THE PROBLEM: I’m always worried about my children. I have four of them, so I’ve got plenty to worry about. I keep expecting to get a phone call from the school, telling me something bad has happened, or imagining one of them riding their bike and getting hit by a car. I can never really relax. My oldest was very sick as a baby so we spent a lot of time at the hospital. Every time we drove up to the building, I would get all sweaty and nervous. He’s doing okay now, but I can’t seem to get over it, and it’s playing out through this chronic worry I have about all my kids. (At least I’ve figured that out!) Suggestions on how to change this are welcome.
MARY SAYS: Worrying goes with being a parent, but excessive worry is optional. Whether triggered by a traumatic event (as in your case), or because of a natural tendency toward anxiety, many parents suffer greatly by fabricating worst case scenarios—and trying to prevent them.
For the most part, you can’t, so we need to take a different approach.
For starters, is it possible to accept that your little humans are on paths of their own? While we as parents have been charged with guiding—and guarding—them, they will ultimately lead the lives they’re born to lead.
Take, for example, your son’s journey through illness as a small child.
While you may have experienced tremendous fear, how did the experience change you? Make you stronger? In what ways did it impact your family for the better? How did his early-childhood bout with sickness mold your son into the boy he is today? If you think about it, perhaps there are ways his illness has made you, your son, and your family more resilient, closer, and more grateful to be together and healthy now.
If you’re not seeing these things, maybe it’s time to look for them, because every challenge you face can either take you down or make you stronger, depending on how you spin it.
I would also encourage you to add a few tools to your toolbox for those times you feel yourself indulging in catastrophic thinking. Here’s one: the 3-step ‘box breath’ is extremely powerful at calming down the nervous system when it goes into overdrive. It’s quick, easy, portable, and nobody ever needs to know you’re doing it.
Here’s how it works:
- Take a slow, deep breath to the count of four.
- Hold the breath in, also to the count of four. (Stay relaxed while suspending the breath—not that puffy-cheeked, nose-holding thing kids do when going underwater. Rather, simply don’t breathe out for a moment.)
- Slowly release the breath to the count of four.
Try it. Right now. You’ll be amazed how relaxed you feel. You may need to use this device 20 times an hour when you first begin, but over time, just thinking about the box breath will prompt your system to chill out.
ERIKA SAYS: Mama, we all want to protect our children, but if your fear is constant, you may have moved into an unhelpful state of anxiety. In your situation, it’s understandable. I dare say you may be dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome; having a child as ill as your son can certainly do that to you.
At any rate, acknowledging your constant worry is a step in the right direction. It’s time to switch gears from worrying about your children to taking care of yourself. Addressing your parental anxiety will not only help you, but it will also have a ripple effect on your children.
Share your concerns with those who are close to you. Confiding in the people you love will allow them to support you and hold you accountable for your desire for change. Your ‘tribe’ will keep you lifted on hard days and celebrate your victories on the good ones.
I also encourage you to seek professional help; perhaps you’ve never fully processed the trauma of caring for a sick child. We often get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of mom life that we put ourselves on the back burner, focusing more on our children than on ourselves. Now is the time for you to process, heal, and move forward.
Please be aware that your children will pick up on your anxiety if they haven’t already done so. I found this out the hard way. My son was fearless as a toddler, but one day I realized he had begun to worry about things—a lot. As someone who tends to over-worry, it didn’t take much to figure out that my anxiety was rubbing off on my son.
Your children need to be protected, not sheltered. You do them a disservice by consistently hovering over them, not allowing them to fall and pick themselves up on their own.
This year, my son begged me to let him ride the bus to school. Right away, I began to picture all the worst-case scenarios. (My stomach turned every time I lay in bed thinking about it!) Ultimately, I decided to conquer my anxiety and let him ride the bus. I have learned that my fears are my own projections, not reality. To the best of my ability, I no longer provide ‘space’ for them in my mind. I know it’s not easy—this coming from a worry wart!—but you must address your negative thoughts, or you’ll drive yourself crazy.
One final piece of advice: breathe and breathe often. When you go down the rabbit hole of worrying, remember to breathe. I like to walk through my thoughts, and while I’m doing so, I take deep breaths. With each exhale, I pretend to blow my negative thoughts away and replace them with a positive affirmation.
Fear doesn’t have to be a way of life for you. Starting today, you can develop healthier patterns and enjoy the freedom of watching your children be children. These kids will only be little once. You don’t want to miss out on soaking in the waves of their laughter because you’re too busy worrying about what’s going to happen next.
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more ASK MOM advice.
Mary Follin is author of the award-winning children’s book ETHYR and Teach Your Child to Read™, an online phonics program for children ages 3-6. She is mom to two grown kids. Follow Mary on Instagram at @advice_mom.
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.
Suzanne Johnson, mom of five children and grandma of six, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of Realms of Edenocht.