How to deal with Parental Anxiety #Parenting

For many of us, parenting is a role that dominates a large chunk of our thoughts and, consumes a major part of our working day, irrespective of whether we go out to work or stay at home. As a parent, I feel the topic is something that we can neither ignore nor escape from. My own experience in this issue has not only given me sleepless nights but has also made it imperative to learn to diffuse my own anxiety about the child without letting him get affected with it. There have been times when I’ve been able to do this effectively and days when I haven’t. Have you had a similar experience? 

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Of all the things that are probably the hardest to get away from, the element of unpredictability in life is surely the one that almost certainly knocks us down every time we think our life is working according to a plan. Murphy’s Law at work, you see!

As parents, many of us already juggle with the pressures of balancing work and home, household chores, finances, health issues, relationships alongside a host of related duties and responsibilities that leaves us exhausted, burnt out and depressed but more than anything else, our worries about our children seem to be nagging us constantly, through all of it, as we remain wary of rising crimes against children, their health issues, their school performances, their development milestones, online friendships, gadget addictions, bullying, their changing diets and their lack of exercise and well, the list can go on and on.

It does sound familiar, doesn’t it? In all this, it is hard for us not to feel constantly anxious and even more importantly, to ensure that we don’t pass this on to our children who have a lot on their plate already and are still learning to cope with their own problems. As a mom to a teen, I still find that I have days when I struggle to keep my stresses at bay and often forget that the child at the receiving end of my angst/temper is only 13 years old and still learning to devise his own coping mechanisms to resolve issues of his own. Do I wish to burden him further when he has worries of his own? No. But, truth be told, I do. Even if that is unintentional.

Why?

Because, inspite of the best of intentions behind our love for our children, we often forget that we are only human and instead of helping children to unburden their stresses, and feel relieved, we often end up responding with our own distress and anxiety. Children are often unable to articulate their thoughts and feeling that stem from such parental anxieties and this causes a host of problems that parents often struggle to resolve.

Parental anxiety not only paralyses both the parent and the child, but also stifles the child’s natural curiosity and development, creating more anxiety and thwarting their progress in the long run. 

I know there are many ways of tackling this. Today, I’m sharing some of the tried and tested ways that work for me in diffusing this parental anxiety and although I have a long way to go on this journey, I feel acknowledging that there is a problem certainly helps. I keep my stressors at bay and my thoughts in check, something that is helping me get better as a parent. None of us are perfect but we can be the better versions of our selves than we were yesterday, can’t we? So, with that in mind here here are a few tips that usually work for me.

Avoid negative reactions

Parental anxiety can often result in parents reacting negatively to their children’s anxiety who may already be overwhelmed with the weight they are carrying on their tender shoulders. This results in a cycle in which the child and parent feed into each other’s fears, worries, and anxieties. A story, as we all know, that is not unusual in the current scenario where stress and anxiety are an inseparable part of our lives.

Do not be overprotective

At a time when incidences of crimes against children are on the rise, it is but natural for most parents to be anxious and a bit overprotective, as we tend to believe that it’s all for our child’s well-being. I have been the same and have realised over time how that can often hinder a child’s natural development in the long run and thwart their learning. And yet, we do it, time and again! This isn’t coming from me— there is research-backed evidence to indicate that parental influences have a very significant role to play in the child’s journey into adulthood. But, surprisingly, we often seem to overlook the fact and needlessly create more angst within us.

Avoid over-involvement

A common mistake we often make as parents — this stems from our tendency to get over-involved in a child’s life, and start controlling their environment too, by stressing safety and dependence over autonomy. Our anxiety passes on to them through our everyday conversations and despite being well-intentioned, our behaviours often work as responses that maintain and heighten this anxiety. We teach our children to avoid anxiety-provoking situations because we feel they are not capable of handling them—a step that leaves the child feeling that they lack in confidence and self-esteem, something they could potentially  carry into their future lives as well. In the case of children who are already anxious, this often leads to a string of psychosomatic disorders like abdominal pain, headaches, chest pain, fatigue, back pain and difficulty breathing—something that most teachers are familiar with in the classroom setting.

So, as parents, the question to ask is—where do we begin?

Begin with Increased Awareness

As a rule, raising our own awareness as a parent, first and foremost, makes for a great start. We’ve all been there and we’ve all seen how rather than run to the therapists, the resolution of dealing with anxiety lies in how we as parents deal with these demons in the confines of the home first —our own anxieties and those of our children. Stress always exacerbates situations beyond measure and anxiety feeds onto this and worsens it. Increased awareness is the starting point from where we can begin to take all the necessary steps to avoid passing on our stresses and anxieties to our children—a small but significant step, that can lead to mutually enriching lives in the long run.

Of course, every parent knows instinctively what is best for their child but perhaps, every once in a while, it might be a good idea for all of us to pause and refocus our priorities so we know what we are doing is really important for the wellbeing of the child.

As a parent, I cannot emphasise more on how both partners need to be on the same page with regard to this. I know that is not easy but we can all make a beginning somewhere. After all, as the child grows, so do the parents—their learning continues even when the child has flown the nest. As parents, we can either make or mar the situation, depending on how we play it. We’d better play it well.

