I just finished reading the December 4 Time magazine cover story titled “Why We Worry About the Wrong Things.”
“Nearly twice as many Americans commit suicide each year as are murdered. More than 10 times as many die falling out of bed as from lightning strikes,” according to the article. And yet most of us don’t fear death from suicide; instead we have nightmares (in my case these usually occur during the day) about someone sneaking up on us from behind, clobbering us over the head and dragging us off behind a bush where they put us to our death in some awful manner. And as far as falling out of bed goes . . . Seriously? People die from that?
Apparently they do; in droves.
The point of the article was that we fear the worst, and yet “the worst” is probably not what’s going to befall us. We read about avian flu in the newspapers, hear lots about this horrible scourge on television, wring our hands over whether or not it’ll wipe us out. And yet not one person in this country has ever died from it; not ever. On the other hand, the common flu contributes to the deaths of 36,000 Americans every year.
Sadly, 20% of all adults smoke, nearly 20% of drivers and more than 30% of backseat passengers don’t use seatbelts, and two-thirds of us are overweight or actually obese. In other words, if we think about it logically we should already know how we’re probably going to die and we should also have some idea of who’s going to kill us. We’re going to kill ourselves.
But apparently we don’t think about it logically. We have a very poor ability to assess the actual risks and dangers in our own lives, according to behavioral scientists, and focus all our fear on unlikely, if horrific, scenarios. And I suspect this might be more true for us moms and the fears we have for our children than for any other group in our society.
For instance, I’ll bet the number-one fear of many parents is that their children will be abducted by some evil child predator and never seen again. I know that worry has been in the back of own mind every since my two kids were born, and comes straight to the front of my mind every time they’re 15 minutes late getting home from school. And yet, I read last year that statistically speaking, our children were more likely to be abducted by a stranger in the 1950s than they are now, and even then it wasn’t very likely.
So why do we obsess over things like this? It might have something to do with the amount of media coverage given to these occurrences. When Elizabeth Smart was abducted here in Salt Lake City a few years ago, we heard about it all day, every day, for weeks and weeks. The coverage was not only constant, it was repetitive — it continued unabated regardless of whether or not there were any new developments. So the terrible circumstances of the Smart family were being drilled into our brains around the clock. And every mom I knew, myself included, cried bitterly as they pored over the details of this family’s nightmare and in our empathy, we almost felt it was happening to us, too. I think when you become a mom you become a mom, in a sense, to every child in the world, and when one of them is abused, or sick, or lost ... it hurts you personally.
I’d like to worry less as a mom, though, because I don’t think worry by itself usually prevents things from going wrong; it simply stresses you and everyone around you. But I’m afraid that having kids and worrying about them go hand-in-hand. So if have to worry, I wish that I could at least focus more of my worry on things that have some actual likelihood of doing my children real harm.
Maybe instead of worrying about them walking home from school I should worry about the lack of exercise if they don’t walk home from school.
Maybe instead of worrying about whether or not mad cow disease might be lurking in their food I should worry about whether they should be eating so many french fries and hamburgers to begin with.
Maybe instead of worrying about whether or not they’ll be diagnosed with some exotic disease I should quit talking on my cell phone as I drive them to their doctor’s appointments.
I’m not sure I can worry about the falling-out-of-bed thing, though, as deadly a phenomenon as Time magazine claims it to be. Both Belle and Joe have already fallen out of bed more than once and there were no lasting effects. Of course, having said that, a fall out of bed is probably how I’ll meet my own demise.
But I’m not going to worry about it.