So, I was an anxious person before Diana and I had children. But adding three boys to the mix didn’t exactly have a sedative effect.
My particular stripe of anxiety disorders has included obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and agoraphobia. I’ve risen above all that, but that’s for another time. Suffice it to say that I speak with some authority on the subject of being an anxious parent.
This is a Guest Post from Randy Fishell from An Anxious Kind of Mind.
As much as I might like to submit a groundbreaking theory about the reason for parental anxiety, it all begins with a not-so-groundbreaking premise: we love our kids far more than anyone else. So it follows that we’re anxious to protect them from life’s pitfalls and tragedies. Any parent worth his or her credentials will naturally be more concerned for their kids than for themselves. Speaking for myself, it wouldn’t take me long to make life painful for an unwelcome intruder into our home. That same feeling surfaces when I see or hear a similar dynamic involving my children’s hearts.
The truth is, those of us who battle anxiety or endure anxiety disorders are at no small disadvantage in the matter of seeking a peace-filled parental life.
Before I rose above my anxiety disorders, I frequently fought back a range of parental anxieties and fears. For example, because my agoraphobia had severely limited my traveling ability, I often experienced panic symptoms when exceeding my “safe” driving boundaries.
One afternoon found me with two (and maybe all three) of our boys in the car as we sought to locate a now-forgotten destination. My usual navigator, Diana, was elsewhere that particular evening. As dad and sons ventured farther and farther, I realized that I’d become lost. Panic began to wash over me. Shame notwithstanding, I looked in the rearview mirror and suggested, “Well, what do you say we just go home now?” The boys were baffled, but anxiety and panic often cause others to scratch their heads in bewilderment.
So just what was happening in my anxiety-laden mind? In this instance, I think it pretty much came down to two words: What if? What if I passed out with my cargo of precious children onboard? Or what if this escapade ended with me pulling into the next driveway to ask directions, but the person who answered the door turned out to be an ax murderer? After he finished me off would he head to the car to continue his deadly ways? Or what if one or all of my kids managed to pull a Houdini while I was stopped beside the road trying to figure things out? Slipping out of their car seats and exiting the rear door, they could easily dash into the nearby woods and disappear—possibly forever!
Yeah, I have actually had such thoughts.
Now, to the person whose life has not known much anxiety, this all sounds like sheer lunacy. However, I have never been diagnosed as a lunatic. I have, however, needed help with keeping my anxieties under control. Here are three things that have helped a lot, and I offer them for your consideration:
- Do sensible and responsible things to lessen your parental anxieties and worries. This includes making sure your kids are in the right kind of car seats, feeding them healthy foods, and even assessing their friendships. We even used a child leash on our first child. We got stared at a lot, but it was one simple way to keep our kid safe in the big city of Seattle. In the matter of safety, do what you can, but don’t overdo it.
- Imagine the worst. Take any What if? questions about your children to their worst conclusions. Why? Because the chances of those outcomes actually happening are virtually non-existent. Giving conscious thought to these horrific outcomes, however, is a way to process them in a helpful way—and smile at their absurdity. Now, if your child has a life-threatening illness or faces another dire situation, the outcome probability might be different. But even in the very worst of circumstances, worrying will change nothing. Responsible action makes a difference, but not worry. As an adherent to my Christian (Randy’s) belief, I like what the Bible says about this matter: “Can anyone of you by worrying add a single hour to your life [or anyone else’s]?” (Matthew 6:33, New International Version).
- Consider appropriate medication. No, it’s not the solution for everyone, but it was right for me. In fact, it was key in helping to turn my life around. It turns out that some of us really do have a biochemical imbalance that launches our anxiety toward stratospheric levels. (I hope you’ll learn about my forthcoming book, An Anxious Kind of Mind, in which I spill my whole story.) I personally don’t recommend seeing a physician for this kind of medication. Rather, any recommendation for meds should come from a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist if at all possible. But if your only option is a physician, he or she can help you make the right call. Know that medication does not equal personal failure.
There are other strategies to help lessen your parental anxieties. Each parent is different, so different strategies are required. The good news is that our children are much safer than we think. Take a deep breath, do what you can for them, and remind yourself that you survived to adulthood, and their chances are very good as well.