What It's Like to Be the Mother of an Anxious Child


What is it like being the mom of a child with severe anxiety?

It is helping her down stairs every morning despite the fact she can do it herself. It’s reassuring her, yet again, she won’t fall just because once, several years ago, she heard mom fell down the stairs and hurt herself.

It is encouraging her to dress herself when she’s afraid she may fall over because that happened once before and she never forgets.

It is reassuring her that her clothes have been washed and she has worn them before. It is showing her, as always, the labels have been removed so they won’t hurt her, the trousers are soft enough and the socks have no sharp bits.

It is telling her she is beautiful so often in the hope she will one day believe me.

It is letting her see the breakfast cereal in the box. Otherwise she will refuse to eat it in case you have somehow bought another brand by mistake. It is pouring out just the right amount in case some accidentally spills over the bowl because she lives in fear she may somehow get in trouble even though she never has.

It is brushing her teeth religiously because the dentist said she should do it twice a day, and she worries what will happen if she doesn’t.

It is walking to school making sure we avoid uneven ground because she may just fall and hurt herself and that would be a disaster.

It is going over and over what the day at school holds because she is worried you may have forgotten sometimes (we checked three times before we left the house) or she may have done something not quite perfect in her homework the night before. It is the heartbreak of watching her become mute as she walks through that school gate holding your hand like you are sending her into the lion’s den.

It is watching her walk (never run, as you may be punished up for that!) to her line, avoiding eye contact or body contact with any other child in the playground in case they say something that upsets her or they accidentally touch her. It is looking at her standing facing the front, arms straight by her side like a soldier as she lines up, terrified she may lose points for her class because she is not forming a straight enough line.

That was just the first hour of our day.

My daughter will bite her lips, chew her tongue, barely eat or speak but conform to everything school expects of her. She will inwardly break her heart if she spells one word wrong on a test (and break down about it that night at home), she will freeze during gym lessons when they ask her to stand on a bench for fear of falling. She will take food because she doesn’t want to be seen as different yet she will hardly touch it. She would never ask for someone to help her cut it up as she is too anxious she may get in trouble for doing so. She would even eat something she was allergic to if she felt it would make a teacher happy.

Living with that level of anxiety is not healthy, yet so many children experience anxiety on that level daily.

I can reassure her. I can encourage her and prepare her for change, but I can not take her anxiety away.

Watching her refuse to eat because she had a wobbly tooth was awful. Hearing her cry because she can not read a word in her new reading book breaks my heart.

Sometimes you may see me jump into play areas with my 7-year-old and think I am bizarre. Sometimes you may hear me say I laid beside my child until she fell asleep and you may feel I need to let her grow up. You may see me lift her on and off escalators and think I am keeping her a baby. If you knew I held her in my lap and cradled her and wiped her tears last night, would you perhaps think I was overprotective?

Her anxiety is huge. Her worries are real. Today I will do my best to help her as I do every day. Tomorrow she will be just as anxious and I will try yet again to help her. We get through one day at a time.

I acknowledge her anxieties but I also help her overcome them.

That is the role of a mom to a child with severe anxiety.

That is what it is like being the mom of an anxious child.

Follow this journey on Faithmummy.

The Mighty is asking the following: Parents of children with mental illnesses – tell us a story about working within the mental health system. What barriers of treatment have you experienced? What’s a change in the system that could help your child? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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