Why My Kids Won't be Playing Football (And Other Adventures in Worry-Warting)

I wasn't exactly anxiety free before I had kids, there were plenty of things I worried about. Flying, for one. I'm not what you call a "good flyer". Not at all. I'm definitely a "BAD flyer". And it's not for lack of trying. I cannot count the number of times I've been on a plane, especially back and forth to California to visit family, but I hate it each and every time. Kids or no kids I'm horrible and anxiety ridden on any flight. And before kids I worried about work, my career (of lack thereof), what I ate, what I was going to do when I grew up. But it was all more of a collection of little things that would add up on days when I was feeling down. It was never insurmountable. But then I had kids. As I have talked about before, my reaction to having my first, Finn, was to try to control pretty much everything. When he ate, when he slept, when he was bathed, it was all planned down to the minute almost and when it worked, it worked great. When it didn't work, or when I had to be more flexible, now that was when it got tricky. He was almost eighteen months old when he got his first cold, but it was way before then that I started worrying about, well, pretty much everything.

Here was this PERSON that I was supposed to take care of and protect. The questions and self doubt attached themselves to all of my actions as a parent, sucking the enjoyment out of it like leeches. Did I breathe in too many fumes when they painted my office while I was pregnant? Is his neck too crunched in that car seat? Will he develop childhood obesity because I didn't nurse him long enough? Will I cut his little fingertips if I try to clip his nails with the nail clipper rather than attempt the nail file AGAIN?? But when the questions would creep in too much I would push them back out with the control. Everything will be fine as long as we stay on our little routine. I can keep the big scary worries at bay with this schedule.

With Levy I had to let go of it because of the post-partum depression, and it was in that letting go that I discovered a new sense of security. The sense that even if things did fall apart somewhat I could still pick them all up and get back on track. I realized I did have some reserves deep down that I could rely on, and by shining the light on them in my mind I made them stronger. The scary questions didn't stop, they just became fainter, and I could poke fun at them now. How silly it seemed to worry about if I introduced fruit too soon. That time I let them have Cheetos seemed ridiculous to worry over, and it was ridiculous. I can reconcile the fact that I worried about that stuff because of anxiety but I needed to put it behind me.

With Jack the worries again popped up like little weeds in my now somewhat cultivated garden. Was he too hot at night? Is he getting enough to eat? But I am able to quickly cut them down. I'm not over-confident, I'm just confident enough, I think. I finally HAVE some confidence as a parent, so I feel like I can see over the tops of the little worry weeds. But now, the problem has become I don't know WHEN to worry about stuff. I've gotten so used to stubbing out the little fires of my anxieties no matter what they were that I'm not sure what actually merits the worry now.

Of course the obvious ones, the biggies, are still something to worry about. Stranger danger, ticks, water safety. But I've found that in my quest to combat the worry I try to brush too much off and get confused. I don't want to be perceived as that mom, the one who wants to put a helmet on their newly walking toddler, the one who can't step back and let the kids just be kids on the playground, so I take the approach of being the cool cucumber parent. But not this time, I think I might have to put my foot down on this issue, worry wart or not.

I've been thinking for a while now about the dangers of kids playing football. Even with helmets it just seems like too much for their developing brains to handle. And kids start so young with it now too, it just has scared me from the get go. But every time I have piped up about it I've gotten shut down as being a worry wart. "Kids have been playing football for years, it's fine" they tell me. "They don't hit each other that hard", they say. "That's what the helmets are for" they insist. A lot of parents (let's face it, fathers especially) can't wait for their sons to start playing football, especially if they are big football fans themselves, but more and more it seems like maybe it isn't fine. Recently, former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner put his concerns out there about his own children playing the very sport that has made him famous:

"They both have the dream, like dad, to play in the NFL. That's their goal. And when you hear things like the bounties, when you know certain things having played the game, and then obviously when you understand the size, the speed, the violence of the game, and then you couple that with situations like Junior Seau — was that a ramification of all the years playing? And things that go with that. It scares me as a dad. I just wonder — I wonder what the league's going to be like. I love that the commissioner is doing a lot of things to try to clean up the game from that standpoint and improve player safety, which helps, in my mind, a lot. But it's a scary thing for me."

When I heard him speak out I instantly applauded him in my mind. Bravo for admitting that these things scare him as a parent. Although he has received quite a bit of backlash (okay a LOT of backlash) I as a parent am proud of him for speaking up about his concerns. However, even some of his opponents also have interesting spins on the issue. Here is former NFL linebacker LaVar Arrington's response to Warner:

"To me, it's sissification, and I think that's the only way to put it," Arrington said. "I will not go through my life scared and I don't want my children to go through life scared. I started playing football when I was 8 years old and I would never not want to give that opportunity to my children."

Now, let me just say, the term (I won't call it a word) "sissification" is just silly. But I do appreciate his feeling to not want his kids to go through life being scared. That is my other concern. I want to protect them as much as I can, but my new worry is that I will turn THEM into worry warts, and that might just be my biggest fear right now. I don't want them to feel the worry and anxiety I feel all the time for them. I want to keep them safe but do it "behind the scenes" so to speak. It's the same feeling as seeing a spider and freaking out inside but playing it cool so I don't pass on the spider fear to them. It's not easy. And I don't always accomplish it. Actually I'm pretty sure they know how terrified I am of spiders.

To further complicate the issue for myself is the struggle between "letting them be kids" and protecting them. IF I put my foot down and tell Finn or Jack that they can't play football because of the health concerns am I somehow robbing them of something? Some freedom to choose what THEY want to do even though I think it could be harmful? Isn't protecting them what I am supposed to be doing as a parent in the first place? If Finn said he wanted to build a bonfire outside by himself I would of course say no, even if he REALLY REALLY wanted to, and no one would deny my parenting in that instance, so why would people deny it now? Because it is something so many of us have done in the past? That is another stumbling block I find as a parent, especially when discussing these issues with some grandparents. Some people, even some peers of mine, have the mindset of well, I did it, so it can't be all bad. But didn't people used to say that about smoking?

Let's call it now. Just because you did it, or your parents did it, or you cousin or neighbor or best friend or Tom Brady did it or does it doesn't mean that it gets an automatic pass for your child, or mine. If I worry about head injuries with kids playing football that doesn't make me a "sissy". To be honest, I'm not sure what direction I'm going to go in. I'm going to continue to read articles about the research they are doing like this one, and this one which talks about the new study showing that head impacts among second-grade football players are sometimes as severe as those seen at the college level.

But my real question I guess is where do we draw the line? For seemingly every sport there seems to be a horror story that can turn you off, swimming, lacrosse, hockey, baseball, even sports that seem "safe" like golf. What is the tipping point to make you put your foot down? I suppose it is different for every parent, and that's okay. This issue of course circles back to the idea of each parent supporting each other and respecting each others decisions. Maybe I won't let Finn and Jack play football, maybe you will let your kids play. To me the research is stacking up pretty quickly, but to other parents the risks might seem worth it. What I want to know is, how do you make the decisions? Do you worry that you let fear steer the way in your parenting too much? You can inject danger into pretty much any situation with kids, so how do you pick and choose? For the time being, football is on my list of things to watch out for, along with the potential dangers of being too over-protective. Such is parenting I suppose.