Mama's got worries
I have been an anxious person my entire life. In my youth I feared bugs, heights and close quarters. I worried about my grades, my family and what others thought of me. I worried about failing. About dying. About worrying too much. Not that much has changed as an adult. In fact, now there are more things to worry about than ever. I now have a husband, two kids and a small business. Can you think about anything more momentous than being responsible for the complete safety and happiness of another person? Do you know how many things can go wrong there? I do, believe me. Because I have spent many minutes, hours and days worrying about all of the ways that I might screw up my precious ones or all of the bad things that could possibly happen to them that are beyond my control. In fact, I still can't decide what is more stressful, worrying about something that is out of your control or something that you could have possibly prevented but didn't. You are getting the idea, right? It can be pretty brutal in my mind when I allow it to take over my thinking. The difference between the anxiety of my childhood and today is that I now have the tools to manage my thinking. As a therapist, I have longed recognized the importance of mental health treatment and have sought therapy throughout different stages of my life. But motherhood in particular brings about a new set of fears and worries that can trigger anxiety in even the most relaxed of parents. I know that I am not the only mom to worry the way I do. I am very lucky to have friends who are as open as I am in sharing their experiences and fears with me. There is a common theme among us all. We strive to be perfect mothers. And by perfect mothers, I am not referring to June Cleaver type moms who have a clean house, clean kids and dinner on the table every night. Most of us work and share household duties with our partners. No, by perfect mothers I mean doing anything we can to avoid screwing our kids up in any way possible. Emotionally, physically, psychologically, socially and spiritually. That is quite an unreasonable feat that we are committed to for one reason: It is impossible. Our children are individuals who react in their own individual way to our parenting, to their friends, to school and to their own inner worries. As hard as we might try, there is no way for us to control the way our children will turn out as adults. All we can do is try our hardest. Without going crazy in the process.
Despite this logical, intellectualized way of looking at it, this is not the way that many of us perceive motherhood. In our modern world, the amount of information that we are exposed to often hinders our ability to problem solve instead of improving it. Moms are faced with news stories, studies and Facebook posts everyday that expose everything that could possibly go wrong with our little ones. As if we weren't anxious enough about doing the right things, as if we didn't feel guilty enough already, now we hear about how TV rots kids brains, how so many foods we eat are linked to cancer. We hear stories of tragic accidents, we are told we are not buckling our kids in their seat belts correctly, that we shouldn't use formula or food dye. How can we keep track of all these things? All of these factors contribute to "Mom Anxiety". Anxiety is fear that stems from feeling unable to control a situation. And what more uncontrollable of a situation is there than raising a child? Especially if your child is different in some way or has special needs?
Listen, my anxiety didn't come from no where. My mother is a champion worrier, as was her mother before her. There is no way that anxiety was going to bypass me. But in the 1950's and then the 1970's and '80's, mom's didn't have as much ammunition to fuel their anxiety. The only way to compare themselves to other moms was to talk to other moms. There were no Facebook posts of perfect family vacations and perfectly behaved children and perfect spouses. There was no way to broadcast warped views of reality to thousands of people. So moms did their best. They fed their kids without guilt and let them watch TV without guilt. Sure, there were still things to worry about and feel guilty about, but they weren't in such an abundance.
Today moms have to make a conscious decision to have faith, trust their instincts and do their best. I want us all to band together and agree to do the following so that we can chill the hell out and start to enjoy being parents:
Self care, self care, self care: Even as I write it three times I can't stress it enough and yet do you see me engaging in self care? No! But I need to and if we ALL agree to prioritize ourselves maybe the peer pressure will get to me.
Support: Support looks different for everyone. For me it's my family, but it's also my sister wives. All of my besties who are fighting the good fight with me. The women who won't judge me when I tell them that I let my kids eat ice cream out of the carton while watching TV for dinner because I literally couldn't even.... But support for you might be a religious group, an online support group or a book club. It just matters that you feel understood and cared for.
Changing our expectation: We are not perfect. Our husbands aren't perfect. Our children aren't perfect. Nor will any of the previously mentioned people ever be perfect. Having realistic expectations means that our anxiety and disappointment will be lower. In order to change our expectations, we need to actively counter the perfectionistic thoughts, with more loving, accepting thoughts.
Seek professional help when necessary: As I mentioned before, I am a therapist who is in therapy. I am in therapy because I believe in it and I know that it works. If your anxiety and/or depression become unmanageable, seek out a therapist who specializes in working with your particular set of symptoms. It's amazing how talking to an unbiased, outside observer can help you gain perspective when things seem overwhelming and bleak.