Note: This post only refers to children developing anxiety disorders in response to their parents having anxiety disorders. This post is not referring to those children who develop anxiety disorders due to trauma, neglect, abuse, or any extreme anxiety motivated behaviors on the parent’s part.
Have you ever been told that your anxious ways are going to “rub off on your kids?” and make them “scared of life?”
I have – and it used to fill me with dread and guilt as I wondered if it were true.
I don’t buy into that anymore though.
What about those “studies” or articles that say anxious parents produce anxious kids and warn those of us with anxiety not to fuss and fret over our children too much or they will turn into neurotic, picky eating nail biters who can’t function without having mom or dad within a 12 inch radius of them.
I don’t buy into that either.
I am not saying these well-meaning people, authors, or studies are wrong. I have no degree in psychology so I would never make such a statement. I am simply saying that I personally don’t believe them.
You see, I have five kids and they all have very distinct personalities. I have raised them all the exact same very nervous, overly protective way and they couldn’t be more different than if they were raised by five different women. I have five-year old twins who have been raised together from the second they were born and they are complete night and day. My girl twin is very practical and quiet and likes to follow rules and be sensible about things. My boy twin is wild and usually in trouble and would probably go parachuting out of a plane right now if you let him.
One thing they do all have in common, is that they have no problem telling me when they think I am over reacting or being too over protective. My daughter loves to say to me “Mom, you are going to have to start trusting us to take care of ourselves at some point.” I say “You are 10. That point has not arrived yet.”
I have a shy one, I have a loud one, I have a silly one, I have a serious one, and one who is a bit of all of things. One of my five kids does have some symptoms of anxiety from time to time, but I don’t think it’s because I “taught” him to be that way. I think he is simply the one whose personality is most like mine – so naturally he is going to be more likely to have anxiety issues. (See this link for more details.)
I think children are going to be who they were born to be, and while there is almost certainly some influence that occurs in response to the behavior of the parents, in the absence of extreme/unique circumstances, I don’t think parents can push their children into an anxiety disorder. I think if you develop an anxiety disorder it is because you have the personality traits to develop one. It’s as simple as that.
Take my daughter for instance.
Ily was born to me 10 years ago, the result of 10 years of infertility and IVF struggles. During that time I had 2 miscarriages and 6 ectopic pregnancies. She was the first pregnancy that I ever had, that I felt had a legitimate chance to go all the way. I have never worried about anybody or anything more in my life than I did during my pregnancy. I analyzed every move I made to make sure it couldn’t or wouldn’t harm the baby. That includes worrying that my worry would harm the baby!
And after Ily was born, I was one of those “hovering moms” that people love to criticize. Ten times a night, I checked on her to make sure she was breathing. I kept her on baby food WAY longer than I should have because I was afraid she would choke. In 10 years, I have never left her with a baby sitter other than family because I am afraid something terrible will happen if I do.
Believe me, I could give the helicopter-mom haters of the world enough to keep them rolling their eyes for years.
Yet despite my well-meaning but misguided micro-management of her childhood, Ily is one of the most positive, uplifting, carefree, encouraging people I have ever known in my life. Ily is an OPTIMIST. And on top of that, she is independent. Ily has never thrown herself at my ankles and begged me to stay in a room. On the contrary, I am the one out in the hall feeling unloved because the sight of her friends is enough to make her forget to even say good bye to me.
And I have always been big on “Stranger Danger” talks, as any self respecting anxious mother would be. And one time when Ily was 3 or 4, we were at Toys R Us, and I left her in the cart in one aisle, while I darted quickly around the corner to the next aisle to grab something. I saw a man and his wife turn into the aisle she was in and I heard them say “Hi there.” to her as they passed her cart.
Did she start crying or go shy on him?
Nope. Ily, with a mixture of complete boredom and annoyance yells out “Mo-ommm! There are Stuh-RAY-ngers talking to me!” Everybody in that section of the store started laughing because she sounded like a teenager who was put out that I left her to deal with such things.
If that had been me when I was four, my eyes would have welled up with tears and I would have silently pleaded for my mother to get back to me as my face turned beet red. I would have thought “This is bad. This is bad.” , even though it was no big deal at all. But not Ily. She couldn’t have cared less despite all the talks I gave her about the people in this world who “aren’t very nice”.
She just doesn’t have it in her to worry. She is an eternal positive thinker – cheerful to the point of annoyance at times to her crabby INFJ mother, and it amazes me every day that there was an egg in my body capable of creating any part of that kind of personality. Actually now that I think about it, I am guessing she gets that from her dad’s side of the family.
