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What Does the Future Hold for Your Child?

No expert can predict your child's future with a great deal of certainty.

Key points

  • A parent cannot predict their child’s future.
  • Parents cannot “turn off” their tendency to worry, but drowning in worry does not help.
  • A parent's total ignorance about their child’s future is reason enough to maintain optimism and hope. 

Children are great teachers, and one of the things they definitely teach us is how to worry.

My own mother worried a great deal about me as I was growing up. I helped her along, especially when I turned 12 and she was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. At this time, I engaged in every variety of rebellious and colorful behavior, including a brief foray into shoplifting. Mr. Datloff, my seventh-grade teacher in Brooklyn, told my parents that I would never be college material, emphasizing the word never as he made his authoritative pronouncement.

Not a soul who knew me when I was between the ages of 12 and 14 would have guessed that I’d turn out to be a responsible, law-abiding citizen. The moral of this story is that you cannot predict your children’s future. No matter how terrible (or how well) they appear to be doing now, you don’t have a clue as to how they will turn out over the long haul.

Not that kids ever really “turn out,” the way an apple crisp does or, say, a remodeled kitchen. Our children keep evolving. Their lives, like our own, will take any number of sudden and unexpected turns.

So don't worry about how irresponsible your son will be when he grows up or about how he’ll probably never hold down a job because he’s a slob who can’t even remember to put his bicycle anywhere other than on the sidewalk in front of your house. Or how your daughter will never be successful because she lacks leadership skills or has a dull personality. Don’t worry too much about what your kid will be like when they grow up, because you can neither predict nor control it.

Of course, it’s ridiculous to tell a parent not to worry. We can’t turn it off any more than we can command ourselves to be spontaneous or not to think about the proverbial purple cow. I confess to being a big worrier myself. Every mother is primed to worry differently, and when my boys were young, my anxiety tended to land on itty-bitty things, like one of them being swept away by a tornado or run off the road by a drunk driver.

There will always be many anxious and heart-stopping moments in parenting, some without happy endings. Everyone’s life includes some hardship and suffering, if not now, then later. Clearly, I don’t occupy any moral high ground when, in my professional work, I help mothers to calm down. And calm down we must—not to enter a state of Pollyannaish denial, but rather to do our best thinking.

Every parent has a certain amount of “worry energy” to disperse into the world, and a child is an excellent, almost unavoidable, lightning rod for it. If you’re a parent, you know how painful it is to worry about a child. If you must worry (and most of us must), rotate your anxious concerns among family members, rather than letting the full weight of your worry envelop and settle on one child like a fog.

What does the future hold for your child? “The future ain’t what it used to be,” said one of my favorite folk singers, the late Lee Hayes. “And what’s more, it never was.” Check yourself whenever you have gloom-and-doom images of your own child’s future—or if you start to get too cocky. No one has a crystal ball. Your total ignorance about your child’s future is reason enough to maintain optimism and hope.