Hello, my name is Everymom and I’m a compulsive paranoiac—always terrified something will happen to my kids.
Parents naturally want to protect their children from harm—a good instinct that turns toxic when it interferes with the children’s growing up. Many parents are effectively addicted to overprotection and paranoia, constantly hovering over their kids and screaming, “Stop, that’s dangerous!!” whenever Junior reaches for a next-level challenge.
I offer you twelve principles—a nod to the classic Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous—for breaking the paranoid-parent habit.
- Admit that you are powerless to control every influence that touches your children’s lives. This is a painful and frightening admission, but also a freeing one, as it absolves you of responsibility for always doing everything right.
- Believe that a Higher Power than yourself is working for your children’s good. If you don’t want to invoke religion or metaphysics, your Higher Power can be the combined influence of yourself and other mentors, or even the statistical odds against tragedy striking.
- Deliberately release your children into your Higher Power’s hands. Do a “letting go” breathing exercise: “inhale” outside strength and “exhale” your worries. Repeat as necessary.
- Take objective inventory of actual dangers and your family’s strengths—your children’s strengths as well as your own. Where trouble is a real possibility, take precautions. Where the odds are against it (or where its consequences aren’t serious), let it go. And have confidence your family can cope.
- Admit your worries to a wise and caring friend. Input from an objective party does much to lay fretting to rest.
- Be entirely ready to change your habits. When your brain is used to worrying, you’ll naturally feel uncomfortable when you start “neglecting” that attitude. Determine in advance to ride it out: the day will come when calmness feels as natural as panic once did.
- Stay humble. Feeling responsible for everything that happens is a symptom of twisted pride that considers itself deserving of omnipotence. Remember that you have human limits and need your time off—and that’s perfectly all right.
- Admit when you’re wrong. If you owe your children an apology for overprotecting them, swallow your pride and deliver that apology. It’ll do wonders for your relationship and the children’s self-confidence.
- Don’t overdo apologies. Admitting that you made a mistake—even an ongoing long-term one—is good. Constantly chastising yourself after the initial apology—not so much. If nothing else, dwelling on a mistake increases the odds of making it again.
- Keep an eye on yourself, and promptly correct any slips. Habits have a tendency to resurface. Don’t carelessly assume “everything’s fine now,” or you may slide back into paranoia before realizing it.
- Keep seeking ways to grow everyone’s life for the better. The best way to banish toxic habits is to replace them with positive habits, especially activities that nurture individual passions and talents.
- Develop a sense of higher purpose. Find ways to use your unique gifts, and your lessons learned from experience, to serve the world. And of course, encourage your children to do the same. You’ll best protect them by generating contagious confidence that they were made for great things and can overcome any obstacle!