Ily just won an award from Trophy Central called the Show Us Your Sue Award, which is inspired by the character Sue Heck from the TV show “The Middle”. It is awarded to somebody with a cheerful, optimistic, enthusiastic attitude and that is what prompted me to write this post. It just struck me as sort of amazing how I, somebody with an anxiety disorder, could raise a child so completely opposite of me in personality. It’s the first time that I have actually allowed myself to think:
“Maybe having a weird mom like me hasn’t hurt them.”
I wanted to share this revelation with other anxious parents who might have had the same sort of guilty feelings I have had over the years.
I can’t speak for all parents but I have spent a fair amount of time worrying about how my anxiety prone personality and the symptoms of my OCD would influence my kids. I often wondered if having me for a mother was an automatic guarantee that they would grow up as nervous and afraid as I am. The guilt, and I might even say a little bit of shame, was always there.
My kids have watched me hover over them every day of their lives.
From the time they were newborns they have been witnessing my anxiety driven “odd” behaviors.
They watched me spend 15 minutes just making sure there was no way their blanket sleepers could rise up and cover their mouth and nose at night and prevent them from breathing.
They watched me wiggle their dressers 5 times every day just to make sure they were still anchored into the walls so they wouldn’t tip.
They, and the neighbors, have seen me freak out every time they scrape their knees on the driveway.
My kids see me stare at lamps and stove knobs for 5 minutes straight before I am really convinced they are turned off.
They watch me stare at their smoke detectors every single night before I leave the room just to make sure the little red light blinks so I know they are working properly.
They used to see me have panic attacks, and they probably will again some day.
They have seen me have crying fits because I am so overwhelmed at times.
My kids have seen it all when it comes to my anxiety. And the fear of ruining them forever because of it, has always been in the back of my mind.
If you worry about the same thing with your kids, do not fret. Ily winning this award has opened my eyes and made me believe that for those of us with anxiety, our kids stand a really good chance of being okay. As long as we do our very best, and love them, and try to educate them about anxiety along the way, they are going to turn out just fine.
If I can take credit for any part of my children’s well adjusted lives, I would say its the fact that they are so educated about anxiety, OCD, and just mental health in general.
It has always been a very “normal thing” to talk about in our home. I have never allowed it to be a “big deal” or a skeleton in the closet. They know that having an anxiety disorder means you have a lot of cool personality traits and is a sign you aren’t taking good care of yourself and are under too much stress. They know that everything I have gone through and still go through with my anxiety and OCD has a very logical explanation behind it, even if certain behaviors and reactions don’t seem so logical. And I have always been open with them and encouraged them to ask questions and used my early life as one big “what not to do” in the stress management department. As much as anxiety has been a presence in my life and my family’s life over the years, it really is not “a thing” if that makes sense. Its just kind of ho-hum and I think that is really important.
The way I see it, my having an anxiety disorder has not only made my life better, it has made my kids’ lives better too.
If you ask my kids how much I love them, they always say “Googolplex”. Don’t get me wrong – I am strict and a disciplinarian and I expect a lot from my kids. However, they know I adore them and that I would go to the ends of the Earth for them. They get that all my nervous fussing comes from a place of love. They understand that my worrying and fear for their safety, although I do tend to go too far with it at times, stems from the fact that I value them so much as people and that they are the most important things in my life. They have never, and will never doubt their mother’s love for them…ever. And I believe that knowledge is going to do more to make them strong, confident people than if they simply had grown up with a mother without an anxiety disorder.
Do the best you can. That is all you have to do.
Take time to take care of yourself every day. Use your own anxiety issues as an opportunity to teach your kids. Promote a positive attitude of self reliance and self-worth in your home. Teach your kids to do as much for themselves as they can. If you feel like you are going “overboard” in a certain anxiety related area, then, of course, strive to improve it and limit your kids’ exposure to that behavior or over-reaction as much as possible, but do not berate yourself or feel like a “less than” parent over it. You can only play the hand you are dealt, and you can’t compare yourself to people who are holding entirely different cards in an entirely different game. Get professional help or seek a support group in your area if you feel like you need some guidance.
Most importantly, just be you.
Those of us with anxiety are special people – I really believe that. I’m the very proudest of snowflakes in case you hadn’t noticed. 😉 We are sensitive and supportive and we have the capacity to give so much love. (A lot of us aren’t so great at receiving love, but we sure can give it.) We are natural caregivers and I bet when your children grow up, they are going to feel very lucky to have had you as a parent.
There is no way to guarantee that one of them WON’T get an anxiety disorder, of course. But if they do, there is a good chance they were going to develop it whether you displayed anxious tendencies or not. And the good news is that if you educate your kids from the time they are small about healthy emotional living and the signs and symptoms of too much stress, then there is a good chance that they will make better choices than you made and keep their anxiety from developing into a disorder at all.
I love this article from Parents.com on the topic of overly anxious parenting, so check it out if you would like some more information.
Photo Credit: All Images Courtesy of Pixabay