As a therapist who works primarily with women, I hear about mom fears and mom guilt A LOT – but a common source of these often comes in the form of this question: “how do I keep my anxiety from affecting my kids?”
If you’re a mama and a worrier, this is the post for you. But even if you’re just one of those, stick around – I promise to make it worth your while!
First, let’s talk about WHY mamas tend to worry so much about how their own anxiety may affect their kids. We’ll start with the most obvious two reasons: we love our kids and anxiety sucks.
Most of the women who come into my office for help with anxiety, as well as many students in my Fear Less course are caregivers. By the very nature of how they spend most of their time, their main focus is on others, namely their spouses and kiddos. They also truly see motherhood as a huge gift and a huge responsibility. AKA, they’re super nervous they’re doing it wrong. Or they’re worried if they get enough things wrong, they’re going to ruin their kids. Sound familiar?
I can definitely relate, especially in my earliest years as a mama.
But now that I’ve been in the parenting game for over a decade (not to mention the foster parenting game!), I feel a lot more comfortable and at ease in my role as a mama. I’m not saying I do everything perfectly (or even close! ha!) all the time, or that I never have a mom fail, but I do feel confident enough to be able to share a few rules of thumb for not letting your anxiety trickle down to your kiddos. A few of them will probably surprise you! Let’s get started…
Normalize Anxiety and Worries for Your Kids
Anxiety is a normal part of life. It’s our brain’s way of trying to keep us safe, after all. But sometimes, our protective brains do too much and go into overdrive on the worrying front. This happens to adults, but it also happens to kids. Allow what is there to be there for both you AND your kids. Remind yourself that when anxiety is present for you or your kids, it doesn’t mean anything about you, or them. For example, if you are having a particularly difficult time with your own anxiety, it doesn’t mean that your kids will pick up on it and they’ll develop an anxiety disorder as a result. Likewise, if your kids are having a lot of worries in a particular season (this is 2020, after all!), it doesn’t mean they are not going to grow up to be functional adults, or that you’re a bad mom. It just means that right now, you’re worried. Or they’re worried. And that’s ok. This, too, shall pass. For more on that, let’s continue…
Focus on Modeling Healthy Coping
While you may be spending a considerable amount of time worrying about the effect your anxiety will have on your kids, that’s not going to do anyone any good. Instead, shift your focus to modeling healthy coping for them. This will do WAY more good in the long run than any harm you think you’re doing by dealing with your own struggle with anxiety. Whether we like it or not, our kids are little sponges that are observing us allll the time and making conclusions (be they right or wrong). The best thing we can do when we are struggling with stress or anxiety is to take care of ourselves and allow our kids to see us doing just that. Your kids need to see you resting, exercising, doing things that you love, and just sitting in stillness. They need to see you praying, listening to your favorite songs, and enjoying a cup of coffee. WHY? Because in so doing, you are affirming their need for self-care AND you are modeling healthy coping. Trying to shield our kids from our struggles may feel like the right thing to do, but in reality, they will be facing struggles of their own some day (if they aren’t already – again, 2020!). When they do, wouldn’t it be wonderful if they already had some tools in their toolbox of healthy coping to deal with it? Wouldn’t it be amazing if they didn’t think anything was wrong with them because they are struggling with anxiety? As a therapist who is also a mama, that thought just lights me up. Anxiety is tough enough without adding shame to the mix, am I right?
Get in the Habit of Asking Yourself (and Your kids!) What They Need
THIS ONE IS HUGE. Get in the habit of asking yourself what you need, both when you are feeling anxious, and when you are not. Ideally, at the outset of each day, you would have a few minutes to sit in stillness and ponder that very question. And then, of course, answer it. Do you need to check things off your to-do list in order to feel peaceful? Do you need to take a nap in order to recharge? Do you need to nourish your body with healthy food and plenty of water to have enough energy for the day ahead? Do you need to call your therapist? Really let yourself take time with this question each day, but especially when you are feeling anxious. It might feel super uncomfortable at first, but the goal is to get to the next skillful action sooner than later – and often, this question will help you arrive there. Additionally, practice asking your kids this. When you see them frustrated, upset, or anxious, simply notice and ask them, “what do you need?” or “is there something I can help you with?” Then give them time and space to answer. Just like us, many of them are not accustomed to answering the question “what do I need?” so they may not know right off the bat. Circle back to this question often, with both yourself and your kids.
Focus on the Journey, Not the Destination
If there’s one thing parenting has taught me thus far, it’s that there truly is so very little we can control. We can’t control our kids, that’s for darn sure.
As such, it’s important to keep our focus on one day at a time with our kids (and, of course, ourselves). Please don’t think that the thing you’re feeling extreme mom guilt about today is going to land your child in a therapist’s office one day. And also, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if it did. 😉
You really can’t control whether or not your kids develop anxiety. All you can do is take care of your OWN worries, and allow them to see you doing that. All you can do is talk to them about how you take care of yourself and why it’s important. All you can do is ask them what they need. And then you let them be. You allow them to be who and what they are today, and you allow them to develop into who and what they will become down the road.
This is a much more enjoyable, much less stressful, much less guilt-riddled approach to parenting. Also, it’s a lot more fun.