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What are your thoughts on this? Would you like to share some tips for parents? As a parent, how do you deal with your own anxiety vis-a-vis that of your child? Do share in the comments below.

Linking to #mondaymusings hosted by Corinne

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and #mg hosted by Mackenzie Glanville

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14 thoughts

  1. I hear you Esha! I am under all kinds of pressure and anxiety this year, it being crucial for both my children career and education-wise. The most important factor I think is to not pass on that anxiety to the child. Discussing and finding remedies for the same with the spouse helps too. Moreover, we’ve got to realize that at times the child needs to occasionally be exposed to some kind of pressure, because we cannot keep protecting them life-long. At some point they need to be equipped to meet challenges in life. All this sounds great but parenting these days is no easy matter as you well know!

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    1. Awww…can imagine Kala.I have a few more years to reach that stage currently but I can relate to what you are facing right now. I will keep you in my thoughts and wish and pray everything falls perfectly in place for everyone in the family. You’re right about exposing the child to some amount of pressure too. A certain amount, yes, but these days the pressures are way too many for a child to cope. Parenting never was and never is an easy task, least of all in today’s times.

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  2. As a parent of young adults, if I could do it all over again, I’d stress a lot less over preparing my kids for the best colleges in the universe. I found there was a lot of pressure from other parents that made me anxious. I somehow started to believe I would be a better parent if my children ended up in prestigious colleges. The bottom line is, we’re good parents period. Where our children go to college is not a reflection on the fine job we did raising them. I wish I could have taken a lot of stress and anxiety out of the years I went through that period of time with my kids.

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    1. I totally agree with you, Cathi. I guess we’ve all been there and I know so many of my friends who have been there and realised what they were doing was so wrong. I think we change a lot when we look at things on hindsight but at the time it seems like we’re doing our best and that is the only way forward. Isn’t it? My son is in middle school and I feel the intense pressure on him already because he is one of the top performers in his grade and he feel he needs to live up to it at all times. Your words do make a lot of sense to me…so glad to know that I’m not alone in this!

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  3. Having successfully raised a child, I can testify to how hard it is. I am so grateful I did it years ago and not today, although some of the stresses are the same. I think one of the most serious mistakes a parent can make is what we call in the United States “helicopter parenting” – fine when the child is a toddler, not so fine when the child is almost grown. That is stress no parent should ever impose on themselves. Sometimes we parents create our own stress when we strive to get the child into the best preschool, the best afterschool program, 17 different afterschool sports activities, and, yes, the best college.

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    1. I’m glad you say so because it tells me I’m not alone in this. I am very acutely aware o the pitfalls of helicopter parenting and don’t wish to fall into that trap ever!I totally agree with you on the need to get away from the rat race for good colleges but here in India, peer pressure is a huge factor for these stressors to wreak havoc even when parents choose to let go of the control and leave the child to decide which way he wants to go. The challenges never seem to end, and even for the child, is mostly self-imposed.

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  4. An anxious parent is who I can be often. My anxiety is more of devoted to D’d inability to stay unaffected by the meanness of other children and even teachers. He has been sad, teary and hopeless at different times and I have gone through each of the steps you have enumerated in this post – negative reactions, trying to be over-protective, over-involved and not being able to keep track of my negative thought process. I am moving at a snail’s pace in terms of my own progress in dealing with such situations. I am going to bookmark this post for future references.

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    1. Same here, Anamika. I guess a lot of us moms who are very closely involved with the kid’s upbringing tend to go overboard with concerns and worries that only reflect how inept we feel in “managing” such situations. I have been there at each of the steps you mention and still am somedays even now. Unlearning behaviour that comes naturally to us can be difficult. I am still learning. Thanks for stopping by and sharing these thoughts. Let me tell you, as long we are aware of what we are doing as parents in this regard, we are progressing in the right direction. The teenager at home changes my perspective manifold on things that I never thought can exist because we lived in such different times. Bracing up for the future, now.

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  5. In this regard I believe I got a dose of both worlds as my mom was a chronic worrier… Still is. And my dad was completely bindaas. If I was worried, my mom would get even more worried wondering why I was so worried, and then the task of relieving both of us would fall on Dad. They had such stark personality difference that I can somewhat understand how it feels to be on both side. These days i have seen that kids need so much personal space that over protectiveness might actually drive them away.
    Excellent post Esha.

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    1. Thanks, Rajlakshmi. I think in my case, I am quite the other way around.My parents were quite chilled in many ways and I grew up to be the one who frets, worries and gets all anxious if things don’t go as planned. Of course, I am learning, mostly the hard way and have learnt to let go of so many things now. I am doing my best to be as objective as possible to identify my thoughts and learning to be easy so i worry less than i used to. But, then, still a WIP, I guess. 🙂

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  6. Esha, I can identify with times I fell into these traps when my kids were young. I’m sharing to Facebook in the hope that others read it. Thanks for sharing your insight.

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