Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Anxiety-Free Parenting? Not Possible

First things first: I was horrified to realize just now that my last post came just a few days after Max's first birthday, yet I didn't mark the occasion. That's dads for ya--birthdays are forgotten quickly. Conversely, Mom is probably already planning for next year. Of course, having a birthday on December 22 is a tricky affair, and we celebrated with a very small party a few weeks before Max turned 1, and then watched as relatives showered him with more gifts over the holidays to create what I just might get Max to call "SuperChristmas."

But I digress. The point of my post today is anxiety--mine. For the first time in years, it's reaching a crescendo, and in their own ways, my two offspring have a lot to do with it. Not that it's their fault, but they're fueling it in different ways.

Let's start with Jackson. To put it bluntly, he's breaking my heart, perhaps unwittingly. It's hard to know if a 13-year-old is saying and doing things to hurt their parent(s), or if they simply don't know any better. Yesterday, Jackson returned home after being gone 30-plus hours hanging and having a sleepover with with his skate-punk crew, and naturally, I was forced to do some nagging when he got here. There were chores to do, responsibilities to tackle, things that needed to be discussed--you know, a teen's favorite assortment of topics.

Needless to say, the evening didn't go well. It started with Jackson demonstrating his typically picky and frustrating eating habits, declining to indulge in leftovers, declaring that he wasn't that hungry, and instead focusing on downing half of a batch of Pillsbury crescent rolls--not exactly the path to health and mindfulness. Later, just before his bedtime, he announced that NOW he was hungry, to which we said, okay, eat something of nutritional value. In other words, not the chips he was pestering me to let him eat.

After eating a pile of salami and an apple, which he declared "not filling at all", he started asking for chips again. I said no, and now I was pot committed. There was no way he was getting chips, even if he was buying in at a table in Vegas. I suggested a number of other, healthier choices he could have, none of which met his needs at the moment. After much drama from him about developing a headache and feeling nauseous, I stood my ground, and tried to give him a hug good night, which was greeted by zombie arms. He absolutely refused to hug me back, and while this has happened before, this time it was different. This time, it was clear we'd gotten to the point where he really can't stand me. And as much as I know you're not supposed to be your teen's friend, it's still a very hard adjustment trying to accept that your teen really doesn't like you, and probably won't for several years. Oh, goody. There goes the rest of my 40s.

Now, that brings us to Max. Wonderful, joyous, amazing little Max. (Before you say anything, I used to describe Jackson in such glowing terms--the hedonistic little suckers, as the author of a parenting book I've been reading likes to call them, really wear you down over the years.) Max's role in my anxiety is much more indirect. When I see Max, I can't help but see years of servitude. I think of our gigantic mortgage, and whether we can afford it in the long term. I think of a second child who has to be clothed and fed and taken on vacations, who will one day become a disaffected teen himself and probably need braces and, hopefully, go to college. I think of the fact that one year in, we have yet to save a dime for him. And I think of Sarah's burning desire to have one more--a playmate for Max, and (perhaps, if we're very lucky) the girl we both would love to raise.

Draped across these overarching parenting concerns are a litany of related personal anxieties--worries about having enough business to continue paying the mortgage, and about whether I even want to stay on my current career path. Worries about Sarah's desire to go back to school to get a master's degree so she can be a nurse practitioner and get out of the operating room, a path made more likely given some nagging minor back issues that are lingering in the wake of a minor car accident last year.

Ah, Sarah. She's not off the hook, either, but rather is a source of unintended anxiety beyond her career conundrum. Every day I'm reminded that I made the decision to again hitch my trailer to another person--albeit a MUCH easier person to co-exist with--and that this means a lot of compromise about everything. Compromise about how money gets used, how we spend our days, what color a room will be, what's for dinner--the usual. It's stuff any sane person should expect to be part of a long-term relationship, and make no mistake, we compromise very well. But it's still stuff that can cause anxiety at times, and let's not forget she and I are only three years into this crazy journey.

And then there are the anxieties that have only to do with myself--the overwhelming sense of failure to make the kind of artistic impact (either through music or writing) I always envisioned. The projects I've conceived but never actually worked on. The saxophone gathering dust in my basement. The glorious travels I always desired but have never been able to make happen on the scale I pictured.

In time, these anxieties will wash away--this knowledge is what separates me from people who lose themselves in their anxieties. I know that all of my worries are temporary. Either the situations will solve themselves, or I'll grow more comfortable with them, or I'll simply learn, again, how to contend with them.

Of course, I have to get from here to there, and therein lies the rub. In the meantime, I think I'll go join Max in playing with his toys. There's no anxiety in that.

No comments:

Post a Comment