I have always been a worrier.
I remember lying in bed at night, in 2nd grade, worrying about something that seemed so important at the time but that days later would become unremarkable—a playbook for my whole life.
l wonder if I could total the hours spent worrying about mortality, about my own inadequacies, about everything banal my generally happy life has been about—pop quizzes and work assignments and making the plane for an international vacation. When I was pregnant I never could bring myself to sign up for those joyous emails detailing my baby’s fetal development—I was too busy worrying that he was going to be born without a foot or a liver or a brain. I recently read that there is a clinical name for that anxiety, but it never occurred to me that I could get a diagnosis for just being me.
Then, having children, my worry became multiplicative; it was like another child—first the children kept me up at night, then the worrying about them did.
I worry about the laundry and the camp name tags, the lunches to pack, the health content of the lunches, my children’s social skills, discipline, screen time, what we’ll have for dinner, the whole education thing, traffic safety, scary subway platforms with wide gaps between the train and the edge, raising children in a world rife with guns, drug-resistant bacteria, high-stakes testing, why child #1 is such a sore loser, whether child #2 has any attention span whatsoever.
I worry about my older son’s food allergies and my younger son’s weight and also his cough, whether said cough can be categorized as chronic, as well as other unthinkable, unmentionable health concerns.
And more, but I am limited for space reasons.
Recently, it has come to my attention that some people do not actually live this way. Like my life partner. I knew when I married the guy that he was not a worrier. But after nine years of collective child-raising, the roles have settled in: He arranges the closets and figures out our family budget; I worry. We each wonder how the other does it. I have decided to embrace the worry.
In fact, here are five reasons I love to worry—and you should, too:
1. It’s motivating. Worry gets me to the grocery store and the pediatrician and makes me research suntan lotions and high-mercury fish and literacy development. My children’s lives would not be half as complete without the product of my worry.
2. It is part of my ethnic identity as a Jew. OK, it is possible that not ALL Jews worry like I do, but based on my empirical evidence-gathering from a lifetime of knowing a lot of Jews, and nearly a decade being married to someone who is not, I can say it is a shared cultural trait; nature vs. nurture, learned or inherited—I don’t know. Worry is a direct line to my grandmothers, as much as a Kiddush cup.
3. It is part of my gender identity. The writer Judith Shulevitz wrote recently in her eloquent article Mom: The Designated Worrier, “I wish I could say that fathers and mothers worry in equal measure. But they don’t.” Do I wish she weren’t right? Yeah. Do I sometimes wish I could make my husband worry about how we are going to eke out dinner on weeknights, too? Yes. But I don’t know how to make big, structural societal change. So for now, worry power is women power. Own the anxiety. Join the sisterhood.
4. It’s fun. I’m sure it’s great to be carefree and all (I did feel that way once—I think it was sophomore year in college), but when you worry, you can really let your imagination explore endless possibilities.
5. It means I feel. When I worry about whether I bought my sons the warmest pair of mittens or whether they’re getting Lyme disease, it’s because I am experiencing their lives as mine, too. Worry is the love and tenderness I feel for my sons wrapped up in my own confrontation with the unknown. It is my mind telling me and them all at once, “We are in this together, you and me. I have no idea what we’re looking at next, but stick with me, and somehow we’ll muddle through it together.”