Our kids look at us as though we push the sun down at the end of the day and pull the moon up at night — but we are not gods.
We are very much human, and very much flawed. The mistakes we make are real and have real consequences. Sometimes they are massive, seemingly unrectifiable, and sometimes they are minor, easily brushed aside. And sometimes, perhaps worst of all, the consequences of our mistakes become the issues of our children.
The Past Influences the Present
I grew up in a home that was critical and explosive on one end and emotionally needy and self-absorbed on the other.
My anxiety ran rampant. I avoided playgrounds if there were kids on them and was plagued with unnamed terror every bedtime. My palms were constantly sweaty and my heart raced whenever I considered raising my hand at school. The odd time I did, and got the answer wrong, I would melt into my seat because I was so stupid.
My daughter was born and I vowed to never make her feel unloved, unheard, or alone. I had spent enough time feeling those things and couldn’t imagine being the source of them for her.
But in my fierce love, in my well-intentioned parenting, I inadvertantly poked a slumbering beast — and woke it.
Anxiety Kept Us Alive
Anxiety is naturally occurring; without it, our kind wouldn’t have survived.
The online article “The Evolution of Anxiety: Why We Worry and What to Do About It,” phenomenally illustrates (literally) how our brains developed in an Immediate Return Environment (danger = run = safety) and are now having to function in a Delayed Return Environment (work now = paycheck later). This shift happened in a very short timespan in terms of human history, and we’re still adjusting to it.
Unfortunately, anxiety has become as issue. A big one.
The Worry Monster
Because my daughter was predisposed to it (anxiety runs in the family), and because I was approaching it all wrong (overcompensating), my daughter developed issues with anxiety. And selfishly, my only reprieve from the guilt is that she isn’t an anomaly.
Author of Freeing Your Child From Anxiety, Dr. Tamar E. Chansky, writes that anxiety is the primary mental health problem of children today.
According to one study by psychologist Jean Twenge, even typical schoolchildren today without any diagnoses have baseline stress levels higher than psychiatric patients in the 1950s. – Freeing Your Child From Anxiety, p. 5 (link to research here)
I discovered Dr. Chanksy’s book after a recent bout of anxiety left my daughter crying for three nights in a row. Gutted by her pain, I raced out to the local bookstore. See, we’d already sought support for this, so I knew I needed to change things on my end to be of any help.
New book in hand, I eagerly flipped through the pages and my eyes caught this heading: “Parental Behaviors Associated With Anxiety in Children.” My eyes scanned the bullet points and my heart sank deep, deep down.
Oh god… I thought. I had done so many things wrong. In my attempts to raise a conscientious, self-aware, empowered person who feels loved and cared for, I had also raised the Worry Monster.
Being excessively cautious, reinforcing distorted worries by shining a spotlight on them, being critical — those are just some of the behaviours I had engaged in at one point or another in the last 6 years.
Place dagger over heart. Exert pressure. Die a little.
Entertaining the worries of anxious kids only feeds their “monsters,” their anxiety. Entertaining our anxieties within their earshot does the same. But sheltering our children doesn’t help either. It comes down to a balance of acknowledging and ignoring the worries. In other words, Tough Love.
Anxious kids need to be shown how to separate themselves from their worries. They are not their worry; they are only experiencing worry — and it will pass. They must experience anxiety and then watch it go, so they know they will remain unharmed and the world will remain intact. So that they can see that worries don’t destroy us and that all things eventually pass.
Put dagger down. Clean up the mess.
We Can Fix Our Mistakes
My daughter and I orbit one another in that supercool cosmic connectedness way, but our gravitational pull is loosening, naturally. I have a responsibility to teach, to instill, to model everything I can while I can and to the best of my abilities. If that involves reaching into the uncomfortable places of myself, I will reach.
This precious, important time with my daughter has been given to me, and I am not going to waste it.
This is about accountability, not self-blame.
I am not irredeemable. We — parents who make mistakes — are not irredeemable. So long as we try. So long as we take a good, honest look at ourselves, admit our errors, and then do something about them.
We are resilient, capable of bouncing back after adversity. Just like our children.
So, I will show my daughter how to tame her monsters by taming my own. I will face situations with a renewed perspective, with a different style of communication. And with quiet strength and love in my heart, I will fix the mistakes I’ve made.
— Coulee Mom