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This Is What Anxiety Looks Like When You’re Parenting a Child With Disabilities

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Like I’ve said before, parenting is a tough job. It’s the most demanding, relentless, thankless job I have ever had. As a parent of three very different children, I need to parent each one differently because of their age, their needs and their personalities.

I’m an anxious person. I didn’t come into the world as an anxious person, but this life has turned me into one. I used to be a carefree child, happy, not really worried about the day to day. I had faith that it would all be OK. Then life happened. My father was diagnosed with cancer when I was 11 years old. Then with cancer again when I was 14 years old. Eventually, he passed away when I was 20. My life crumbled and was never the same again. Anxiety set in and it never left me.

Let’s fast forward to having my second child. A strong-willed, stubborn, loud, persistent child. She needs a lot and has no problem telling me how bad I am at meeting her needs. Yup. Good morning, sunshine.


Anxiety — it’s what I feel each day. When I can’t stop the cycle from spinning, I become mentally and emotionally stuck. The fear and dread over things that are going to happen, things that can happen and things that have not happened. It’s also the fear that when things are going OK, they may not stay that way.

As parents, we worry. We worry a lot. We worry about the past, the future and the present. We worry every day. We worry about the little things and the big things. We worry that we are not doing enough, or we are doing too much, or we are trying too hard, or we are not trying hard enough — all within the same day or even moment.

We worry that we have offended someone with our passion to give our children the therapies, supports and services they need in school and in the community. We worry about saying yes or saying no. We worry that we haven’t researched enough or maybe we have researched too much and now, our brain hurts.

It’s endless and it sucks.

What Does Anxiety Look Like?

Anxiety doesn’t have a look. You can’t see it, but for the person who is anxious (like me), it’s like your mind slows down and speeds up all at the same time. It’s like your thoughts are running and frozen. It’s like your body is moving quickly but it hasn’t gone anywhere.

The stomach acid churning, the shallow breathing, the sweating, the light headedness, the clenched fists, the teeth grinding. It’s not being able to think but processing everything all at once. It’s wanting to hide but not wanting anyone to know anything is wrong.

And we can all relate to the before bed run through of the day that turns into the, “I didn’t do that correctly today. I didn’t say that well. I should have said this instead. I should have done this today. I didn’t do enough. I am not a good enough person.”

Little Ability to Believe in Others

Anxiety means that you may not have the belief that things will work out because you’ve had enough experiences where they haven’t. It’s sometimes not believing that another person will be able to help you or that you can find solace and protection in another person.

Little Ability to Believe in Yourself

Anxiety can also be the residual message that “you can’t” even though you can and you have. It’s that message that automatically is negative, intimidating and belittling. That internal voice that says, “That’s too much! You can’t get that done. You can’t say that. You can’t, you can’t, you can’t.”

Be Kind To Yourself

The holiday season is a tough one with all the lists of “shoulds” and things to get done because of a ton of self-imposed rules. And as a parent of a child with disabilities, you may feel the need to follow in certain traditions that are really causing more stress and distress for everyone in your family. It’s OK to let something go.

Be kind to yourself. Scratch off a few of those list items. Let it go. Give yourself time and space to recuperate physically and emotionally. Create new traditions that work for you and your family. It’s OK if you do things a little differently this year. As a parent of a child with disabilities, each day may come with a plan, but sometimes, it’s OK to abandon that plan and just wing it.

Getty image by Alexandra Romanova

Originally published: December 22, 2018
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