You never stop worrying about your kids, no matter how old they are
I once visited a colleague, a first-time mother, shortly after she had delivered. Like all new mothers, she was hopping about fussing over her child and talking excitedly about the joys and the burdens of her new role.
‘But you have nothing to worry about,’ she told me. ‘Your kids are in their teens now.’
I could empathise with her – her fears and concerns as a new parent. When my eldest child, Shaun was born, cot death was the flavor of the year and it was researched to death. Every other day, there would be a news story on all sorts of findings – the causes for cot deaths, how to prevent it, putting your baby face down in bed, put him face up other reports say, avoid blankets of a particular material, avoid certain foods, etc. It left me paranoid for the first few weeks. Several times a night, I would jump out of bed, head for the cot and poke and prod him to see if he was breathing, if he was still alive.
At the age of three months, my second child Natasha came down with a bad asthmatic attack which kept my wife and me up for two days straight even though we had seen the doctor and she was clearly getting better. As in this instance, our fear was an irrational one. I could go on and cite many more episodes in our children’s lives which worried us to death. No worries now? Ha!
Some of my more recent worries concerning my kids include bicycle and car accidents, too much fast food, lack of discipline, wrong values and morals, too much television, too much computer, teen gangs, not reading enough and the biggest of all, their studies.
When my youngest son Marcus was waiting for his PSLE results which was to be out later that day, he said: ‘Dad, I am worried.’ I replied: ‘So am I, Marc.’
Shaun had just finished his O levels and gone to a chalet with his friends. I was concerned about what they could be up to.
No worries, indeed.
I decided to spare my colleague the reality. I was not about to trigger the post-natal blues in her by telling her that this was only the beginning. But I have been told many times: ‘Don’t worry about the kids. They will be all right. Didn’t we survive? And we have grown up okay, haven’t we?’
I never quite subscribed to the philosophy as there are enough reasons out there for parents to be worried about. While most tend to worry about their children’s health, the excellent medical conditions available these days actually make this a low concern for me.
I remember an incident when my elder son Shaun and his friends were celebrating the end of their PSLE exams, playing basketball at a court in Bishan, when a group of four teenagers approached them and accused them of being members of another gang.
My son, who was closest to them, was given two options by one of the teens: ‘Let all of us punch you or you fight one of us.’
Not one to get involved in fights other than with his siblings, he kept quiet. They shoved him around, then shoved him around a bit more but were still not able to provoke him into a fight. Thank God for the wisdom he had given Shaun. The small-time gangsters left. This was not late at night when kids his age should be at home, but at 3pm, right in broad daylight. Every now and then, I see, read or hear about incidents such as these where teenagers get into a fight for mindless reasons and it ends in a kid getting beaten up or sometimes even killed.
There are times when these worries have alerted my wife and me to dangers or trouble that children might be in. Some refer to it as parent’s intiuition, I call it God’s intervention.
I will never forget an incident when my neighbours and I took the kids swimming. While all of us were getting settled by the poolside, my wife noticed that our younger son Marcus, who was under two-years-old then, was missing.
While everyone was looking around in the area and backtracking to the changing room, I headed straight for the pool and, barely visible at the bottom of the 1.5m pool was a black tuft of hair. In a flash, I grabbed whoever was attached to that tuft. It turned out to be my son. His eyes were wide open, he was motionless and I was quite sure I was too late. After a long while, he blinked.
He is alive partly because my wife constantly worried about our young kids being within view when we were out. I never labelled her ‘paranoid’ after that incident. This is also what I mean about God’s intervention. Worrying has also forced me to think deeper into why I feel uncomfortable about an activity the kids are involved in and reminds me to alert them to possible dangers.
Shaun and his friends, after their A level paper, wanted to celebrate with a jam session. It being a Friday, they were only able to get a two-hour slot starting at 7pm. I drove them down to the studio since it would have been a rush for them after the 6pm Chemistry paper, and took the opportunity to tell them a few things – don’t go wild, be careful on the roads and don’t get into any fights. One of Shaun’s friends reassured me: ‘Don’t worry uncle, we only go crazy in the studio when we jam.’
I believe reminders are important. While my kids maintain they don’t need them, I insist on updating them about recent mishaps concerning teens and how it happened. I am not at all suggesting parents should go overboard doing it but I don’t think we should stop just because kids cut in mid-sentence to say: “Yes, we know the dangers, don’t worry about us.” Kids always think they know.
But when I am bordering on paranoia about something, I check with my close friends – do they allow their kids to do this, what is their curfew time, how much computer time, how much allowance, what have they tried and what has worked?
Talking to others always helps moderate my worries. Discussing with other parents helps give me a sense of perspective while other points of view and feedback make me rethink and adjust some of the rules I set for my children. In fact, my boundary markers have changed with each child. On occasions, I have had to explain to them. But I would rather err on the side of caution.
A couple of months ago, a colleague told me that he needed to dash out for a mini emergency at home. ‘My boy is not well,’ he said. He was back two hours later and was describing what had happened to his son, all the time referring to his son affectionately as ‘my boy’.
It was only a long while later that I found out ‘my boy’ was actually a 19-year-old full-time NS man. I am sure my colleague, who is a new mother, will find out, like the father of ‘my boy’ and me, that worrying for the kids is a lifetime affair.
About The Author: Mathew Pereira is currently the Sports Editor of The Straits Times. Between 2004 and 2008, he wrote several columns which talked about his personal experience of fatherhood. This piece was one of many in his collection of fatherhood stories. Mathew is a member of the Fathers Action Network (FAN).
First published on 31-01-2012.