I’m an overthinker. It’s a curse I had hoped none of my children would be afflicted with, but I can already see it in one of them, and the worry it causes as his mind works overtime.
I mean, for me, it’s grand mostly now. The great thing about getting older is you can just own it. Your friends and colleagues get used to you and the follow-up texts that make sure they know you were just having the craic – or that the typo was just that and not an inability to spell. But it can be embarrassing when you casually describe yourself as “a bit paranoid” to a mental health professional who was interviewing you for his podcast and then feel the need to ring him the next day to ensure he knows you weren’t describing your actual mental state at the time and it was more of a loose description of a situation. Amazingly he didn’t even block me after it.
That’s not to make little of it. It’s an annoying fecker of a trait, but, for me, it’s not an all-consuming one. Still, I obsess about wanting my kids to be happy and content and one day think, “wow we had an amazing and perfect childhood”, but instead I worry they won’t. And it’ll be my fault because I wasn’t perfect.
Because, like all parents, I really want to get this job right. I can drop balls elsewhere and deal with the consequences if I must, but this one – well the consequences of getting it wrong could be disastrous.
Or perhaps I’m overthinking it.
And yet when I look back to my own childhood and teenage years, I can see I was shaped by so much more than just parental influence. Yes, it mattered hugely. But there were also outside factors at play.
[ Families with parents from ‘sexual minorities’ fare as well as traditional families, study finds ]
Like the wonderful teacher I had in sixth class who sent away for a college prospectus when I was just 12 years old, called my mother into school and told her I should really consider studying journalism in the future. He managed to see beyond the young girl who resented writing school essays as much as the next child, but who he, nonetheless, was certain would suit a career in media. His assertion stayed with me all through life.
Would I have even ultimately considered it otherwise?
I’m not convinced. But that’s the power of a good teacher.
Or the sometimes challenging experiences that made me an overthinker in the first place. Those difficult early years in secondary school that I was glad to leave behind, but which still managed to shape the woman I became – the good, the bad and the overthinking.
I’ve seen these external influences at play with my own children. My mother is mam. Her mother before her was also mam. And so it should have come to pass that my children also call me mam, because we are Irish and that is what Irish people call their mammies – just ask Ann and Barry. But they went to school, and now I’m mum.
Still, inconsistent vowels are the least of my worries – even if it serves as a reminder that what they hear at home is not the be all and end all of what they come to think. There’s nothing like raising children and teenagers in a digital world to focus the mind on external influences. We add the parental controls. We brace ourselves for what’s coming. We’re reminded of the growing importance of peer influence. And we dread the impression that social media and online exposure might have on them, without fully appreciating, perhaps, how enormous this will be.
It’s a minefield.
[ Daughter’s eating disorder showed me that our youth mental health services need a major rethink ]
[ Trauma from Troubles evident in higher rates of mental health problems among young people in Northern Ireland ]
And it comes from every angle. Misinformation. Toxic and hateful messaging. Conflicting messages about body image – slim down to look like this digitally enhanced photo. Buff up, because who wants to be slim. But whatever you do change – because you are not perfect as you are.
Still, we soldier on. Me telling them they’re the most amazing human beings that ever lived – if only they could learn to pick up after themselves/improve their aim at the toilet bowl/not destroy my sheets with false tan. Them arguing that I have to say these things because I’m their mum.
Control the controllables, I remind myself. The laundry doesn’t fall under that category. Nor do all the outside influences and various challenges the kiddos will come up against. And that school St Patrick’s Day parade I missed, because I had to work, and even prayed for rain in the hope it might be cancelled to appease my guilt, probably won’t be their downfall in life. And sure maybe, just maybe one day they’ll look back and think their childhood was grand in spite of dropped balls.
If, of course, they don’t overthink it.