I fear a lot of things. Unwashed hands, bad drivers, identity theft, infestations, environmental toxins, and cheap hotel rooms, just to name a few. So it may come as a shock to learn that I recently allowed my eight-year-old daughter to travel to California with her grandmother for two weeks, without me. It certainly came as a shock to me when I agreed.
There are definitely a few extra things to fear, when sending one’s little girl across the continent. It was such a long journey, and such a long time away from home. Knowing that she would be well taken care of didn’t diminish my worries, but instead gave me a new one: that she would like it so much that she wouldn’t want to come home.
For a mother like me, who deals with anxiety differently than most, it was a minefield of potential catastrophes. More than once before she left, I questioned our decision to allow it, and each time my husband said, “You can still change your mind.”
But I didn’t. I can’t count the number of times someone asked me if I was really OK with sending her so far away. The short answer was that I was not, but that I knew I had to be. I wanted my daughter to see that anxiety could be overcome.
Studies have shown that children who have a parent with anxiety issues are far more likely to develop those issues themselves, and that well-intentioned parents can do more harm than good when they allow their worries to rule the day. Really, though, do any of us need psychological studies to tell us that? Children imitate their parents as well as inheriting their traits, and it stands to reason that kids in an excessively anxious household will grow up with more fears than others.
From the involuntary shudder we give when dispensing with a wandering spider to comments about personal worries like money or health, our little ones are always ready to soak it all in, whether we want them to or not. My aunt tells the story of her son, at a time when money was tight, saying he didn’t want a birthday cake because it cost too much. A friend of mine with a germ phobia tells me that her daughter could say “antibacterial wipe” before most other words.
Some concerns must, of necessity, be passed on to our children. We must teach them to be wary of some things and situations for their own safety. However, once we start letting our own personal issues and fears rule the day, we risk passing on traits that would be better off discarded.
That’s why I wanted to let my daughter go to California. I don’t want my own fears and anxieties to stop her from doing something she wants to do. All she felt about the trip was excitement and anticipation, and since I knew she would be safe with her paternal family, I wanted to be sure my anxieties remained my own. Both of my kids may already have the genetic predisposition to feel the type of anxiety that I do, but I can try not to feed it. I can’t do anything about the fact they both have my nose (sorry about that, by the way), but I can attempt to teach them more positive ways of thinking, and better ways of dealing with worries when they arise.
I never want either of my children to look back on their childhoods and think, “I really wanted to ride that rollercoaster/go to sleepaway camp/ light that sparkler but Mom was too nervous to let me.” I want them to know that there are some good things to fear, but many more things to fearlessly embrace.
So my daughter went to California, and she had a fantastic time. I’m so glad, and proud of her, and of myself for not standing in her way.
Now, if I could just get her back on her Atlantic Time sleeping schedule, we’ll be all set.
-Susan Whistler is a local writer and co-creator of the children's book, "The Great Crow Party." She enjoys her family, walks by the ocean, and perfectly placed apostrophes. She can be found online at www.susanwhistler.com.