If you’ve seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, you must know that Newt would be a great father. Firm but fair, compassionate and kind, prepared for anything, Newt treats the magical creatures and humans alike with such respect and kindness that I can’t help but want to be like him, as a person and a parent. While his occupation is to research and document all he can about magical creatures around the world, the person that he is drives him to treat these creatures with love and respect. And while he may not have intended it as parenting advice, his sage advice to Jacob in Central Park Zoo has deeply resonated with me. “Don’t worry,” he said. “When you worry, you suffer twice.”
I like to believe I’m not a huge worrier, but my eldest son is learning to drive, I have boys that have to do things when I’m not around to help, and having squirrel-toned skin evidently puts me and my family at risk at being attacked by strangers to go back to my country. And if the boys go to bed too late, they may be cranky in the morning and argue. And if they’re really cranky, they may get into a fight. And if I don’t cook a well-balanced meal every single night they’re going to grow up and eat candy for dinner. And if I let them eat sugary cereal they’ll get diabetes before they turn twenty. And if they don’t make their beds in the morning they’ll have bad marriages because they’re so insensitive and irresponsible. And if. And if. And if. After all, the downside of being a fiction writer is that I can easily imagine things going wrong.
How do I let go of worry? And what does that even look like? A few years back, I gave up yelling at my kids. It had become too easy, when I got frustrated that they weren’t listening to me, to get flustered and raise my voice. The yelling wasn’t particularly effective anyhow, since my boys seem to have Teflon skin and natural earplugs that tune out my voice. But the exercise helped me become more mindful of why I yelled, and it reminded me that I have other tools in my parenting toolbox to elicit cooperation and compliance.
That’s what motivates my quest to worry less. It’s about becoming more self-aware about what motivates behavior. Why do I freak out about my kids going to bed late? Because I’m worried about a rough morning. Then, the next morning, I’m scoping for signs, reacting to the slightest misstep as if I was right all along, thus reinforcing my worry. On the other hand, on a relaxed morning, the same act—a snarky comment or refusing to get out the milk jug for his brother—might not phase me at all and I’ll calmly manage the situation, not think twice about the incident or assign a false correlation to bedtime. If my kid is having a bad day, my being worried about what that means about his personality, the adult he’ll become, or his long-term relationship with his brother is not helping the situation. If I burden a moment with worries about its long-term implications, then it makes moving forward that much harder.
Newt knows his beasts, offers them a safe and comfortable home, accepts them for who they are, and works with them to succeed. He strives to make the world a place that is more accepting of them. I, on the other hand, worry. I worry about every parenting choice I make and its consequences. I worry about my kids’ safety when they bike around the neighborhood or down to the bakery or the game store. The trouble is, parenting that is guided by worries impinges upon children’s growth, and resides in direct conflict with trust. To teach kids the right thing to do in any situation is one thing, but to let them have opportunities to test that knowledge is just as important. Letting them try and fail, while you’re around to pick up the pieces, is something I often have to push myself to do. It runs so counter to my own upbringing, where I was kept safe by not being allowed to take risks. Hence the worry.
But, if I am prepared to handle any scenario, carry my own magical suitcase of tricks and techniques, and I trust myself—and my family—to be the best versions of ourselves, then there is no place for worry.
There is plenty in the world that can go wrong. And it’s important, when things do go wrong, to handle the situation appropriately—to know what to do, who to call, what to say. And as we raise our own little humans to become responsible, mature adults, we want them to acquire the skills to handle whatever situation they face. Maturely. I want my kids not only to know what to do under pressure but to help others as well. And that requires that I trust them. And not let the worry drive me.
So I will try to remember Newt Scamander’s sage advice, and trust that it will help me become a better parent.