I have said it before, and I will say it again: any anxiety you have does get exacerbated after you have a child. You can still be a fantastic, joyous parent; but you should know some things up front about living as an anxious mom. Here’s what life is like for me, as well as some tips if you’re an anxious parent too.
I’ve always been an exceptionally organized, over-analytical, think-ahead-and-plan type. I thrived on consistency and scrambled when something happened last minute or not according to plan. But I never really experienced anxiety until I found myself in an unprofessional, discriminatory and emotionally abusive job out of college. I was medicated lightly, and got out of that job to a place where I felt valued and well taken care of. The issues disappeared, and I was able to discontinue the medication. Years later, I became a mom.
The anxiety was not really an issue while I was pregnant, but it reared its ugly head almost immediately after my son was born. We had a scare the first night that we brought him home, resulting in us calling 911. Thankfully our baby was OK; however, the terror which I felt left a lasting impression. It haunted me, not for my sake but for what might have happened to my child. And so my old friend anxiety moved back in.
Then there was leaving my child with people I hardly knew at daycare; having to leave him so that I could go to a job that I hated so that I could pay for the daycare I didn’t want; the risk of car accidents every day with him in my vehicle; choking, falling, hurting himself at home; the list went on and on. And make no mistake: this was not PPD. I did not feel unfit to be a mother, nor did I feel a disconnect in watching out for his well-being. It was just the burden of always analyzing what could possibly go wrong, and exhausting myself trying to prevent every potential accident from ever happening.
I know that it must seem ridiculous to hear me with my paranoia, I even feel that way myself. Surely not every parent is carrying this overwhelming burden of “what ifs” on their shoulders. I know that people don’t think what I think or feel what I feel, and they can probably turn their brain off. But I can’t. I have imagined disasters in the hopes that I can proactively prevent them from happening; I have worried over the silliest things, knowing AS I’M WORRYING that it’s silly and I should relax. But my mind refuses to let go. It’s exhausting.
I also feel like I sometimes need to warn others about my anxiety, or apologize for it afterwards. I don’t mean to be jumpy or ultra paranoid, but it is part of who I am now. Family and friends try to understand, but I do know that it probably throws them off a little bit.
The interesting thing is, now that I have been a parent for 3 1/2 years, that now I accept my anxiety. It annoys me and I sometimes wish that it would let go of its grasp on me, but the reality is that it is here. I am comfortable with myself as a woman and a mother, and I don’t feel that I need to be ashamed. I actually chose to write this post to bring more awareness to this topic, not hide behind it.
I think that being a more experienced parent has helped me to relax. This certainly does not mean that a tragedy could never happen to us – unfortunately I know that this is never the case. We are not exempt from danger. But now that my track record is 3 1/2 years long, I can reason with myself. I can remind myself that realistically, things will be OK. I control what I can, and to try to minimize risk. The voice of anxiety is not gone, but it is quieter. And now it listens to me.
I am also a faithful believer in “knowledge is power.” The more I have learned – from safety trainings like CPR, to how to baby proof my home, to move into a home which is only one story – the more I can let my mind rest. The anxiety loosens its grip on me.
I still feel a need to stay in control when I can, particularly when it comes to a routine for my kids. We have a daily schedule which really works for our family, and it’s pretty sacred. I get antsy when the doctor is running really late, or there’s a lot of traffic. But I try to hold on to what I can, and let go of the rest. Just breathe.
I also feel better when I’m over-prepared. I sometimes feel like Mary Poppins because I have everything in my bag, from extra diapers to kid silverware and a stash of a few small toys (as well as some offline kids’ games and videos on my phone). Water bottles and spare snacks line the backseat floorboard of my car, as well as towels and blankets and hats. Again, I am painfully aware that this seems like gross overkill, but it makes me feel better to have that “just in case” covered.
And finally, I am open about my thoughts and feelings. My husband and I have been together for 15 years, and even now sometimes I feel a bit ridiculous telling him about all of my worries. But I tell him nonetheless. It is essential that I communicate my thoughts with him. As always, he is my anchor and he brings me back down to the ground. But not before we talk about new strategies and ideas which help us both feel more at ease. Sometimes it is as simple as me taking it easy for an evening because I am really just overwhelmed.
I can now say that I’m honest about what it’s like to live as a parent with anxiety. I think that the worst is over; I have strategies in place which help me when I feel like I’m drowning, and I’m not alone. My friend anxiety may move out one day, but I have a feeling he’s going to be staying. But I can handle it.
I truly hope that reading this has made you a bit more aware of how to help your loved ones with anxiety, particularly the ones who are also parents. If you yourself are a parent who has anxiety, what has helped you?