I have anxiety. I think I’ve always dealt with anxiety, but it was diagnosed in 2015, and I have lived with a better understanding of it since then.
I’d like to get a few misconceptions out of the way before I start talking about anxiety and parenting. Maybe it will serve to get us all on the same page. Anxiety is a big deal. Anxiety does not indicate low character. Anxiety does not indicate weakness. Anxiety is common. Anxiety doesn’t go away when ignored (in fact, ignoring it increases ones risk for depression). It is helpful for me to talk with people about my anxiety, and I’ve heard the same from other people who deal with it. I could talk about each of these things for hours, so if you’d like more of my input on any of them, let me know.
We were so excited when we found out that we were pregnant with big brother! It took us a little longer to get pregnant that we thought it would. Looking back now, I can see what role anxiety played while we were trying to get pregnant. At the time, though, I just thought that my fears and concerns were normal. They seemed to mimic everyone else’s fears and concerns, but I couldn’t turn mine off (this is the piece that I didn’t realize was different! I thought that every mom prospect was continuously worrying about why her body wasn’t conceiving. I thought we all had constantly pounding heartbeats and shortness of breath.)
I remember feeling so relieved when we found out that we were pregnant. My thoughts of worry and fear about never being able to conceive went away, but the lump in my throat, pounding heartbeats, and relentlessly interruptive thought processes didn’t. They just changed a little. I went from worrying about not getting pregnant, to worrying about not being able to stay pregnant, to worrying about health issues for baby, then it seemed to land on worrying about being a horrible mom. This is where it has sat for a while. though there are definitely other worries that often distract me from this one, when I’m not caring for myself well, this is the huge worry that consumes me (well, this and social anxiety, but that’s a different topic for another day.)
I’m going to use the words “worry” and “fear” interchangeably today, though I know that there are some subtle differences between the two. I’m sorry if my doing so annoys you. It’s how my brain is working today!
All of my worries about parenting aren’t indicators of anxiety on their own. The way that my mind decides to process them (or not process them, really) is the issue. Now, when I’m able to see that my mind is stuck in an unproductive pattern of worry, I’m better able to break the cycle. Sometimes this is by doing something like getting back on track with eating right and exercising. Sometimes it takes more focused work on my thoughts, like writing or talking with a friend or counselor. It even sometimes requires me to talk to my doctor about getting back on a low dose of medication (or trying a different medication if I’m currently taking one). I’d like to also note that though prayer and faith have been invaluable tools for handling my anxiety, they haven’t taken it away (I think that Christians sometimes feel like having anxiety means that they’re doing something wrong. I don’t think that this is the case at all!)
So, here are some of my parenting fears, and what I am choosing to do to keep them from taking over…
I fear hurting my kids. I love my kids deeply, and the thought of them being hurt (emotionally, physically, or mentally) by anything makes my stomach flip. But the thought of being the cause of their pain (now or later in life) sometimes keeps me up at night. My boys are only two and three right now, but I am extremely aware of the fact that they’re always learning about themselves, and I’m a big part of that. I’m sometimes terrified that they’ll learn inaccurate things about themselves, things that I don’t believe about them, based on my actions and words. I replay conversations with them over and over, picking through my phrasing and tone. This is what my anxiety looks like.
The truth of the matter is that parents do have a lot of power to hurt their children. My desire to keep them safe from harm is okay. It’s good for me to check myself and make sure that I’m motivated by the right things (them and their well-being, not my own selfish desires). It’s okay for me to replay these conversations and take mental notes on what to do differently next time. What’s not good is getting stuck! My boys need me to be able to act quickly. They need me to intervene, and if I make a mistake when putting out a fire I can and should learn from it and try not to do it again. These mistakes have been wonderful opportunities to apologize to my boys. “Momma is sorry that she raised her voice. I know that that scared you. I love you very much.” I still yell, but I’m working on it, and this let’s them know that I know it’s not okay. It makes me more accountable when I do it in the future.
My fears of hurting them and who they become as adults are just as pervasive as my fears of hurting them day-to-day. I don’t want to be at the tail end of their first 18 years and realize that I haven’t raised self-respecting, resilient, productive, loving, kind people. I have huge fears that I may somehow be the one to stunt them in any of these areas. When my anxiety gets the best of me, I do my best to remember that the little descisions that I’m making to be aware of the effect that my behaviors have on them are preventing these huge concerns. Baby steps!!
I was planning to share more fears today, but I think that I need to finish digesting all of this before I continue.
If you are an anxious parent please remember this: there are resources everywhere to help you! There’s help for anxiety, help for depression, help with parenting, help in the form of friends and family, childcare help…you’re not alone!! Talk to your doctor and the people around you. Make others aware of your anxiety, so that when you’re stuck they can point you to help! Anxiety is miserable when you are doing it alone, but it’s manageable with help!
Thanks for reading. Sorry for the abrupt ending. Feel free to like,share, and comment. I’d love to know how you deal with your parenting fears!!