A lifetime of worry

Recent events have made me wonder if parents ever stop worrying about their children.  A few weeks ago I returned home much later than planned due to some unscheduled post-work drinks.  Given that my place of work is at the bottom of a valley in the middle of nowhere, mobile reception is about as hard to find as a teenage girl that doesn’t love One Direction, so calling or texting my parents to let them know my whereabouts was pretty much impossible.  I won’t mention the fact that I was having such an enjoyable time that I didn’t even consider contacting the people who might care about where I was.  At roughly 2am, I finally started the journey home: cue multiple text messages and voice mails, all along the ‘where are you?!’ theme.  I arrived home to find my mother sitting on the stairs in floods of tears, apparently ten minutes away from calling the police.  The fact that I’m 23 years old, don’t drink except when clubbing, and fairly responsible didn’t really seem to count for much.

Now, I must explain that this was literally the first time that I had ever come home later than expected.  Boarding school from the age of ten, followed by university, interspersed with a few bouts of living abroad or in London have all meant that my social activity has been far-removed from the family home.  Out of sight, out of mind.  Add the fact that up until recently I had pretty much no social life whilst living at home, and you get a set of parents that have never had to deal with worrying about their youngest child coming home late.  I must also add that my mother’s sister died at a young age in a car crash whilst travelling alone, and therefore there is always that deep-seated dread at the back of her mind that something similar has happened to me.

Anyway, it seems that regardless of the fact that I’ve clearly had many late nights (indeed, nights where I haven’t gone home at all…) in the long periods of time when I’ve been living away from home, the minute I’m back in the family nest the game changes completely.  Suddenly my parents are concerned as to my whereabouts, whereas previously they either didn’t want to know or didn’t especially care.  You would have thought that at an age where the only thing preventing me from moving away from home is a lack of funds, my parents might be beyond the stay-up-all-night-worrying stage.  Apparently not.  Do parents ever stop worrying about their children?  Does the arrival of a baby determine decades of sleepless nights and hovering by the phone?  Will this worry continue until we move out/marry/have our own children?  I guess only time will tell.

If I’m being honest, there was a teeny tiny part of me that liked the fact that my mother was reduced to tears.  I don’t mean this in a sadistic way.  I mean that I was touched that she still cares to that extent about my safety.  So maybe there’s a bit in all of us that wants our parents to worry about us, even if it’s just to know that we still mean everything to them, and haven’t been replaced a new dog, or the boat bought as a retirement present, or the latest community project.

Maybe the whole parental worry thing is something that can only be understood once we become parents ourselves.  Perhaps it takes the creation and birth of a screaming, yelling scrap of tiny human to inject that real terror into our lives.  I think I’ll wait a few years before finding out.