It’s that time of year, when moms in various states of distress, pride and panic post pictures of college drop off. I’ve gone through it three times now, and I admit that my reaction, especially at the last one, was more excitement than anxiety. (Freedom, sweet freedom!) I’ve witnessed a range of reactions to that sometimes-dreaded, always life-changing day, but the words of one of my friends really struck me. She said, “I wish I had enjoyed more worried less.”
As I’ve written before, I’m not one for needless worry, especially about kids’ physical well-being. I was blessed to have healthy boys, so I didn’t carry the cross of a chronically ill child, but we had our share (or more!) of broken bones and stitches. I never let bumps and bruises and minor childhood illnesses bother me too much. And I do agree that we moms can lose focus and worry about ultimately insignificant things. It doesn’t matter if Janie gets paint on the table if she’s being happily creative. It doesn’t matter if Billy washes his blue jeans with his white underwear if he’s learning to do his own laundry. It doesn’t matter if Lizzie’s grade suffers when she forgets her homework if she learns a lesson about responsibility. And really, a bowl of Fruit Loops now and then won’t cause permanent harm.
Yes, we moms can overthink, even obsess over, things that ultimately don’t matter. But I also think my friend was a little too hard on herself (isn’t that what we moms do?) with her comment. If she didn’t worry, if she didn’t care, if she enjoyed more and adult-ed less, she wouldn’t have the awesome kids she has. Because, while children are wondrous gifts from God, charming and precious in His sight (and in ours), they can also be selfish, unruly beasts. And it falls on us to pass on the faith, to teach them what they need to be productive and independent and to train them not to irritate everyone in their path in the process.
Disclaimer—all kids are different and I fully realize, maybe more than most, that the best intentions and the best parenting practices are NOT going to result in a perfect child. Raising kids isn’t like baking a cake, you can’t follow a recipe and be guaranteed to make something sweet.
Of course we shouldn’t let worry overshadow those wonderful little moments with our kids, but it’s natural that we care deeply about the truly important things. We give up our own moments of ease (and often our sanity) to do the hard work that shapes a kid’s character, that fosters a sense of self-reliance and self-control. How much easier would it be to stay home Sunday morning instead of dealing with your 3 year-old’s “antics” at Mass? How much easier it would it be to allow your 17 year-old to go to that party instead of incurring the special hell that is an angry teen? We enforce bedtimes and chores and and fight the homework battles, not always enjoying the ride that is motherhood. And that’s okay. Because anything that brings us true satisfaction, like a challenging project or learning to play an instrument, isn’t necessarily fun at the time. But it’s always worth it.
I’ve got my share of “should’ve’s”, but I’m at the can’t-do-anything-more-but-pray-for-them stage (well, there is a little virtual nagging still at my disposal). Adjusting to a shrinking household can take some time, but trust me, there are rewards for both moms and kids that will bring joys you can’t imagine quite yet. And remember, the nest has to empty to get to the true “worry-less-enjoy-more side” of this journey. Grandmotherhood!