My 15-year-old daughter and I watched World of Dance recently. The next show was Dateline: Saturday Night Mystery. The commercial for the episode must have caught my daughter’s attention because she begged, “Don’t turn the channel,” when I grabbed the remote to adjust the volume. “I like these shows,” she said as she settled into taking over the entire couch.
The episode was about a woman who was murdered. Her teenaged son’s reaction to learning of his mother’s death was unusual. The young man didn’t cry when he learned the news and he was more concerned about missing class. And so, the show’s first suspect was revealed.
During the commercial break, my daughter and I broke into our usual goofing off (plus grabbing our phones to check social media) and somehow she accidentally dropped something on my leg.
“Ouch! Now I see why you want to watch this show! You’re getting pointers for killing me and getting away with it!” It was a joke. My leg was fine. I’m just your everyday weirdo mom who makes dumb jokes with her kids.
My daughter didn’t find it funny. She plopped down on my lap, and wrapped her arms around me. “No, don’t say that!” She started to cry. I put the TV on mute and asked what was going on with her.
She explained that she just couldn’t imagine what she’d do if she ever lost me. She said she was just so scared of death and dying. She cried and cried…and I let her. Once she was able to calm down, I told her things I wish were explained to me, in hopes of saving her from countless nights of purposeless worrying.
First, I wanted her to know that she was normal. Everyone gets to a point in their lives when they think about death and how it can affect them. “It’s okay to be scared. But you can’t consume yourself with worrying about things that haven’t happened,” I said. “You’ll miss out on so much of the life you have today.”
We had a long talk about how I’ve learned to cope with worrying. I told her about how I would lie awake nights worrying that my great-grandmother would die one day. Then one day, when I was about her age, I learned in a science class that energy could not be created nor destroyed. I found comfort in that and I hoped that my daughter would, too.
Truth is that I didn’t learn to let go of my intrusive thoughts until I was in my 40s, when I experienced major loss and found my footing in faith. I explained it isn’t always easy to hand a worry over to God and not grab it back. But I’ve learned that even though bad things may happen, I was able to enjoy life on all the days bad things didn’t happen.
I hoped my words would stay with her when she needed them and then I handed that worry over just as fast. As much as I wish I could take fears away from my children, the truth is they will go through things. My best parenting is to give them tools to deal with issues as they come and have faith that they’ll use them.