Why I Worry About Raising My Kids to Be Anxious

“Be careful, baby,” I call across the playground.

My daughter was attempting to climb a ladder made for a child much older, or at least taller, than a petite 2-year-old like herself. She had made it halfway up, but stopped at my warning, cautiously lowering herself back down to the ground.

“Mommy, no help. Haley got it,” she told me matter-of-factly, moving onto the next piece of equipment and once again climbing with gusto.

“OK, just be careful,” I reiterated, as visions of a toddler with a broken leg filled my mind.

Once again, she stopped in her tracks, and I realized in that moment that to her ears, “be careful” meant, “don’t try it.”

I’ve always been a “worrier,” as long as I can remember. I was diagnosed with anxiety as a college student in 2013. I never imagined that I’d have not one, but two daughters in the following five years. Prior to April 2016, I only ever thought of my anxiety as a detriment to myself. But now, I realize the power I wield as a parent — the power to potentially shape the life of another human being.

I’ve overcome a lot of hurdles despite my anxiety, like college classes, new jobs and social events of all kinds. But I can also look back and see the times I sat on the metaphorical sidelines because I was too afraid of failure to put myself at any kind of risk: times I didn’t speak my mind, times I settled instead of pursuing something greater for myself, times I let opportunities just slip away.

While I am at peace with my past and I recognize that anxiety as a mental illness is outside of my control, I also wonder, what if I affect the ways my daughters view the world going forward? What if they eventually look at the world through a lens of fear because I become the voice in their head calling “be careful,” not just on playgrounds, but in every facet of their lives?

But… what if I could set them down a different path? A path of empowerment, of courage, of passion and ferocity and yes, even of pain; a path that leads to a life fully lived.

My anxiety does not mean my children’s futures are predetermined to be like the first two decades of mine. I need to work to silence
my worries not only for my own well-being, but so that I can raise my kids to be as brave as they can be.

My daughters, go out and climb those ladders, reach for those monkey bars, go down the biggest slide. If you fall, I promise to be there with a hug to wipe away the tears. But if you don’t, I’ll be there, just basking in your joy, too proud to be worried anymore.

Image Credits: Elizabeth Martwick

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