For Dad and mom, a New Stage of Large-Image Anxiousness

For Parents, a New Level of Big-Picture Anxiety

For parents with a penchant for it, care is a love language that is so primal that it feels eternal. It is not. By and large, fretting about the happiness of our offspring is a modern hobby, the invention of a society that now regards children as more than just petty factory workers. As their prospects gradually improved, our concern grew. In the last century, parents tormented themselves over the character, morals, spirit, work ethic, sexuality, insolence, social marginalization, violent impulses and much more of their children. Parent fear isn't just a sporadic twitch – it has become a widespread burden on American culture, from Tipper Gore's record warning labels to concerns about insufficient masculinity or femininity in our boys and girls. Our handshake reflects and shapes modern life.

Now that modern life is a nonsensical, crumbling hell landscape, it's hard not to look back with a big wink. Remember when Teen Talk Barbie said, "Math is hard!" and everyone lost their minds about what it would do to the kids? OK, the barbie thing actually annoys me again. But my bigger point is: We're now angry about a whole new frequency. A national habituation to mass death? Arguments About Is Science Real? Extensive fires burn on one side of the land? What does all this do with the children?

In the meantime, our worries will not stand still. As disasters other than the pandemic emerged – police violence, forest fires, frayed democracy – the corresponding fears began to take shape. One mother told me that in the past two months in California, she had taken her children's climatological wellbeing to a whole new level. It was a little abstract before, she said. It's no longer abstract.

Then there's the insane new pace at which huge crises are disappearing from the headlines and being pushed aside by the next insane story. What will it do for the children's relationship to their internal metabolism when extremely important events no longer affect reality?

A father told me he had fewer new worries than a new disastrous backdrop for his old one. Suddenly his daughter's interest in stupid romance novels not only feels like a sub-par literary habit, but is at odds with the global state of affairs.

Worry is devotion turned into fear. It's also rescheduled half the time. Who knows, maybe we look back and gratefully find out that we shed some of our stupid baggage during this phase – for example, concerns about the professional performance or social skills of our children. Maybe sometimes it happens like this: you trade old worries for new ones and one day you can't even remember why Sally's skirt had to go over her knees.

I recently came across a 2018 poll, sponsored by the Lice Clinics of America of all places, that said the average parent spent up to five hours a day caring for their children. What were we so excited about? Participation trophies? Which college would you go to? Slack pants? These concerns feel so faded that they are dreamlike.


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