For someone who already struggles with anxiety, having children can bring heightened and overwhelming thoughts to the forefront of your mind. When you are pregnant, you might have intense fears of giving birth, imagining a million different things that could go wrong. You might find yourself pacing and panicking at the mere thought of leaving the hospital with a newborn.
When you have a newborn, you might be overwhelmed by the smallest diaper rash, rise in body temperature, or begin excessively panicking when your child is fussy. The sleepless nights might be consumed more with worry than with soaking in newborn cuddles.
When you have a young child, you might fear how other children will treat them on the bus, pace back and forth as you worry about their first day of school, or obsessively think about how they are treated at the lunch table in elementary school. Are they making friends or sitting alone? Is someone making fun of them? Do they know how to handle peer pressure? Will the teacher notice if someone is picking on them?
In middle school, you might become consumed by thoughts of your child facing failure for the first time. Are they picked last in PE? What if they do not get a part in the play that their heart so desires? How do you explain the changing of the body without making them too curious?
In high school, it is jobs, dating, and driving alone for the first time. How do you raise them to make the right decisions and how to take a stand when they are pressured with the wrong things?
As post-high school life approaches, it means wondering if you have prepared them to leave the nest. How will they manage college and careers? Are they financially prepared? Are they stable enough to fight continued peer pressure as they feel free for the first time? Will they prioritize bills over social activities? Will they date people with marriage in mind?
Parental anxiety can be the constant juggling of decisions. You might worry about the judgment of others and how you manage discipline, toddler tantrums, educational decisions, and how you feel about playdates and interacting with strangers.
Should your child say “yes ma’am” and “no sir”? Should you send your child to public or private school? Should you sign your child up for sports that will overtake family time? There are so many decisions that can weigh heavily on a parent.
Parental anxiety is often an obsessive worry – one that can affect your day-to-day life and ability to be at peace. Parental anxiety can continue in every phase of parenthood if left to run rampant. Parental anxiety focuses less on making decisions and more on the possible scenarios of everything that can go wrong.
It is normal to feel a sense of wanting to protect your children from the harm and dangers of the world. What you want to be on the lookout for are intense feelings of panic, panic attacks, paralyzing and intrusive thoughts that take over your ability to function and find joy – even in the chaos of life.
5 Tips for Managing Parental Anxiety
Here are a few things to consider and reflect on about parental anxiety and how to manage the constant decision making:
1. Do you spend an overwhelming amount of time researching and imagining the worst-case scenarios for everything involving your child?
This might be a warning sign that parental anxiety is controlling more of your life and thoughts than you would like. While it is important to be educated and use safety precautions with your children, every thought should not be consumed with worst-case scenarios, panic attacks, or fear of letting your children do everyday tasks.
2. Address the fear rather than let it consume your thought patterns.
Sometimes attacking the thoughts of fear and panic and saying them aloud can help you work through those all-consuming thoughts of panic and worry. Talk to a counselor, pastor, friend, or spouse about your constant worry. Try to redirect those what-if thoughts to things that are going well and with good things that can happen.
Instead of: “If I let my ten-month-old try to walk alongside the furniture, they might fall and get hurt.”
Try this: “If I let my ten-month-old try to walk alongside the furniture, they might get stronger and start trying to walk on their own.”
Instead of: “If I let my child play on the monkey bars at the playground, they might fall and break their arm.”
Try this: “If I let my child play on the monkey bars at the playground, they might gain a newfound sense of confidence and desire to work hard at something so they can succeed.”
Instead of: “If I encourage my teenager to get a job, someone might try to take advantage of them and their hard work ethic.”
Try this: “If I encourage my teenager to get a job, they will learn the importance of responsibility, hard work, and saving money.”
While parents do want to take precautions, it is important to also address parental anxiety with thoughts of things that can go right and realize that with every task, comes the potential for your child to thrive and succeed, even in the face of obstacles.
3. Confide in your spouse.
Dave Willis said, “A strong marriage requires loving your spouse even in those moments when they aren’t being loveable; it means believing in them even when they struggle to believe in themselves.”
Marriage is not about trying to put on a face of perfection or having it all together. Marriage is when two imperfect individuals come together and aim to put Christ at the center of their marriage. It is when two individuals come together and admit when they are struggling. Marriage is where two individuals can tell each other their deepest struggles and off-the-wall thoughts, and support, pray, and talk through it with one another.
Confiding in and being open and honest with your spouse gives you support and love when you feel like things are falling apart around you. When you find it difficult to think of the best-case scenario when it comes to parenting, your spouse can be the other half of your heart and brain, helping redirect those paralyzing thoughts of worry.
4. Channel your nervous energy and keep living your life.
Once you become a parent, it is easy to focus only on your child and their well-being. While this is a significant and often overwhelming task, it is also imperative that parents take time to care for their emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. Our children learn from the model we present in our own lives.
Therefore, engaging with other believers, attending church, going on dates with your spouse, having friends over, chasing your dreams, and learning how to face and overcome obstacles are all learning opportunities for their sponge minds. They soak in and absorb your responses daily.
When you take the time to be transparent with them in your struggles, they learn from you. When you apologize for raising your voice, they learn that life is not about perfection, it is about growing and learning from your shortcomings.
5. Schedule a counseling session today.
Parental anxiety does not have to be a permanent state of mind. While as a parent, you may want to err on the side of caution with your child, you do not want to live with paralyzing thoughts that affect the way you live, love, and interact with your children. “What ifs” do not have to control the way you live today.
The biggest leap of faith we can take in parenting is to pray for our child and to trust God in the process. He can lead us, direct us, guide us, comfort us, and ease our worries.
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7
“Sunflowers”, Courtesy of Jordan Cormack, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Going for a Walk”, Courtesy of Jason Leung, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Coffee Chat”, Courtesy of Prisiclla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sunflowers”, Courtesy of Mike Marrah, Unsplash.com, CC0 License