Is there a cutoff period when you quit worrying about your children? Is there a magical moment when a parent can become detached? Become a spectator, for lack of a better word, in the lives of their children and shrug, "It'll be okay, no worries."
When I was in my twenties, I stood in a doctor's office waiting for my son's pediatrician to tell me Aaron's rare case of the measles was just a “fluke.” I asked, "When do you stop worrying?" The nurse said, "When they get out of the house." My mother just smiled faintly and said nothing.
After a bitter divorce when I was in my thirties, I sat at the hospital bedside of my teenage son who had decided (unbeknownst to me) to go hog wild on his first beer and alcohol binge. I listened to a police officer say he was headed for a career making license plates. But then, as if to read my mind, the cop also said, "Ah, don't worry, Ma'am. They all go through this stage and then you can sit back, relax and enjoy them." My mother just smiled faintly and said nothing.
When I was in my forties, I spent a lifetime waiting for the phone to ring, for my son to call from boot camp and then the Marine Base. I lost sleep waiting for my daughter to call from The Ohio State University campus. I worried more than they ever knew. I worried because I couldn't help them as much as I wanted to. But I lived for their cars to pull into the driveway, the front door to open. “Mom! I’m home!” A friend said, "Don't worry, in a few years, you can stop worrying. They'll be full-grown adults." My mother just smiled faintly and said nothing.
By the time I was fifty, I had developed Irritable Bowel Syndrome and several other stress-related illnesses. I was sick and tired of worry. I still worry over my children, but there's a new wrinkle. I finally realized, duh, there's nothing I can do about it. I began to simmer down, mostly because I had moved out of their state. I began to ease up on the worry.
My mother just smiled faintly and said nothing. Though the knot-in-the-stomach worry had certainly dissipated, I continued to anguish from time-to-time over their broken hearts, (especially after phone calls). I was still tormented by their frustrations and absorbed in their disappointments. My children, now both in their 30s, have said I can stop worrying. I don't call them as much, thinking no news is good news. I want to believe I don't have to worry so much any more, but I'm still haunted by my mother's warm smile.
Can it be that parents are sentenced to a lifetime of worry? Is concern for one another handed down like a torch to blaze the trail of human frailties and the fears of the unknown? Is concern a curse or is it a virtue that elevates us to the highest form of life?
I look forward to the day when one of my children says to me, "Where were you? I've been calling for 3 days, and no one answered. I was worried." I will smile a warm smile. The torch will have been passed.
Blessings to you and yours.