Are you a worrywart parent?
When I recently mentioned something I read on a parenting site, my father-in-law got impatient. He said I was “overthinking” and “being a worrywart.” Parenting doesn’t just “come naturally” to me. I find it helpful to get ideas and advice from books and websites, and it’s great to know that I’m not alone. But it feels lonely when people look at me funny in the supermarket if I take the time to explain something to my toddler. How can I counter this kind of criticism?
You’re putting your finger on a sore spot for many parents. The idea that people should know “instinctively” what to do as parents makes most of us feel inadequate, since we all worry, especially when we face parenting for the first time. Just the other day, a very capable, confident TV producer contemplating her new pregnancy said to me, “Motherhood is just plain terrifying.”
We don’t expect anyone to jump into a car and know instinctively how to drive. They have to learn the component skills (and some will come more easily than others); practice how to integrate and apply them; gain practical experience before they can feel they are truly good drivers. The fact that most of us have deeper and more intense feelings about parenting than about learning to drive only complicates the picture. Those strong feelings don’t necessarily make it easier. But they can be harnessed to fuel the effort to master the skills of parenting.
One way you can assess your own level of involvement and attention to your parenting job is to measure your pleasure — are you having fun? Do you generally feel satisfied, no matter how tired you are at the end of the day? The good fatigue that comes from working hard and feeling it’s a job well done — whether it’s the tired muscles from painting the family room, the finished report at work, the apple crumble for supper — that’s what we are all aiming for.
Your toddler’s face when she understands your explanation and moderates her behavior is an important piece of positive feedback and reinforcement that you are doing something right. And you deserve to feel pride and satisfaction in achieving that step in building her emotional muscles of regulating her feelings with the knowledge you give her.
If, on the other hand, you are feeling constantly stressed and uncertain, then it’s worth examining your goals — are you pitching your standards for yourself too high? Are your expectations of your child beyond her capacity? Then your father-in-law may be accurately picking up that you are worrying unnecessarily.
Parenting, like everything else, is a work in progress. Over time, we are likely to get better at it if we think and work, exercising our emotional muscles and moving forward past hard times. When they are grown up, we can hope that our children will be able to see that we have done the best we could at the time, made the best decisions we could with the information available, and, most of all, worked from a place of love and caring.
You are not alone in your efforts to be the best parent you can be and you deserve support and respect for that effort. Enjoy and keep it up!
Kerry Kelly Novick is a local child, adolescent and adult psychoanalyst, and author, with Jack Novick, of "Emotional Muscle: Strong Parents, Strong Children," available at amazon.com or through