By Heidi Stevens

Chicago Tribune

An overwhelming fear in so much of parenting is that you’ve forever crushed the spirits of your children.

The root of the fear can be deep and impenetrable or flimsy and weak: You travel for work. You can’t afford theater camp. You won’t buy Lunchables.

The emotional weight of the fear is the significant part: It has no solution and no expiration date and no viable distraction, so it’s as likely to shake you awake at 3 a.m. as it is to silently interrupt an otherwise benign reading of “Green Eggs and Ham.”

The root of my fear is a divorce already a year in the past. The moving boxes are long unpacked, and the happiness that seemed forever buried under a mountain of bills and court orders and uncertainty has been unearthed and hangs comfortably in the air of our cozy, newish confines. Maybe it’s our culture, or maybe it’s my conscience, but a nagging voice is forever reminding me that I’ve taken something my children knew and cherished and relied on, and wrecked it. And, probably, I’ve wrecked them too.

It’s hogwash, of course. Most of our fears are. But you don’t know that at first, and you forget it a lot, so you scour, constantly, your children’s landscapes for signs of joy.

I obsess about how to give equal attention to two little ones whose needs are constant, humbling, so different from each other. How to forge a work identity without tying my identity to work. How to give ample, if not equal, attention to all those noncareer, nonkid pursuits – friendships, exercise, good books.

It’s elusive, balance, and it will always mean different things to different people. But I wonder if we wouldn’t all do well to place joy on one side of the scale and the rest of our stuff on the other side.

And to make sure the stuff side never weighs more than the joy side.