Don't Worry, Mom

Coping with anxiety in families

Letting Go

The first school day after Newtown

Last night I went through the usual bedtime routine with my daughter—putting on her pjs, brushing her teeth, and listening to her read a few bed-time stories “all by self” as she says.  As she intertwines gibberish with words that she remembers from the many times that we have read the books (and pauses for dramatic effect at pertinent points), I can never stifle my smile or contain my joy.  But last night, it was tears that I could not stifle, listening to her do our usual routine and thinking about the parents who did a similar bedtime routine with their kids on Thursday night and who will never be able to do this with their kids again. 

Many of us lived the last few days in a state of numbness and horror—parents trying to imagine how we would survive such a thing if this were to happen to our kids, hugging our kids a little tighter, telling them that they love them a few more times, checking on them sleeping just one more time to make sure that they are okay. But today we had to face the fact that today is a school day and for the first time since the tragedy in Newtown, we had to let go of our kids and trust that they will be okay.

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As parents, we’ve all had to go through letting go of our kids at some point—the first time that we left our child with a babysitter or took our kids to school; the first time that our baby slept in the nursery, and even that first drive home from the hospital with our precious cargo in the car seat.  Each one of those times we were terrified of the things that could happen, but each time we found ways to assure ourselves that we were in control.  We picked the best babysitter and left 15 emergency numbers on the fridge.  We researched schools and followed every safety precaution for our baby’s crib and nursery.  We drove 10 mph below the speed limit on that first drive home from the hospital just to make sure that we made it home safely. Obviously in each of those situations there were aspects of the situation that were out of our control, but we had done the best that we could to ensure our child’s safety and despite our worries, harm befalling our kids seemed unlikely so we carried on.

But right now parents are imagining what was previously unimaginable.  The locks on the doors of our schools don’t seem strong enough to protect them.  All of the safety drills in the world don’t seem enough to keep our kids safe.  We are scouring our brains to remember whether our kids’ classroom doors can be locked from the inside—whether there are closets and cabinets in the room that our kids could hide in. Today I wished that my daughter’s school had sent out an email reassuring parents that the school has a safety plan and that every teacher knew the drill.  I thought about keeping her home from school today, the next day, and maybe even forever.  I debating on having her sleep in my bed with me last night just so I could know that she was safe—so I could breathe in her smell for 8 more hours in case those were the last hours that I would spend with her.  The problem is that there is no reassurance.  There is no one who can tell us that our babies will be safe today and that the terrible events that occurred on Friday won’t ever happen again. 

Today we had to face the uncertainty of our children being at school without us there to protect them. That is something that incites terror in me as a parent and I know that I will spend today wondering—not wondering what she’s eating for lunch or what song they’re singing today at music time like I usually would.  I’ll be wondering if she is alive; wondering whether my heart will be broken; wondering how I could survive what those parents in CT are living right now.  We may spend many days and even months wondering about these things and worrying. We may never experience the same sense of safety sending our kids to school again, but we will get through it because there is no alternative. We can't keep our kids home forever or protect them from everything.  The first step in healing may be us having to let go and just trust.  It's what I will do all day today, while sending my hopes and prayers to Newtown that they can find a way to heal.

 

Copyright Amy Przeworski

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Amy Przeworski, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University and specializes in anxiety disorders in children, adolescents, and adults.

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