As someone who’s struggled with parental anxiety and worry my entire life, I’ve found these fears exacerbated since becoming a parent. Now, I notice the dangers at every turn. From the playground to the children’s museum to our own backyard, it’s easy to think there is no actual “safe” place anymore. It doesn’t help that I married an Eagle Scout, who’s trained his entire life to be prepared and to recognize the inherent risks in every situation. If we sit and think about it long enough, the unknown that lurks just outside of our doors is almost enough to make us lock them tightly and hole up inside, baking cookies and watching cartoons until dusk falls in an effort to keep everything good inside and everything that’s not on the outside.
On some days, we do just that. When the children have no school and there aren’t any playdates to attend, we’ve been known to stay in our pajamas until papa comes home. They ride their big, plastic tricycles down the long hallway and we make supper like it’s the most important thing in the world. We blast folk music and hold impromptu dance parties and create an entire little universe in our living room. It’s a place where danger doesn’t exist, the nearby kitchen always smells like chocolate, and mama is always around to lie on the rug and make a fort out of the sofa pillows.
Yet, I’m not naive enough to believe that’s how it can always be. I understand that we must venture out and explore, and that daily discoveries are good for them. So I resist the urge to shelter and hover, and we find new adventures to go on, just us three. At the back of my mind, however, I’m constantly scanning. I hold them tightly at the grocery store, and never let my eyes wander off them at the playground. I put my daughter’s lanyard on her three times a week before she heads out to preschool, a newly implemented school policy that I appreciate, even though I wish it weren’t necessary. At night, I lie awake when the house is still and dark and everyone is asleep and I look out at our back field, my mind racing with a million tiny possibilities that could befall us. I tell myself it’s normal to worry and stress to some degree, but as I finally fall asleep I realize it’s time to change my outlook just a little.
Yes, we could stay awake the entire night listing potential dangers that give a foundation to our previously unfounded worries, but at what cost? Though I’ll always double check behind myself and I’ll always keep a close eye on my miracles, I’ve started to relinquish that apprehension just a little, and here’s why. I finally began to understand that they’re looking to me as an example. I should have noticed it much earlier, like when my daughter asks to sprinkle paprika on the fish just like me, or when my son dances with his arms in the air, mimicking my signature move. Yet, it took until recently for me to truly see how much of an influence my actions have on them.
If I let myself forego fun and adventure and discovery in the name of cocooning them forever, they’ll never allow themselves the same luxuries when they’re grown. At my core, I want more than anything to raise adults who are capable, confident, and ready to take on any challenge that comes their way. I can’t do that if I don’t let them see this big and beautiful world every day. Yes, it’s a little nerve-wracking and probably always will be, but it’s a step I have to take each morning if I want to nurture a spirit of creativity and delight within them. If I want them to soar, I can’t clip their wings, and I most certainly can’t keep them on the ground.
So we’re doing it together, and offering each other a ton of grace along the way. I’ll never stop worrying about my family and seeking their goodwill, but I’ve learned that letting fear drive me isn’t serving anyone. Instead, I’ll let love take it from here. As I hand over the reigns, I’ll look back at my babies, their big blue eyes staring back at me with full trust. I’ll gather them in my arms, pull them in, and cover them with kisses. And we’ll travel down this road together, one big, bold baby step at a time.