Worried About the Wrong Things?

Worried About the Wrong Things?

Cara Natterson, MD.jpg

Ten years ago, I sent a letter to the families in my pediatric practice telling them that I was retiring. I hadn’t yet turned 40. The reasons for my retreat could fill their own blog post –maybe even an entire book–but for the sake of this story, I will keep things simple. One day, in 2008, I left clinical medicine and set out to become a full-time writer.

For the next year, I researched and wrote about the 25 things parents worried about the most… or at least what they worried about out loud to me in the office or on the phone late at night or when we bumped into one another at school drop off or the local coffee shop. That content became a book called Dangerous or Safe? Which Foods, Medicines, and Chemicals Really Put Your Kids at Risk. And when it was re-released a year later as a paperback, it was also retitled: Worry Proof. I will admit that I didn’t love the new title when it was presented to me – and by presented, I mean that someone showed me the new cover art and said, “Here it is” and when I hesitated (okay, I probably gave a sideways look) I was told, “Not asking, just showing.” But after a short while I fell in love with the new name, so much so that when I launched a consulting business a couple of years later I adopted it for that purpose as well. That’s why I seem to default to it whenever anyone asks about the book. Dangerous or Safe? is scary and a mouthful; Worry Proof just feels better.

Over the past decade, I have watched, almost obsessively, both how and how much parents worry. Some over-parent or they helicopter or they lawnmower – the phenomenon now has dozens of names. Maybe you don’t parent that way, but if you don’t then I am willing to bet you make a conscious choice NOT to. Because worry and its exact opposite, the refusal to constantly worry, live at the epicenter of today’s parenting experience. I wrote Worry Proof because I thought I could provide evidence that you don’t need to stress about every little thing – I thought I could insulate parents from their fears. Ten years later, I have witnessed this snowball grow as it rolled downhill in a world fraught with terrifying variables (toxins! guns! bullying! processed foods! and many, many more!), becoming massive in a way that was unimaginable a decade ago but, at the same time, probably completely predictable.

For a while, I blamed some of this on the existence of the Business of Parenting (which is, quite notably, very different from the parenting business). But what I have come to recognize over the past decade is that the extended and magnified anxieties of parents are not the fault of parenting books or even the larger how-to-slay-parenting industry built on websites, videos, seminar series, and other purchasable virtual items. The problem is that these platforms allow for – some might even say encourage – a high volume of content. And as we all know, when content is in demand, the standards for that content can fall. Precipitously. Resulting in the circulation of bad information. Lots of it.

But this doesn’t mean that the platform should be abandoned, and when people with good information are the protestors who walk out, maybe they share some blame in the overall devolution of information. Among others, I would be talking about me.

I took a break from writing content for parents, a very long break starting in 2011, because I was tired of contributing to the noise. I cocooned myself in the world of middle grade non-fiction, blissfully writing cartoony books about puberty. But these days I find myself wading back into the parenting waters because, though well-intended, much of the information circulating out in the parental zeitgeist is wrong and I just can’t stand it anymore. Or maybe it isn’t exactly wrong, but it lives at the wrong level on the priority list. The things parents choose to worry about on behalf of their children – regardless of whether these children are babies or twenty-somethings or anywhere in-between – are often not the things that truly threaten those kids.

In medical school, one of the most important lessons learned is to constantly reassess the patient. After every intervention, recheck and see how he is doing. What has changed? How did a medicine or oxygen or CPR help the situation? Could you actually be making things worse? And how has the simple passage of time – independent of your therapeutic intervention – changed the patient’s status? It would be foolish to take care of a patient without constantly reassessing the situation and course-correcting when needed.

Parenting has become the patient. In the years since I published Worry Proof, what’s different about how we raise our kids? What do we know now that we never even considered then? What did doctors or well-meaning friends and family members advise a decade ago that makes us cringe today? How should you weigh advice from all of the people around you who seem to hurl it at you, whether or not you are seeking help? What do you need to know and how can you reframe your thinking so that you are effectively protecting and emboldening your kids, rather than spinning circles worrying about the wrong things? 

My new quest is to get you there: to write pieces and post content to help you worry less, or at least focus that worry on the things that really deserve your attention. The newsletter also has content for you to pass along to your kids because, even though I have a foot back in the parenting world, I’ll never leave those tweens and teens hanging. And just because I am a pro-social nerd, you’ll find book recommendations and intros to organizations that are changing the world for kids and families.

Welcome to The Monthly Dose, AKA the Worry Proof newsletter.