Mothering and worrying tend to go hand-in-hand. It’s natural for a parent to be concerned about the growth and development of their child and to feel responsibility for warding off any potential threats. Let’s face it, caring for a child on a physical, mental and emotional level takes a lot of thought.
But how much is too much?
First, we need to acknowledge that worry has a place. It is a solid sign that you are emotionally attached to your child. That you want to love and protect them, and that you are a caring human being. From a child’s perspective, this is a definite positive.
But when worrying becomes excessive, it can actually hinder your ability to handle everyday situations, solve problems and enjoy mothering. And that’s a negative.
When you worry often and the worst does not happen then your worry can be constantly reinforced. You can start to believe that it was your worry that prevented the bad thing occurring. It becomes superstitious worry. So how can you best cope with the hamster-wheel of thoughts turning inside your head?
The challenge lies in recognising the degree of worry that will let you care for your child without impacting negatively on your own mental health and that of others.
To start with, it may be helpful to stop and ask yourself:
1. Is this the worst possible outcome I’m imagining? Sometimes just noticing when your thoughts slip from realistic concerns into unlikely scenarios can be enough to gain some perspective.
2. If the worst did happen, would worrying about it now help me? It is useful to acknowledge that worrying in itself will not solve a potential problem, especially when you don’t have all the facts.
3. Am I looking too far ahead? You may have a vision of the future you want for your child … but there are so many factors you cannot know years in advance. When your child is young, it’s hard to imagine that they will ever be less dependent, less vulnerable and more resilient.
4. Is there one thought persisting? If so, it may help to examine it in more detail. You may be spending 100% of the time focusing on a scenario that has a 2% chance of happening.
5. Am I worrying about worrying? Remember that worrying is natural. Try and observe these thoughts as they come and go, while not judging yourself.
6. Am I a worry perfectionist? Some of us are compelled to complete a whole worry cycle, with every worst case scenario imaginable. For worry perfectionists becoming distressed, anxious or depressed is the only way to judge whether or not the worry is complete. Experiment with interrupting your worry and stop when you feel it's enough.
7. Can I distract my mind with other things? It may be useful to involve yourself in another activity that taxes your brain temporarily and helps worrying thoughts pass.
8. Could I change something to lessen my worry? Of course, sometimes worry can actually alert you to an issue that you can do something about. Ask yourself is there something to be done here? And if so, what, how and when? It is essential to distinguish between problem solving and ruminating. Problem solving means there is a plan you can devise to make a difference, whereas ruminating is your mind turning over in a torturous way but nothing changes (even though your brain may think it’s problem solving).
Some worry is part of the normal mothering journey. It’s a consequence of loving your child. Babies and kids benefit from you holding them in mind. However, if worry is overtaking your life, panic and anxiety are setting in, and your enjoyment is being restricted, time with a psychologist could be beneficial to explore your worries in more detail and work on strategies to reduce them.
Wendy Roncolato and Prue Foster