BOXES & WORDS

Thoughts on design, life, and general balderdash by Jonas Downey.

What my daughter taught me about worrying

My daughter is an intense person. She’s curious and imaginative, introverted but outwardly compassionate, wise but silly, and deeply emotional. In her four short years, she has taught me more about my own life and character than I will likely ever teach her about hers.

But all those wonderful traits don’t come without a cost. Her sensitivity leads to frequent bouts of worrying. We don’t live a particularly stressful or troubling life — as careful guardians of her well-being, we’re purposeful about limiting her exposure to grown up problems.

So her worries are largely focused on simple matters. When she was younger and lost a toy, she jumped to absurd conclusions: “Is it under the house? Under the fridge? Is it in a tiny corner? In a vent? In the wall?” She worries that her mother has left the house without her knowing. She worries that her betta fish has died when it’s not moving. She worries that the stuffed animal she wants will be sold out. She cares about everything, even the flaked-off bits of polish from her painted fingernails, so she must carefully save them from an uncertain fate. And the list goes on and on.

Sad cat.
A worrysome text message.

These issues aren’t uncommon. She’s learning to manage her feelings and her level of control over her environment. These are healthy steps that will help her cope with bigger problems later.

But helping her through this phase has made me reconsider what we think of as “grown up problems,” and how we handle those problems. Trivial worries don’t go away with age, they just multiply. Adults worry about a tremendous number of things, many of them far more insignificant than the lost toy that’s theoretically stuck under the refrigerator.

Think of all the things, big and small, that probably concerned you today:

  • Which shirt should I wear? Do I look presentable enough?
  • Global warming is going to be awful.
  • Uh oh, I’m running late.
  • The lawn needs mowing.
  • Hey, I have new Twitter followers! I’d better think of a smart tweet.
  • What’s going to happen 15 years from now?
  • Am I getting enough done? What do others think of my work?

…and THAT list goes on and on, and on…

How do we deal with these worries? Some, we internalize. Others, we act on. And some, we need help solving. But regardless of our ability to manage them, why do we allow this crap to consume and distract us every day?

As pompous adults, we assume that our age and experience has granted us a righteous view of the true world. We’re eager to instruct our kids to get over their childish nonsense and join our reality. And then we teach them how to be agitated about unkempt lawns, baseball scores, physical appearances, and cell phones.

This is bad. Child worldviews are open ended and full of ideas and wonder. Adult worldviews are cynical and full of pointless bullshit.

For now, I’m going to be critical about what worries me and occupies my mental attention. I’m sure the kid will teach me a thing or two about what really matters and how I should feel about it. In the meantime, I’ll be right there with her in child world, for as long as she’ll allow me to visit.