parent you are in your heart. It invites compassion for the young adult before you - their changing hormones, their developing brains, their aching hearts and their desire for acceptance and independence. And it inspires interactions with your child that build your connection. Bridges instead of chasms – that’s what all of us are longing for. So dear parent, I invite you to ask questions. And let your questions be more interesting than your worries.
~ Many, many, many sleep-deprived nights later, I steered my canoe down the river and over the crest. I fell into a deep bubbly pool and then rose to the surface. As I caught my breath and looked around, I saw people in lounge chairs enjoying a lovely afternoon on the beach. They smiled and seemed to be wondering what had taken me so long to join them. I never had the nightmare again.
Subscribe to my Sunday Letter to Parents