Parenting with Anxiety

This morning I was reading Facebook on my phone when a plastic bowl sailed past me and smashed into the dining table.  “Ben!”  I shouted, more out of fear and startlement than anger.  As soon as the word was out of my mouth, I regretted it. Ben crumpled into a sorry, sobbing heap, frightened by my outburst.

The loud noise and movement had triggered my anxiety, setting off the fight or flight response in my body.  Even after Ben and I hugged it out and he was all smiles once again it took a while for my nerves to settle.

The whole incident lasted all of two minutes, but it happens often in our house.  Sometimes I can go a week without an outburst.  Sometimes when my anxiety is close to the surface, as it has been the past few days, they happen more frequently.  Ben is often the target of the startled yell.  He is an exuberant child, who moves constantly, even in his sleep.

He runs and jumps, bounces off of the furniture, walls, people.  At meal times he won’t sit at the table.  Instead he does headstands on the couch or planks with his hands on the table and his feet balanced on the back of his chair.  His father is pretty much a walking playground which he scales and jumps on without warning.

I love Ben’s energy.  I love the physicality of it and his fearlessness.  At the same time I can’t stand it.  Loud, sudden movements make me flinch and set me on edge.  Being jumped on makes me cringe.  I’m always on guard for a blow to the body.  Ben doesn’t mean to hurt me.  But he is energetic and clumsy at times.  No matter how many times we explain that he doesn’t roughhouse with me, he will forget in his excitement.

Rather than dampen that enthusiasm, or worse, punish him for how he interacts with the world, I take great care to manage my condition.  I am on medication to help with my depression that in turn lessens the intensity of my anxiety.  I am in therapy as well.  For the day-to-day, minute-to-minute stuff, though, I have struggled to find solutions.  I’ve had to learn how to walk away and be okay with that.  Telling Stephan that I have to step away has been the best coping mechanism I’ve learned.*

Finding  activities I can do with my son that doesn’t involve jumping around has helped.  We play with Legos, a lot.  We read books.  We cuddle.   We sit in the hall closet and play Minecraft on the tablet.  I try in as many ways as possible to let him know that I love him and he is not at fault for my current state of mind.  I try each day to focus on the good times, to be patient with myself and him, to know that I am working on getting better.

With all of that, however, I still struggle with the belief that I am a bad mother, that I am scarring my kids.  I am honest with them about what I am going through: that I am struggling with anxiety and depression.  They know I take medication to help, that I see a doctor.  They might not understand fully what it is that is going on, but they see I am doing what I can to get better.  I hope that helps to counter the times when my issues get the better of me.

Only time will tell.


*Though it took time and comes with its own guilty baggage.   It’s hard to admit that you need a break from your children, when they are just doing what comes naturally to them.

Pink Shoes

Our son, Benjamin, is a little dynamo of a kid.  At three, his personality is oftentimes bigger than his body.  It’s delightful and frustrating and mesmerizing at once.  He’s a kid of varied interests: robots, planes, princesses, Star Wars, Jake & the Neverland Pirates, baby animals, jewelry, Legos, the colors blue and pink.  He likes to throw himself down, pretending to “die”.  He rough-houses with his father.  His current best imaginary friend is Princess Leia, who more often than not is symbolized by a Lego minfigure he constantly “dresses” with different torsos, feet and hair styles.  She always, however, has one of the two girl heads we have.*

We took Benjamin shoe shopping last month.  As his current pair of sneakers were being held together by the sheer force of his personality, it was time to upgrade.  Thanks to the generosity of others, we hadn’t needed to go shoe shopping for him before.  We hit the local Meijer and headed to the kids’ shoe section.  Upon arrival, Ben immediately pointed out the pink shoes.  He didn’t even look at the others: those were the ones he wanted.

Watching my golden-haired boy, I felt a twist of fear in my gut.  I thought of all the articles I had read over the years about boys being bullied for liking My Little Pony, or for having long hair, or for any number of other ways they might deviate from accepted gender norms.  He’s only three, not even in preschool yet, but I was already preparing myself for the unkindness the world could hurl at a person who is different.  I hated that fear.  We are trying to raise Ben to be free of gender norms, to be himself and to feel free to express himself without fear.  But I couldn’t stop the reluctance inside of me, even as I said, “Okay.”

Stephan agreed.  If his son—who is constantly mistaken for a girl—wants pink shoes, then pink shoes he’ll have.

We were getting ready to go check out, when another pair of shoes caught Ben’s attention.  They are blue and light up.  The first pair, no matter how pink and pretty, couldn’t compare to shoes that light up.  Ben changed his mind.  And I felt relief.  And I felt betrayed by my relief.

Raising Ben (and Charlotte) as we are is a constant learning—and unlearning—process, one we are committed to.  Should Ben want pink shoes the next time, it will be a little easier, I think.  Baby steps.  Or in this case toddler steps.


*That we only have two girl heads (three if you count the Lego McGonagall, which Ben doesn’t) and 3 billion + “boy” heads is pretty damn annoying.