To say my daughter is a worrier would be an understatement. She worries about everything. There are the normal worries of a nine-year-old—Do people like me? Am I going to get an A on my math test? How do I fit in and stand out at the same time? But there are also worries no nine-year-old should concern herself with—What if I don’t become a doctor? What if the whole world blows up? What if God isn’t real?
This has all been going on for a while, and many times I fear it’s getting worse. The world expands when you turn nine. You’re right on the cusp of young adulthood. Things get scary. I understand that. Which is why I’ve gone to great lengths to calm my daughter’s fears and ease her worries.
But lately I’ve noticed a shift in the way I act towards her. I’ll see my daughter coming into the room and know by the way she walks—small steps, head down—and the way she whispers “Daddy?” that something’s on her mind. Something pressing and important.
I’ll say, “Yes?”
And she’ll relay that day’s fresh worry. Whether small or large, warranted or not, doesn’t matter. There is no distinction between important or not. All worries feel the same.
And yet while before I would patiently listen, now I find myself cutting her words short. And while before I would give her the best advice I could, lately I find myself giving her subtle variations of, “You worry too much, and you need to stop.”
It hasn’t worked. My daughter has now gone from worrying about the whole world blowing up to worrying about worrying.
It’s frustrating. For her and for me. This is perhaps the first time I’ve realized that the parental reach extends only so far. At some point, one’s children must act on their own. Nothing I can do can assuage my daughter’s worry. She must do that on her own. And that she can’t—or rather won’t—makes me angry.
It makes me angry because I know what harm constant worry can do. I’ve done it all my life. Like her, they started both small and normal. Also like her, they soon magnified themselves into large, dark shadows of very small and light things. They became like boulders I carried on my insides and refused to put down, dragging me along to the point where steps seemed as miles and the horizon ahead never moved nearer. I was stuck, imprisoned not by life or the devil, but by my own self.
That’s what I fear for her.
That’s why I’m angry.
I see in my daughter my younger self. I want her to be more than her father, and I’m mad that she doesn’t see that she can.
It hasn’t taken me long to realize what an ass I’m being, though. Here I am a grown man, and I still worry about things I shouldn’t. Why should I be angry with my daughter for doing the same? Better, I think, to show her the love and understanding I’ve always refused to show myself.
I can’t be angry that I cannot make her what I wish her to be, because I can’t make myself what I wish to be.