Virginia Barton

The anxiety of worrying about your daughters

Catholic Herald, 3 June 1988


A certain amount of worry in daily life is inevitable. Considering the lilies of the field and recalling the gentle reprimand given poor old Martha, toiling over a hot stove, may arrest us momentarily.

I have heard the word “debilitating” inserted before the “anxiety” in the prayer that follows Our Father at Mass. Thus: “. . . keep us free from sin and protect us from all debilitating anxiety. . .”

The point being that some anxiety is fruitful, even useful. The creative process is generally accompanied by a racing pulse and taut nerves. Debilitating anxiety addles the brain, saps the strength and vividly embroiders the imagination.

How many parents lie awake each night wondering when their daughters will come home? Sons, unless on wheels, can look after themselves. Doing a bit of midnight carpet-treading myself recently, I recalled my own mother pacing the floor in furious anxiety.

I also remembered (with regret) my cheeky response to her agonized, “Where on earth have you been all this time?”

My eldest daughter usually lives thousands of miles away, and worrying about her is pointless. In London for a short holiday, 1 now worry about her incessantly. Which is daft, considering she is nudging 30, capable and efficient.

My youngest daughter, away at college, barely merits a thought, but the minute she comes through the door I fuss over her laundry, her diet and with whom she’s been going out.

This is all very debilitating. It provokes nagging, defiant words and other nasties induced by lack of sleep and jangled nerves. Such worrying destroys mutual trust, and much of it is self-centred. How will I react and what will be the effect on me if my daughter is mugged, dirty, or undernourished?

By removing the selfish element, anxiety can be reduced to more manageable proportions. We cannot expect to protect our children against all eventuality. The provision of a few basic weapons is a more realistic goal. Neither should one anticipate the next generation falling into the same idiotic traps as oneself, but credit them with a little more savvy.

Of course there are times when real anxiety is justified, in a case of serious illness for example. Or it might be when a loved child ceases to practise his/her religion. It’s hard on parents when a youngster flings aside, as apparently worthless, beliefs and values precious and carefully nurtured.

Hurt and puzzled, full of self-reproach, the parent asks: Where did I go wrong? Why is, what is so obvious to me, so irrelevant to him/her? Did I not set an irresistible example? When stripped of egotism, these reactions may expose more self interest (and what will everyone else think) than real concern for the lost soul.

There are other agents whose influence for good in a young person’s life may surpass even the best of parents. I may not be influential in bringing him/her back to the faith, someone else may. Someone else may, perhaps, prevent the bicycle accident, or thwart the mugger.

I must admit my limitations. Guardian Angels are there to be roped in, and the bottom line is, trust in God. After all, even our feathered friends are numbered. And practise what you preach, Virginia.




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