Monday, 5 September 2016

Parental Anxiety: is it possible to get it right?

It's the start of a new school year and with it, a reminder to parents everywhere that we can't always be there for our children. And that the worry, for a parent, never stops.

Parental anxiety is one of the themes in Dr Carol Cooper's latest novel, Hampstead Fever (available in bookshops, and online from Amazon and other retailers) and I'm delighted to say that Carol has written a blog post on the subject, specially for us. She writes...

When expecting your first child, there’s a golden moment during which you’re thrilled with the prospect of having a baby, but haven’t yet realised that you’re on course for a lifetime of worry. 

Not all parents are anxious about their offspring. Some are so laid back they’re in danger of falling over, but those, in my experience as a doctor and a mother, are few and far between. 

There’s plenty to agonise over. My own three kids kicked off with asthma, allergies, and accidents before working their way through the rest of the medical dictionary. 

While on the Bs (bronchiolitis and broken bones), one of my twins was suspected of having a brain tumour. His CT scan was under anaesthetic, and he took a scary length of time to come round afterwards. Naturally, I imagined all kinds of permanent damage. All was well, as it turned out, while I got a few more grey hairs.

Being a family doctor has been of limited use. I know from my own practice how quickly things can change with children. Usually it’s for the better, but sometimes it’s the other way. 

I’m only too aware of conditions like sepsis where symptoms may be minimal in the early stages, yet can lead to death within little more than an hour. Surely it’s easier all round to remain vigilant 24/7? That way, when a new threat comes along, you’re already on high alert. 

Worry becomes hard to turn off. There’s the nagging feeling that the moment you relax is when things will go wrong. So you spend the best years of your life (and theirs) fretting. You know, just in case.

I sometimes stopped worrying for a moment or two. Then I’d find one of my sons fiddling with matches. Or having duels with his best friend, armed with metal curtain poles sharpened to a terrifying point. 

The bad news? There isn’t a moment at which anxieties melt away. Growing up brings new risks, like drugs, sex, and drink. 

Parental worry is one of the themes in my latest novel Hampstead Fever. None of the characters gets it right, but there is an answer, of sorts. 

Being anxious won’t stop bad things from happening. It’s not a talisman like a four-leaf clover or a lucky rabbit’s foot. It’s more like being the rabbit, without its paw. 

The best any parent can do is to get up to speed with the facts. Share the information with your children, in an age-appropriate way, and take common sense precautions. Then enjoy the magical experience of raising a child, and worry only when you have to. 


There are many places to find reliable health info, including NHS Choices and Patient UK.

Carol Cooper is a GP, journalist, and author. After a string of parenting books and an award-winning textbook of general practice, she turned her hand to contemporary fiction with a medical hint. She teaches medical students at Imperial College, London, and is president of the Guild of Health Writers. Best of all, she has three amazing sons.

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