A MOTHER'S PERSPECTIVE… Managing Bar Mitzvah Anxiety, Mine & His


A Mother’s Perspective…

Managing Bar Mitzvah Anxiety, Mine & His

*Our blog is pleased to welcome new voices to add to the mix, beginning with Melissa, a
Mom of two, dealing with her own anxiety as well as her children’s challenges. She is sharing her story to help others understand what it’s like to live and parent with mental illness.

My son’s Bar Mitzvah is in less than a year, and we’ve made no plans.  I’m not kidding.  We really have no idea what we are doing.  While everyone else has been busy booking venues, djs, and photographers, I’ve been wrestling with the anxiety that comes with this milestone.  Quite frankly, it’s been paralyzing, which is why there’s no plan.  For many months, I thought we were on hold because of my son’s anxiety, but I’m starting to realize this has more to do with my worries and fears than it does with his.  You see, I’m a mother with anxiety who is parenting a child with anxiety and depression, and it’s a tough combination.

Every Bar/Bat Mitzvah we have attended as a family has been miserable for my son, and in turn, for me.  He hates getting dressed up in nice clothes, has no patience for the service, finds the party overwhelming, and usually spends the majority of the time sitting alone in a quiet area away from the crowd.  If my son didn’t suffer from anxiety and depression, we’d think he was just acting like a jerk, but we know that’s not the case.  Instead, we know he’s anxious about socializing, and seeking control to manage his emotions makes him rigid and angry.  So we try to engage him in small doses, but that takes a lot of energy and patience.  Once we get him to mingle a bit, then he’s ready to leave… and not in 10 minutes.  He wants to go NOW and has tried to drag me out the door on more than one occasion.  It’s hard to enjoy someone else’s simcha when your child is distressed.

So now it’s his turn.

If it were up to my son, we would do nothing for his Bar Mitzvah.  No service, no party, nothing.  Cue MY anxiety.  How can we not have a Bar Mitzvah for him?  What will my parents think?  My friends?  How can I face the Rabbi whom I admire and respect?  And what was the point of four years of Hebrew School? 

At one point last summer, we brought up the topic of the Bar Mitzvah plan, and in minutes he was hysterical crying.  Ok, so clearly, we aren’t having a blowout.  I’m actually more than happy to skip the big, fancy bash.  Talk about anxiety provoking!  The guest list!  The food!  The clothes!  I’m relieved to be able to set that all aside and focus on the service, have lox and bagels with our nearest and dearest, and call it a mitzvah.  So let’s assume that’s the party plan.  We will keep it small and simple.  Fine.  No problem.

But what about the service?  When forced to discuss it, my son says he’s willing to do something short and private with just our closest family.  At first, that seemed reasonable.  Maybe standing on the bimah leading a service is just too much for this kid to handle?  We could talk to the Rabbi and tell him this anxious child needs some special accommodations.  That seems fair, right?  But perhaps a modified service is actually a disservice?  How will he learn to cope with the things he doesn’t want to do if I let him cut corners and take the easy way out? 

But is his anxiety still really the issue here?  Once we set aside the elaborate social event, why all the opposition?  Stage fright?  I don’t think so.  This is a kid who has performed in plays since second grade.  The truth is he doesn’t see the point in all of this and doesn’t want to do the work, and it is going to take a lot of work.  He has not exactly been the most diligent Hebrew School student.   But isn’t that a reason to force him to do it?  Don’t we find growth in facing our challenges head on?  Shouldn’t I ensure he experiences hard work and the joy of success that comes as a result?

So I guess that brings the decision down to me, the anxious mother.  What can I handle?  Can I keep my anxiety in check to tolerate the anger of a 12-year-old who is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah under protest?  Can I tune out all the chatter from everyone else who is having an elaborate party for their super excited kid without feeling inadequate and apologetic?  Can I just focus on my child and my family and plan what makes sense for us?  So much easier said than done, but I know from past experience, making a commitment to something, and taking that first step makes the rest of it much easier.  So as I head down this road, I’ll keep reminding myself that requiring him to manage his responsibilities is no different than me doing the same and making the responsible parenting decision.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Melissa is a married mother of two, dealing with her own anxiety as well as her children’s challenges. She is sharing her story to help others understand what it’s like to live and parent with mental illness.