Morning, noon and night — but especially at night — the mind and emotions cycle and recycle the script of days past and the day ahead. For those with anxiety, it doesn’t “just stop” like so many others tell you it will. The problem with such thoughtful, unsolicited suggestions is that you’ve tried it all already. You watched your diet, tracked your thoughts, journaled like mad and pulled a muscle while attempting yoga. You did what you do best — soldier on — even when it doesn’t look that way to everyone else. The problem is, now you’re a parent and it takes your love and attention for your kids to get up every single morning and get to school. Feeding, clothing and keeping a roof over their heads might mean you go without breakfast or a shower yourself. You do your best, or whatever is close to it, on any given day. You know your triggers or are learning them. On good days, your coping mechanisms get you through the worst parts. Sometimes, you don’t get on top of the triggers. Instead, your triggers turn into typhoons attacking you left and right. You worry what example your kids see when they witness your anxiety overtake you.
Face the Reality Already
Newsflash: you’re not a bad parent. You are a mother-trucking or fatherific badass. For those with anxiety, self-care has a stigma in society among the “normals” when you’re somehow “deficient” compared to the nine-to-fivers who don’t “call attention to” themselves. But self-care is not a luxury, and those who ignore their need for it are only hurting themselves in the long run:
- So what if your kid gets an extra hour of screen time because you need time to come back to the moment?
- So what if your partner, friend or family member had to take on extra time parenting “for” you?
- So what if you feed your kids cereal or frozen pizza? You fed your child. Cereal is fortified with nutrients and pizza is the real food of the gods. Every meal doesn’t have to be homemade.
- So what if you lock yourself in the bathroom and that hidden bar of chocolate doesn’t do the trick this time, but the five minutes alone does? So what if the bathroom is your refuge for the third time today? That fake flush is the jam that helps you get your groove back.
- So what if you can’t figure out why you’re crying today? So what if you leave the dishes to sit for a day and build the most epic pillow fort with your kid, instead?
Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean you’re not taking care of your kid. One more time: Taking care of yourself doesn’t make you a bad parent. Self-care is not a negative when you’re a parent with anxiety. It’s essential and makes you a badass for recognizing and doing what is right for you and your child. Most days, you do have your ducks in a row or look like you do. There’s much the normals miss out on, such as when, the moment you reach the car, your well-behaved child — at least in the grocery store — throws the tantrum to end all tantrums because they can’t eat the ice cream right now. There’s the burying of your head in a pillow even though you’ve mastered the art of the silent cry because you don’t want your partner or child to know you’ve lost it again after a series of long days. You’re a badass, even when you feel your worst. It’s okay. You’re doing your best and that’s more than enough. Accept the reality already — you’re a badass.
Releasing the Curse of Control
You must also address another stigma and assumption that you may be carrying around: If you can’t control your anxiety, how can you control your kids? Hang on one second. Control? Anxiety attacks appear out of thin air. Sometimes you feel it in your chest and you hyperventilate. Noises thud more loudly in your ears and you feel like you’re underwater. The room spins and you can’t breathe.
Of course, you’re on high alert when an anxiety attack may come out of nowhere. It also gives you other superpowers, such as being highly attuned to your environment, and that includes your kids. It also gives you the ability to be highly empathetic with others. So what if you silent-cry into a pillow or need to chill in the bathroom for five minutes? So what if you skip one shower, so long as your kid gets their bath? Yes, “basic” childcare — paying the bills and keeping a roof over their heads — makes you a badass parent who suffers from anxiety, not a bad parent. There are plenty of days where you do have your ducks in a row, too. Either way, you rock.
Even though you might be working on your boundaries, triggers and self-care, the example of strength you provide for your child even in your most difficult moments is unmistakable.