A Mother’s Perspective…
Fighting the Anxious Urge to Fix Everything: Helpful Advice from Preschool
* This is our third contribution from 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 kids are in junior high now, but almost daily I think back to some advice I received when they were in preschool, and it’s as helpful now as it was then.
These words of wisdom came on a day when something happened that left me quite worried about my then 2-year-old son after I dropped him off at school. All these years later, I have no idea what the issue was, but I know my anxiety was so strong that I called the school to find out how he was doing. The director’s assistant told me in a firm, yet kind, voice,
“He’s going about his day. You should go about yours.”
For the first time, I experienced the realization that this little human being for whom I felt responsible 100% of the time actually had his own life. He had his own journey that was separate from my journey. Now, granted he was just 2-years-old at the time, and it’s not like I sent him out into the big, cold world all on his own. He was in a loving environment after all, but doesn’t that guidance apply no matter how old your child? As a parent with anxiety, it’s sage advice that I hold onto every single day.
Whether you are diagnosed with anxiety or not, as parents, we worry about our children. While that worry can be overwhelming, the issue that concerns me more is the pressure we all put on ourselves to make our children happy. I see it all around me: from my closest friends to strangers posting on the internet.
We all know parents who social engineer their child’s life to make sure they are included all the time. Shouldn’t we teach our children that everyone isn’t included all the time? Shouldn’t they learn to handle the disappointment and the hurt feelings? It’s tough to sit with, but certainly the coping skills they will develop through these childhood experiences will help them when they don’t get the promotion they expect years from now.
What about the parent who’s asking for help online because their child absolutely, positively wants a birthday party with a rhinoceros jumping out of the cake, and the child will just be heartbroken if this stressed-out parent can’t make the magic happen. (Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the point.) Don’t our children need to know they don’t get everything they want, but that they will be ok? They will survive. Life will go on.
And how about the high-paid Hollywood stars who go to high-risk measures to ensure their child’s future? Don’t you think there’s some anxiety there pushing those parents to make sure their children have every advantage without having to do the hard work or face the consequences otherwise?
At the heart of all these extreme efforts, I see so much anxiety in parents who are worried that they are losing in the game of parenthood. I can literally feel the stress when I scroll past these posts and stories online. It jumps off the screen at me. It stresses me out just to read it.
As a parent, I’ve been torn between rushing to rescue my children and staying out of the way. Too often, I’ve taken control of the situation rather than letting them take responsibility for overcoming obstacles and advocating for themselves. Now I’m trying to undo the damage of years of making things easy for them.
On the flip side, I have lived the consequences as the child of parents who wanted to smooth my path and solve all of my problems. Trust me, it doesn’t lead to the most desirable outcome. As an adult, I have my own challenges that are directly related to my parents not letting me go about my day, and I am left trying to learn the lessons I wish I’d been taught all those years ago. There’s truth to the idea that it’s easier to learn things when you are younger.
So as our children go back to school this fall, let’s all try to stay out of their way. Give them guidance when they need it. Offer loving support when difficulties arise. But please, for your child’s sake, don’t let your anxiety force you to live their life for them: let them go about their day, and you should go about yours.
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.