I write a lot about obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety. So it’s not surprising that I recently found myself thinking about my own relationship with anxiety and worry over the years, particularly as a mother. I worried a lot about my children as newborns, infants, toddlers, preschoolers — you get the picture. Constant worry. And why did I worry? Well, because I love them so much, of course.
Many children (myself included) grow up hearing things from their parents such as, “I only worry because I love you,” or “If I didn’t love you so much, I wouldn’t worry.” Occasionally, references might be made to other parents who seemed to be more relaxed in their parenting, even allowing their children to do “dangerous” things, and the implication was that these parents didn’t love their children as much as the worriers loved theirs. Conclusion? The more we worry, the greater our love.
Is this really true? Let’s take an example. Say your 12-year-old daughter wants to go to summer camp for a few weeks. It makes you nervous but you realize it could be a great experience for her. You research camps thoroughly and come up with one that has a stellar reputation and seems to be a perfect fit for your child. You even talk to a few parents whose children have gone there and loved it.
So off your daughter goes. You worry the whole time she is away. Is she homesick? Is she being properly supervised? Is she eating? Is she making friends? Are her allergies kicking up? You worry so much you can’t do too much of anything else while she is gone.
Mom (or Dad — dads can be worriers, too) No. 2 also does her research and sends her daughter to the same camp. She then spends the next three weeks catching up with old friends, enjoying some alone time with her husband, and doing other things she enjoys. She imagines her daughter having the time of her life.
Does the first mom love her child more? Isn’t that a ridiculous question? The answer is obvious: Of course not! Sure, there are parents out there who don’t worry about their children and are also neglectful and hurtful, even abusive; most of us would consider them to be bad parents. I’m not referring to them. I’m talking about good parents who worry a lot and good parents who worry “not so much.”
Back to our example. I do have to give mother No. 1, the worrier, credit as she let her daughter go off to camp even though she was anxious about it herself. She did not deprive her child of this potentially amazing experience. Some parents worry so much, and get so caught up in “what-ifs,” that they don’t allow their children to have experiences that most people would consider safe.
For those of us who worry a lot, how do we know if our worries are well-founded or far-fetched? I know this can be an issue with OCD as well. Those with the disorder can’t always trust their instincts in regard to danger because their brains just might be telling them everything is dangerous. I’ve written before about some good strategies to use to help sort through these thoughts and feelings.
You might be reading this and thinking, “Well, I’m a worrier, not much I can do about it.” We now know that is just not true. We can change the way we think. If I can do it (okay, I’m a work in progress), you can do it too.
I think one aspect of loving our children includes doing whatever we can to ensure they grow up in a healthy environment, cultivate a strong curiosity about the world, and develop the desire and confidence to get out there and live. Excessive worry has no place or purpose in this plan. So in my opinion, worry does not equal love. Worry just equals worry.