This week I’m tackling a subject that is familiar to a lot of moms but not often discussed. We’re going to look at parenting with anxiety. This anxiety series will look at the different ways anxiety manifests as a mom and explore some helpful tips to guide you through your feelings. The first installment is about living with high functioning anxiety as a mom.
I was talking to my husband about writing this series and we started reading some personal essays about moms who’ve struggled with anxiety. I was chuckling at the accuracy of the emotions expressed by one mom and when I looked over at my husband, he looked a little perplexed.
Instead of asking him what the look was about, I started in on a few stories about what living with anxiety was really like from my perspective. While my husband knows that I live with anxiety, I don’t think he quite understood what that means for how I view the world, especially as it pertains to our children.
Here is what it’s like living with high functioning anxiety from my perspective:
Anxiety means I worry constantly
This much is pretty much a given but what many don’t understand is that my worry is not confined to the moment. Everything may be fine, the kids may be playing peacefully, and in sweeps my anxiety with the fear that one day that some kid will make fun of Brother Bear because of his huge gastroschisis scar. Living with high functioning anxiety means that I fully recognize how minuscule this concern is but that the idea fills me with dread that I can’t seem to shake.
Parenting with anxiety also means that in any given situation I have mapped out point A-Z of things that can go wrong based on one decision. If my husband isn’t home and I’m with the kids and a fire breaks out, how do I get all 3 kids out of the house in one shot? Do I have both baby carriers to strap the boys to me while I hold sister bear’s hand? Is there water by the bed that might help me? My mind seems to run a million miles a minute mapping out situations that can go wrong and their solutions in an effort to quash my fears.
Anxiety doesn’t always look like fear
My anxiety sometimes manifests as anger or irritation. My husband doesn’t understand why I can’t stand grapes. Grapes pose one of my biggest fears as a mom: choking! My husband thinks that our children can manage to chew grapes just fine. If I see my son with a bowl full of whole grapes, my irritation is at an all time high. Same goes for my children putting themselves in situations that can inevitably cause harm. My logical brain tells me that the risk taking is good for them and that they need to be free to make mistakes but the anxiety in me is angry that they are doing things that may result in a scrape, scratch or God forbid, a broken bone!
Outings are a big deal
The idea of going anywhere as a troop brings out my worst fears as a mother; I am in an uncontrolled environment with unpredictable tiny humans who could spontaneously combust at any moment.
Traveling with a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old and a 9-month-old is stress personified for me. I am always worried that they are going to decide to have a collective melt down and I will be left with 3 screaming children and a park full of onlookers judging.
Nope, I don’t want you to babysit (but I kind of need you to)
The thought of leaving my kids with anyone is probably at the top of the list in terms of things that give me anxiety. I vividly remember being pregnant with Baby Bear and sending Sister Bear for a sleepover at my mum’s house. I have no problem with my mum babysitting, in fact, she’s my first choice. The problem is my mum has a pool – insert dreams about Sister Bear drowning in the pool while everyone slept. I sobbed the entire night and text my brother to go and make sure the doors were locked and he put something heavy in front of the door to prevent her from opening it.
That same anxiety that prevents me from leaving my kids with people also prevents me from leaving them period. I rarely leave my children unless it’s after bed time and they’re all asleep. What I’ve come to realize (3 children later) is that most of my anxiety about leaving my kids is in the anticipation phase, once I’m out and enjoying myself I feel better. I also have less anxiety if I’ve initiated the ask. Let me ask you to baby sit vs. you telling me that I need to get out and you’ll babysit. I need to feel in control of the situation. My babysitting fears are less about your capabilities as a babysitter and more about my own fears of what could be.
I like schedules (that I’ve designed)
Schedules are a tricky. Some anxious personalities thrive on schedule because it’s predictable while others struggle because of the lack of flexibility. This largely depends on the personality type you’ve coupled with anxiety.
I fall into both camps simultaneously. I love schedules that I’ve designed but am not a fan of following schedules that have been built for me (for the reasons listed above). For me, self-imposed schedules keep things calm amongst the chaos. This can be a blessing and a curse all at the same time. I am very good at organizing a day and having my kids follow some semblance of a routine but ask me to follow your schedule and I’m immediately in a panic.
This is why I am the mom who plans life around her kids nap schedule. If I can guarantee my kids get their afternoon nap, I can pretty much assure that they’ll be functional tiny humans for the rest of the day. Otherwise, I am the one who has to deal with the fallout of 3 cranky kids without a nap and nothing will make my anxiety go from 0-100 than a room full of screaming children.
I get overwhelmed easily
My brother wasn’t born until I was 15 so I grew up mostly by myself. The funny thing about not having a sibling growing up is that it shaped me in two very different ways. 1) I wanted a large family and wanted my kids to have siblings close in age. 2) I learned to be very content hanging by myself and to this day it’s what I ultimately prefer. This poses one very large problem: I love having a big family but when all of them are in my space for too long I need to get away. I often feel the need to take a time out and be alone for 5 minutes to recharge. My husband knows that I need me time after the kids have gone to bed just to decompress.
Day-to-day tasks also overwhelm me if left unfinished. A prime example of this is housework. Either I’m chasing my kids with a vacuum or I’ve given up completely; there is no in between!
What it all means…
The curse and blessing about high functioning anxiety is that you wouldn’t know any of these things about me unless I told you. You won’t find me frozen in fear, or hiding from the crowd, in fact I’m usually the life of the party. I’ve become proficient at compartmentalizing my fear so that it is only evident to me. I’d love to believe that my children are unaware that my anxiety exists but I’m sure they must on some level.
I certainly don’t parent the way my fun, relaxed, and care-free husband does; I can’t toss them 5 feet in the air for fear the sun will get in my eyes and I’ll misjudge the landing and drop my kid who I’ll have to take to the hospital where I’ll meet a nurse who gives me that judgey-judgey look that will make me feel like the world’s worst mother which will then set of a host of other snowball events that will ultimately lead to catastrophe.
Parenting with high functioning anxiety is a constant battle between what my logical brain knows is true and what my anxiety tells me is going to happen.