My greatest fear is losing my parents: dealing with chronophobia

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"With a right understanding of time, all clocks are alarming." Steve Nimmons on chronophobia

What do people my age worry about? As a member of the generation that has been named the most anxious in history, I guess it’s only in my nature to wonder about such things. For millennials, feeling behind in life is a common theme. The idea that time is running out can bring forth a sense of dread that is both overwhelming and debilitating at times. These emotions, which can manifest in younger individuals despite their youth, stem from a concept known as chronophobia, or the irrational fear of time.

Chronophobia is connected to a heightened awareness of time’s inevitable passage. Some medical sources consider it to be an actual phobia with diagnosable qualities; however, in general terms, it simply refers to the uneasiness that people experience from the feeling that life is moving too fast to make any true sense of it.


This type of anxiety is common in students enrolled in extensive programs, prisoners serving long sentences, and the elderly. The feeling of losing time, whether it pertains to cramming for a midterm, wasting away in a jail cell, or approaching the end of one's life can cause anxiety in the same way that fear of the actual event can. As writer Martina put it, chronophobia is less about the doom and more about it being impending.

Chronophobia-related tendencies can be linked to metathesiophobia, or the fear of change. As time passes, our lives start to run at steadier paces, and we learn to find peace in the monotony. It’s once we sink into that state of steadfastness, however, that the reality of our current comforts being temporary becomes more difficult for us to accept.

Lately, I’ve been having a hard time dealing with just how fast time seems to be moving. Living in a pandemic probably isn’t helping, either. Almost every day, I get anxious thinking about how behind I am in life in comparison to some of my peers. I worry about the fact that I am nearing the age when my dad started a family, yet I am nowhere even close to being ready to start my own. I struggle with the inevitability that I will outlive my dog, who is now 10 years old. Sometimes, I even feel like I’m having a harder time dealing with my parents growing older than they are themselves.


Which brings me to my mom and dad—people always tell me I am lucky to have such loving and supportive parents, and I agree. I never once take it for granted that they are both happy, healthy, and still in my life today. I am at a point in my life where seeing my parents is a regular part of my everyday affairs. Perhaps that is why the thought of losing them is hitting me so hard, so early — their absence being an inevitable part of my future is a tough pill to swallow, especially when I am used to having them around all the time.

As a first-generation immigrant, I have seen the extent of my parents' sacrifice and reflect on it constantly. I think about how my parents gave up their stable jobs in the Philippines to give us a better life in Canada. I think about the time they bought the expensive Hot Wheels toy garage that five-year-old me could not bear to leave at the store, even if it meant being short for groceries that week. I think about the first apartment we used to live in, with the ripped wallpaper and our mattresses on the floor. I think about the night shifts my dad used to take so he could watch us during the day while my mom was at work. Thinking back on those times and how we made it through makes it even more challenging to imagine a future without my parents.

As they get older, I become more and more inclined to give back to them. And I don't just mean in monetary ways—I also give them my time; which, at my age, is a precious commodity. At this stage in my life, I probably should be going out and "milking my prime," as some of my friends say. But in all honesty, I am wholly content spending my free time with my parents, whether it's just to watch movies with them or keep up with their lives in general. To me, spending time with my mom and dad is time well spent, and that gives me comfort whenever I feel like I’m running out of time to spend. At least I can say to myself that I’m not wasting any of it.


While the inner sense of duty to give back to our parents does not exclusively apply to children of immigrants, it often presents itself more readily to them just by nature of their unique immigrant experience. All parents make sacrifices, yes, but not all of them have the courage to leave behind the comfortable lives they live and move to a foreign land for their children’s sake; without any job prospects or savings, no less. I, for one, admit that I could never do what my parents did. I think that most children of immigrants, especially those who are foreign-born, recognize that sacrifice and become impelled to reciprocate; not only financially, but also in ways that may not necessarily be normative in western culture.

For example, the social norm that kids should move out the moment they turn 18 is routinely perpetuated in popular culture; however, such a concept can be baffling (or even unfathomable) to some young adults. Foreign-born children of immigrants, in particular, often live with their parents well into their 20s and 30s despite the fact that they may already have the means to move out and live on their own. That’s because in many cultures, staying with one’s parents for a longer period of time is both socially acceptable and a form of veneration.

In Italy, more than 65 percent of Italians between the ages of 18 and 34 still live at home with their parents; three-quarters of which are men. The country has even coined a term for these men: "mammoni" or "mama's boys." In Italian culture, there exists a strong bond between parent and child, and such is a primary factor that keeps many men from moving out.


In places like Egypt, it is customary for young adults to live with their parents until they get married. There is a dynamic in many Egyptian homes where young adults are still seen as kids even if they are nearing their 30s. Alia, a 26-year old from Cairo, says it's "just how things are done" in her culture.

"I live with my parents and would like to move out, but doing so would be seen as resentment toward home, which is not the case," she told ABC News. "Besides, it would be very draining in terms of arguments and could ruin my relationship with [my parents], which is something I value dearly and wouldn’t want to risk. Even if, hypothetically, I was able to convince them, the move would put them and me under scrutiny from friends and family because it is an unorthodox situation."

Then you have the opposite scenario, where children will move out and find work overseas in order to provide for their parents and siblings. Such is a common practice in countries such as the Philippines, which is the largest exporter of migrant workers in the world. While the children, in this case, are the immigrants rather than the parents, the intent is still the same — to give back to their parents and honor the sacrifices they have made over the years.


My mom's late brother was an overseas worker. He moved to Saudi Arabia in 1984 and lived there for 14 years, working as a communications engineer. My mom always tells me that he was the reason she was able to finish university and become an engineer herself. Without his sacrifice, my mom may not have taken the path in life that she did; the one that led her to the job where she met my dad and ultimately brought my family into existence. Tito Boy, we miss you.

All of these considerations tie back to chronophobia. Time is fleeting, and many millennials who wish to give back to their parents may feel rushed or incapable to do so. Mounting challenges such as student debt, poor job prospects, lower wages, rising inflation, and a seemingly untouchable housing market augment their chronophobia and make it difficult for them to care for their aging parents, let alone themselves.

So while it may be true when people say we have our whole lives ahead of us, we still can't help but worry. Millennial anxiety is a real thing, and dealing with chronophobia on top of it doesn't help. To answer my own question: What do people my age worry about? Well, the future. Our future.

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