Telling a parent not to worry is a lot like telling somebody not to hold his breath underwater. You could be the most easygoing person in the world up until the precise moment you become a parent. Suddenly a giant sinkhole of awful possibilities appears out of nowhere. One day you need only concern yourself with the roof over your head and the food in your belly. The next, you are charged with meeting the physical and emotional needs of a defenseless HUMAN BEING. And you can't afford to screw it up. Yeah, no pressure...
When you learn your child has a disability, that sinkhole grows deeper, wider. We get the usual parent worries and then some. Worry may serve an evolutionary purpose insofar as it gets us to look after the welfare of said little human. But that's about the extent of it. For the most part, worry is a soul-destroying, utterly futile preoccupation. And what we worry about is as different as our kids. My own parenting worries, for instance, tend to be fairly immediate in nature. Will my son make any friends this year? Will his new teacher like him and be able to manage with him in the classroom?
My hubby, on the other hand, frets over the bigger picture: Will he land a job that allows him to support himself? Will he live independently, and who will look after him when we're gone? That's not to say I don't think about the big picture, too. I do. Not a single day goes by that I'm not praying my little boy won't wind up all alone and lonely in the world. Did I mention he's only six?
I try to stop myself from going down that hole, because I may not be able to claw my way back out. Not only is worry unhealthy, it's speculative and largely beyond my control or anyone else's for that matter. None of us has a crystal ball. And despite her avowals, not even the Tarot Lady can predict what will happen to any of us tomorrow, next year, or 10 years from now. So if something is hard right now - if my son is having outbursts that involve a lot of arguing and scratching, let's say - I have to believe This Too Shall Pass. I have to believe things will get easier. If we don't get wiser as parents, we at least learn to cope better.
- Truthfully, I don't always handle what each day throws at me with grace or anything close to wisdom. But I'm trying not to fret quite so much. Here are some ways to stop the worry train in its tracks:
- As a rough guideline, any sentence starting with "What If" should come lined with yellow tape. No good can come from any sentence that begins that way unless it ends with "I win the 649."
- If I am worrying at bedtime, I get up and feel around for a notebook or scrap of paper. Somehow just writing it down helps diffuse the power of whatever nagging thoughts are keeping me up. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, I'll see how ridiculous and illogical the words look when they're staring back at me.
- Ask yourself, Is this something that can be fixed or dealt with in the next hour? If the answer is yes, jot a concrete action plan on your To Do list or better yet, do it then and there. If the answer is no, do as Elsa says and let it go.
Distraction doesn't only work on toddlers. When I feel the worries piling in, I get stuck into a vigorous activity like running or heavy gardening. Doesn't matter what as long as it's so physically demanding, there's no room to concentrate on anything other than what my body is doing in that moment.
An earlier version of this post previously appeared at YummyMummyClub.ca.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: