How Anxiety Affects My Parenting
Hearing my daughter cry sends shivers up my spine. The shrillness pierces through my ears, into my brain, and causes my muscles to seize and jump all at once. I breathe deeply. I focus on the air as it lifts my chest and drops my ribcage. The paradox of reactions ignites more worry. Which do I believe — my rational self or my anxious one? One often tells me lies trying to convince me the world is about to end, the other sometimes uses untruths to help heal the stress and make me see my reality as it really is.
It does not matter for what reason my child cries. Even if I know she is safely with my husband who is dealing with the situation, the cyclone of guilt, panic and overwhelming need to shut down the cacophony that emanates from the other room propels me to leave what I am doing and check on her. No amount of distance provides the buffer needed to calm my anxiety, unless it is the one that is goes beyond the noise threshold muting the piercing sound altogether.
Sometimes I try to stay right where I am and finish brushing my teeth, putting on my make-up, or doing my hair. After all, my own self-care is important too. That is what my rational side tells me. Even when I have trouble believing the way I look in the morning comes before quieting the child, a part of me wants so badly to accept it. Anxiety, irrational and egocentric, often wins that debate. It’s a controlling relationship: it rarely listens to me, while I often yield to it.
I had made a pact with my husband that I would only come running if he explicitly asked for my help. Sometimes reminding myself of that promise works. Repeatedly it does not. Deep breaths keep me grounded for a minute or two, but often do not keep my feet from moving toward the clamor.
My daughter’s screams, while at times are typical of a toddler wanting something she cannot have, are sometimes warranted; she has gross motor delays and is unstable on her feet. She’s two — almost three — and can barely take a few steps on her own. She wants to walk. To run. To play on the slide at the playground like her peers. But when she tries, she falls. Bruises dot her arms and legs. Occasionally her head takes the brunt of it. I am constantly on-guard, as any parent would be (or should be), but my anxiety takes it to a level beyond typical parental apprehension. My unwanted actions are not only about worry for her safety, but also about making the noise stop. Her fierce independent streak makes her want to do all the things for herself. Independence is great, except if you cannot stand to dress, use the potty or reach a toy. Her stubborn cries are often indistinguishable from the true pain ones. Only those in the room with her know the situation and how to respond. Not having that information drives my anxiety a notch higher.
You see, noise is a trigger. Loud talking, laughing, music, motorcycles, power tools and children screaming drive my nerves into a frazzled mess. Short of putting in earplugs, there is little to stop my anxiety from boiling to a level that incites a typical overreaction to my daughter.
My husband gets annoyed, and I fully understand why. He is our daughter’s parent too. She and I are beyond lucky to have him in our lives as he is the father everyone should have. Yet this knowledge does not calm my anxiety. It is not about him, or his abilities as a parent, but that is hard to convey. He feels I do not have the trust in him that I should. To me, the absurdity of my reaction is not about him at all. It is about me and my overactive brain. Each time I come running into the room asking frantically “Is everything OK?” his confidence plummets. I see his face drop and hardened. I know he is the best father for our daughter. He knows he is the best father for her. Now my actions need to catch up.
I often wonder if my anxiety makes me unfit to parent a child with gross motor delays. The never-ending struggle is enough to make any human adult live in fear, whether it be for the child’s immediate safety or the long-term prognosis. For a person who cannot control irrational thoughts, it becomes a nightmare on top of a nightmare. When we found out our daughter had needs that required ongoing physical therapy, special devices and even surgeries, I knew I had to gear up to be the most tuned-in parent I could be. But when the anxious thoughts infiltrate, self-doubt, fear and hopelessness drown out what is real — and what is important.
Each time she screams when my husband tries to put on her foot braces, I tell myself “he’s got it.” Waiting for his words beckoning my help stirs the angst even more. Relying on others is difficult for my anxiety to understand. But each time I force it to, my overreactions rationalize. They stop. I continue finishing my make-up. I take two minutes to brush my teeth. I carefully places the curls in my hair to where they can sit nicely. I sing a song in my head. And mostly, by the time I finish the task, the cries stop. When I enter the room, my daughter is smiling. My husband regained his confidence. And I can reassure my anxious self that it is OK to rely on others.
With each triumph over anxiety, I make it through the noise.
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