Fear not, Mama Bear

by Kristin on October 17, 2011

in Love, family & community

Photo by lindz graham

I had waited as long as any mother reasonably could.

After all, I pride myself in not being an overly-worried parent, plus I’m logical—I know that in most cases my worrying doesn’t change or prevent anything.

But my daughters, ages 13 and 11, had been out of the country from 48 hours, and I deserved an update. I needed to know they had arrived safely, they had fully recovered from the flu that hit them a few days before their trip, and that they were happy. This wasn’t too much to ask! Back when this trip was first proposed, what I really wanted was to demand that my ex-husband provide a live video feed of their every step in Paris, or maybe purchase me a ticket so I could tag along, like a nanny. But I hadn’t asked for any of that. I just wanted an update every so often.

A rather terse email to my ex-husband did the trick: Hi, it would have been nice to hear you got there safely yesterday. Can you please send an update? Thanks. Within a half hour I received a text from him: Sorry about no update. Here safely, girls much better, everything great. Will email tonight.

I took a deep breath, finally setting aside worry so I could focus on my day and the tasks at hand.

The parental weight of worry

Worry can be a parent’s ball and chain—a heavy weight that determined mind-over-matter skills can only begin to chip away at. When I was a teenager, my poor mother (who is not by nature a night owl) couldn’t sleep until I got home. No wonder my curfew always seemed early, compared to some of my friends, and no wonder she was so black and white about the curfew itself; 11 o’clock meant 11 o’clock, not 10 after or even three minutes after. She let the strict deadline shoulder some of the weight of her worry.

Of course, those were the days before cell phones, which offer easy access to kids and give kids a quick way to send updates about changes in plans. Those updates give me a lot of comfort. After a recent string of child abduction attempts in our community (I know—scary), I instructed my 11-year-old to text me after school to confirm she had someone to walk home with, and then to text me again when she and her friend part ways, a few blocks from our house.

But cell phones can also create more worry than reassurance. Kids will inevitably turn off their phone, forget to take it with them, or let the battery run out, and then the imaginations of parents who can’t reach them will drift to worst-case scenarios.

There simply isn’t a sure antidote to worry. In fact, sometimes the more you try to protect yourself from it, the more susceptible you are. I want my kids to be cautious and smart, but I don’t want them to live in fear, or to forgo great opportunities like a trip to Paris. And while it’s my job to protect them as best I can from obviously dangerous situations, it’s not my job to prevent fluke incidents, or to spend time worrying about fluke incidents.

The art of letting go

Even though I’m clearly not worry-free about my daughters’ overseas adventure, I am at a bit of an advantage. Through eight years of co-parenting, I’ve learned a thing or two about letting go. I’ve learned to accept I can’t always be the adult in charge of my kids. I can’t make all of the rules, oversee all of the decisions, or micro-manage their every step. I have to place a great portion of trust in their other parents, and another great portion of trust in God.

After all, do we ever have complete control over anything, no matter how hard we try? The only thing we’re fully capable of is straining relationships and preventing opportunities, not orchestrating every step or preventing every hurt. And as my kids get older, this “letting go” that I’m getting so much practice at will become increasingly important. Right now, I miss them like crazy, and knowing how far away they are only intensifies the missing. But I know this is a great experience for all of us. Maybe while I’m at it I should practice letting go in some other areas of my life, too. When it’s all said and done, letting go of fear frees up my hands to grasp the possibility of so much more.

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  • Julia Rademacher

    Your last statement is so profound for me. As a clergy person, this is what I confront the most in my ministry. Fear of letting go, fear of moving forward, fear of being in the ‘now’ of each day. Fear is a part of being human, and I have come to realize that it is okay to be afraid. However, when that fear usurps the ability to truly live as God has called me and all of us to be, it’s time to stop and think about why it is controlling us. Sometimes just being able to name the fear out-loud is huge. It allows us to take some control of it–knowing that we may not be able to change it right away– but it is not something that can consume us anymore.

  • http://frizzytalksinhersleep.blogspot.com Roxanne

    My son travelled to Switzerland every summer to visit his grandmother from the age of 13 onward. The first summer he travelled, I felt sort of amputated. The travelling sure was good ‘practice’ for letting go.

  • http://www.ordinarymer.com Meredith

    I love how well you articulated your worry and need to let go, partly because it reminds me of conversations I’ve had with my own mother and partly because I used to go through the same thing, only in reverse. Growing up, whenever I was with my father and stepmother, I used to worry intensely about my single mother being alone and being lonely without her kids around.

    I guess sometimes the worry can go both ways, though no doubt parents (and mothers) worry more!

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    This post really hits home for me. While watching my wife’s cousin casually hold on to his son by the edge of a dock, I kept getting these panic attacks. What if he didn’t keep his son from falling into the lake? It was after that incident that I received some of the most powerful prayer for anxiety I’ve ever received. Facing our fears can be worrying, but some of my lowest moments have been the times when God brought healing into my life.

  • http://jenniferluitwieler.com Jennifer

    Girl, mamas get this. B got whacked in the jaw playing soccer this weekend. It was all I could do not to run on the field like a maniac, waving my arms and screaming in a full on mother melt down. (She’s fine). But there was a terrible moment of panic. Kids can get hurt or lost or worse anywhere (I usually feel like the worst hurts they’ve experienced were when I was right there watching in slo-mo).

    It takes so much letting go. So much fear confrontation, so much energy to let go of these babies and let them fly. And you are right; of course, we don’t lack for occasions to practice.

    May I also add, it is important for our kids to see us face the fears. I had to do some talking to get B back in goal for the next game, but she did it. The only way to deal with fear is through it.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T. (@kt_writes)

    Julia, you offer so much wisdom here, from the importance of accepting fear to the importance of not letting it control you. Fear absolutely can get in the way of our ability to live as we were created and called to live–that should serve as our red flags.

    Roxanne, “amputated” is such a good way to describe that feeling–sort of like having a “phantom limb,” I suspect! But what an important experience for your son, and you were able to grow from it, too. Many blessings are not easy…

    Meredith, that’s such an interesting table-turning to think about. There’s a fine line between developing compassion, as a child, and worrying about people and situations that are beyond your control. As a parent, the fine line is between letting your kids know how much they are loved and missed, without making them feel guilty about being away and having great experiences without you.

    ed, what a powerful moment you’ve described, from the anxiety to the healing! I love the way God speaks to us in our lowest moments, and lets us see the better life he has for us, apart from fear.

    Jennifer, I love how you put this: “It takes… So much fear confrontation, so much energy to let go of these babies and let them fly.” It’s good to know other mamas get that. And what a great point about our kids being able to see we have fears and see us face them. I need to be more transparent about that.