Parenting children while dealing with an anxiety disorder can be a very tricky dance.
If you are like me, of all the things you worry about
Messing up your kids is probably your number one worry.
They come into the world so sweet and perfect, that it is almost overwhelming to imagine how you will get them to adulthood healthy and whole.
In terms of parenting with an anxiety disorder, there are two main ways that I struggle.
One struggle is dealing with the limits that my anxiety places on my parenting.
It hurts my heart to think of the number of times that I have told my children
help you with homework,
take you to soccer today,
has a migraine,
doesn’t feel well,
is worried about flaring up her allergies.”
Add to that all the extra things my kids have had to do because of my anxiety-induced limits. Just in the past month they have taken on laundry duty, carried items and pushed the cart at the grocery store, and generally been my arms and back around the house while I sort out this stress-related neck and shoulder pain.
I try to tell myself that my kids are resilient. That learning to help others in their family/community is an important lesson. That if I didn’t struggle with this, there would be some other limitation that would affect my relationship with my kids.
But at the end of the day I still worry that I am shortchanging my kids.
The other big issue I face in parenting with an anxiety disorder is trying not to pass on the habits of worry and fear to my kids.
This may be the bigger factor of the two for me. I pray that one day my children will forgive me my faults and brokenness, like all children eventually have to do with all parents.
But Dear God in Heaven, let them not inherit my anxiety.
This is doubly tricky because I believe propensity towards anxiety can actually be inherited as in written into our DNA. But I also know that anxiety can be learned.
We have two children, one that was born from me and one that is adopted. Of the two kids, I actually notice our adopted child mirroring my anxiety more than the one that shares my DNA. Now is this because she came with her own anxiety, having been abandoned at birth, moved from foster home to orphanage and then finally across the world until she settled in her forever home? Or is this because she is modeling her same-sex parent who has taught her to be anxious?
Since anxiety is a complicated beast, we may never know.
So mainly I focus on damage control.
1) Sometimes I am honest with them about the fact that I am anxious.
And I tell them I am probably more anxious than I need to be because worry is something I struggle with. We think we can hide these kind of things from our kids, but young ones are uncannily sensitive and smart. I figure if I don’t put it out there and explain what is going on, they will still feel my fear and come to their own conclusions on why I am afraid.
2) When possible I defer to the braver, calmer parent.
I am lucky in that my husband does not suffer from anxiety. To me he is a fearless rock. When we get in a situation where I know I am more anxious about something than I need to be, and he is just fine, he takes the reigns. This is why Daddy takes our kids zip-lining while Mommy tours a winery. The kids learn to be brave and I soothe myself until I can greet them at the end of their adventure with a smile and pretend it is fun to hear how they flew down a mountain.
3) I teach them how to soothe their own anxiety.
Since I’ve taught my daughter to be anxious, I figured it was only fair that I also teach her deep-breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, and how to recognize and switch her anxious thoughts. Since my son tends more towards irritability, we work on breathing and easy meditation.
4) I try to be brave.
Honestly, having kids has brought out the brave in me more than anything ever could. So when they want to ride the chair lift at the fair or watch the tightrope act at the circus, I summon up my courage and go along for the ride. Sometimes they are sweet enough to encourage me, “Come on Mom, you can do it!”
And when they want to ride around the block by themselves or go to the middle school dance, I take a deep breath and say okay. I may be breathing the worry away until I see their beautiful faces again, but I know it is important to believe in them enough to let them go.
In the end I guess we all just do the best we can with what we have.
And learn to say I’m Sorry.
And I Love You.
And hope we’re not hugging them too much because we’re worried about how badly we’re messing them up.