If someone were to ask me what emotion, apart from love, has been a constant since you had children, I would be able to answer very quickly – worry. Of course, all the other emotions have been there to varying degrees at different times – joy, frustration, irritation, happiness – but one thing is always gnawing away – worry. I’ll freely admit that I am one of life’s worriers – I can worry about things which wouldn’t even occur to most rational people as things you could even worry about. I am, as they say, a master at sweating the small stuff. That said, I am actually quite good in a crisis. So by all means ask me about the big stuff but don’t ask me about the day-to-day stuff. I am your classic over-thinker and this of course goes hand-in-hand with worry. Although at least I can rationalise that if I am worrying over something so trivial, I really don’t have very much to worry about – if that makes sense.
Why am I wittering on about worry, you may well ask? Well, I was thinking about the differences between child-rearing in the 60s/70s and now and as much as technology, media and scientific advances have opened up a whole new exciting world, they have also contributed to a general heightened sense of anxiety in society especially for parents. For example, thanks to the internet, I can carry out almost every single daily activity – shopping, banking, bill-paying etc – without moving my backside from its best friend, the desk chair. However, the flip side of this is the information that is available to us at the click of a mouse. Say my child has a perfectly harmless rash, a hint of a sniffle and is a bit off his food – back in the day, our mothers would have assumed it was some non-specific virus, kept us off school for a day or two, fed us chicken soup and that staple, Calpol, and that would have been that – no worries. Nowadays, we google the symptoms (even though we know this is not a sensible course of action) and before we know it our child is suffering from some extremely rare flesh-eating virus that you can only pick up (except of course in our child’s case) from the depths of the South American jungle. Cue – worry. Our mothers only had Dr Benjamin Spock for advice, we have every Tom, Dick and Harry claiming to be medical experts, diagnosing us and our children with things our parents never knew existed.
Every day the media is bombarding us with stories about this and that potential danger. We trust no-one. We take no risks. We are obsessed with “health and safety”. Of course, awful things happen but awful things happened back in the day too. It’s just that we are so well-informed now, over-informed some might say, and I’m not convinced this is a good or helpful thing. To my mind, it is being so well-informed that has led to low level anxiety permeating society and nowhere is this more apparent than parenting.
Do you think our mothers worried endlessly about giving us fish fingers, spaghetti hoops and Angel Delight and what the long-term impact would be on our health. No, they didn’t because they were none the wiser. I’m not saying a diet that solely consists of the above is ideal nor am I saying before you all get concerned that this is what I feed my children (not every day, at least) but now everything we do or say is so wrapped up in worry and guilt about the long-term impact that it is easy to lose sight of what is really important – just trying to be a good parent who amongst all this media bombardment is still able to relax and enjoy being a parent.
Parents worry endlessly about whether their child is “normal”. What is “normal”? I don’t really know except I suspect that I am far from it – something which has been confirmed to me on many occasions by various members of the medical establishment. Our schools are constantly measuring and comparing our children to such an extent that it is easy to forget to embrace each child’s individuality and to accept that you really can’t be good at everything all of the time. Take me and sewing for example – useless is the only word to describe it and back in the day, I’m fairly sure that that is exactly how my teacher described it (this, of course, would never happen in today’s hypersensitive, politically correct environment) – so, I am needle-challenged or whatever. Does this bother me? Did this bother my mother? Did she worry that perhaps this was a reflection of underdeveloped fine motor skills? No, of course not, she was probably just annoyed that I got thrown out of the lessons for good after breaking the sewing machine three times in one lesson, before I had completed my very 80s Laura Ashley gathered skirt (the material for which she had bought). Take ballet for example, one of my younger sisters was a very talented dancer, I have two left feet. Did my mother add my sewing ineptitude to my ballet ineptitude and decide I had real problems? No, of course, not – that’s just me. Nowadays, you could probably google those two things and come up with some condition – cue, worry. Before anyone accuses me of trivialising real issues, I am not doing this at all. Of course there are many children with very genuine issues and concerns for their parents. I am talking about non-issues, non-worries that we are so susceptible to now in our hyper-vigilant environment. All too often these non-worries are just muddying the waters of clear, rational thought and making it more and more difficult to ascertain what is a real issue and what is over-thinking, over-informing, over-speculating.
Of course our parents worried about lots of things – worry is part of the human condition – but I do think that there is a low level anxiety in society now that wasn’t there before and I worry (there I go again!) that this can only increase as we become more and more media and technology savvy. What’s the answer? I’ve no idea and I don’t have time to worry about it unduly – too many other things to worry about. I’m just saying…