Do Parents’ Worries Ever Wane?

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Photo courtesy of Peterborough Photographers.
Photo courtesy of Peterborough Photographers.

On my wedding day, my father put an arm around my husband and said something like: “Good luck, son. She’s your responsibility now.” At the time, I thought he was joking. Twenty some years and two kids later, I realize he probably wasn’t.

My ability to comprehend his comment started some 14 years ago, with the birth of my first child. I think it had something to do with the hormonal upheaval taking place in my body before and after giving birth, but I can’t say for sure. All I know is that, as soon as I became a mom, I developed a crazy-sensitive internal alarm system that put me on high alert at all times. At the slightest unusual movement or noise coming from the nursery, my eyes would flick open wide, my ears pricked—REM sleep be damned. Simultaneously, my anxiety levels began to skyrocket inexplicably.

Maternal angst

As for the anxiousness, I know it’s not always rational. But when it hits, it’s hard to shake. If, for instance, my kids walk to the neighborhood pharmacy with friends to buy candy or snow balls, something they’ve done countless times, out of nowhere I sometimes envision them getting crushed by a speeding car at the busy intersection they must cross to get to the store. My kids’ vision is as or sharper than mine, I tell myself. Their reaction time is probably faster. They can definitely run faster than me. But still, I worry. Judging by the messages I’m getting from veteran parents of teenagers, plenty more anxiety lies ahead.

At a party recently, I was mingling with parents whose kids were two, three years older than mine. “So,” I asked, trying to sound as casual as possible, “When does all the ‘bad’ stuff start to happen?” They knew what I meant—experimentation with sex, drugs, and alcohol, in no particular order. “Eighth grade,” one dad responded matter-of-factly. Maybe seeing my jaw drop, he softened the blow, adding, “Maybe tenth, depending on who the kid hangs out with.”

I was shocked, but I shouldn’t have been. I may be getting old, but I’m not senile yet. I can still dig up fairly vivid memories of debauchery during my teen years, of the dark basement and back seat variety. Rather than bury these memories, I wonder if dredging up and sharing with my kids my own experiences from adolescence—however embarrassing and downright stupid they seem now—can serve as some sort of benefit to them as they quickly approach an age where they’ll be faced with the same temptations I confronted.

It’s an age-old debate that most parents wage internally, I suppose. Do you ‘fess up to your kids, telling them about some of the really stupid things you did in your time and emphasizing their negative consequences? This strategy would probably require you to then strongly encourage your kids not to follow in your footsteps, and aren’t parents supposed to be role models?

Taking another tactic, you could play more of an omniscient, authoritative role, revealing that you know all the bad stuff that teenagers do, and you’re sure as heck not going to let your own kids make the same mistakes that countless others have made—without implicating yourself in the process?

Something tells me there’s no scientific evidence to support either course of action, or any others, for that matter.

Trouble can find any teenager

Just as there’s no guarantee that what parents tell their kids holds any sway over their behavior, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that all teenagers—not just those pegged as ‘trouble makers’ and ‘risk takers’—can fall prey to bad choices that lead to horrifying consequences.

Recent highly publicized incidents bear this out. The school year had barely begun when 18-year-old Towson University student Julia Margaret Ratnaraj fell into a glass door and suffered head and neck injuries that killed her while she attended a small, off-campus party. Reports suggest she’d been drinking prior to the incident.  

Just as the horror of that terrible incident began to wane came more chilling news about a college student. University of Virginia honors student Hannah Graham has been missing since the wee hours of the morning of Saturday, September 20. She was last caught on surveillance cameras wandering alone around the downtown area of Charlottesville, near campus, appearing inebriated—until a purported stranger, also caught on a surveillance camera, approached her. More than two weeks later, the search for her continues.

Neither Ratnaraj—an honors student, a promising artist, and someone’s twin—or Graham, an avid alpine skier and alto saxophone player who earned straight A’s, seemed a candidate likely to encounter these twisted fates—the worst fears of any parents could face, as Graham’s father stated in a heart-wrenching plea for clues to his daughter’s whereabouts.

Watching Graham’s father on television beg for information about his daughter’s disappearance made me realize the weight of my own dad’s words on my wedding day. As for Graham’s wife, crying at her husband’s side during the press conference, maternal anxiety was written all over her face.


Elizabeth Heubeck

Elizabeth Heubeck is a Baltimore Fishbowl contributor and local freelance writer.

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