On Anxiety, Parenthood and Compassion

Careful! Careful!

Careful! Careful!

I always thought that, given my proclivity for worry, motherhood would be incredibly stressful for me. But the truth is, for the first six years of his life I have worried about my son no more and no less than I worry about other things (that is to say, probably more than the average person, but not so much that I trigger full blown panic).

Logically I recognize that just like I can’t – and shouldn’t – protect myself from uncomfortable or unpleasant situations, I especially shouldn’t go out of my way to shield my son from them either. Unless he is in danger of seriously hurting himself, I usually let him do the thing that will cause him to fall, or nick his finger, or whatever it is.

He went to a Montessori school for the first three years of his schooling and their philosophy is very similar to mine. They give the kids breakable cups and dishes. They teach them to sew and regularly expose them to needles. They ask the parents to do the same at home, and to try to not stress about things breaking or being ruined because: a) you should trust your kid, and b) if your kid doesn’t have to practice being careful, he or she doesn’t develop that skill.

While it’s relatively easy for me to put this into practice when it comes to (again, within reason) physical harm, it is MUCH more difficult to try NOT to protect him from emotional pain.

As a child, I was always a little odd. My family is from Nicaragua, but when I was ten years old we moved to the US for a couple of years where I completed fifth and sixth grades. Not only did I already have a quirky personality, it didn’t help my social life that I had an accent and didn’t quite “get” many of the American cultural norms many of the other kids took for granted.

Their nickname for me during those two years was BO, for “Body Odor”. I guess my personal hygiene wasn’t great – who knows. I also talked and sang to myself, and didn’t want to look like everybody else, so I dressed kind of funny too. So of course, no one wanted to sit with me in the cafeteria and I can’t remember making a single friend until six months prior to our return to Nicaragua.

The experience stayed with me for a long time, and while I became “cooler” during middle and high school, I’m still sensitive to feeling excluded or ignored. I’ve become a CHAMP at laughing at myself – in fact, I think it’s a fundamental life skill everyone should learn – but I get a little misty still when I look back on those tough years.

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One cool kid.

My son has now entered the first grade at new school. He’s much more with it than I was, that’s for sure, but I can’t help but worry about his having to go through a similar experience. I know he’s trying to fit in, but every time he tells me about how he tried to talk to one of the other kids and they just ignored him I want to go find the little punk and tell him he’d be LUCKY to have a friend like my son. Not very Zen of me, I know.

In the playground, when I see my brave boy going up to another kid and putting himself out there to make a new friend I want to SWOOP IN and help him. Protect him from getting rejected. Save him from the sting of having some rude, snot-nosed brat ignore him.

It KILLS me, but I don’t. Swoop in, that is.

I let things unfold as they should, but in words he’s mature enough to understand, I tell him what I’ve learned over the years myself:

  1. Turn the Other Cheek (Sort of). When someone rejects you, hurts you or is otherwise unpleasant, it has more to do with their own state of mind, preferences and prejudices than it does with you. So never take it personal. Rather than feeling sorry for yourself, feel compassion toward them. There is something painful inside them that makes them behave the way they do. Be compassionate, but you are not a victim, so just move on.
  2. That Pesky Golden Rule. Be as kind to everyone as you would have wanted them to be to you. I didn’t learn this lesson until later in life, but during my childhood and adolescence I was secretly only open to friendship with people I considered “cool”. In grade school, I wanted to sit with the cool kids in the cafeteria, but wouldn’t let the other quirky kids sit with me. That attitude kept me from truly enjoying my first few years of college and closed me off to different ways of thinking until well into adulthood.
  3. This Too Shall Pass. The time will come when you are settled in your own skin, satisfied with your life, and perfectly fulfilled by your relationships with the people that surround you. The things that feel huge to you now will become more and more trivial with the passing of time. It’s cliche, but a reality of life.  I mean, just look at your bad-ass Mama now! 🙂
photo (6)

Before and After. Big hair, jorts and braces circa 1990.

 

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