I Am That Parent – A Message from a Parent of An Anxious Child
I’m a parent of an anxious child. Like all parents, I’m sleep deprived and consumed with getting my child off to school on time – but sometimes this is where our similarities end. For me, accomplishing what parents may consider as the most regular of activities can sometimes feel near impossible. Activities, such as having playdates or taking swimming lessons are a cause of stress and anxiety for my child.
My daughter came out anxious. Before she had a chance to experience stress or trauma, she was exhibiting symptoms of what we would later find out was anxiety. For years, I kept most of what was going on under wraps. Naively, I guess I was hoping it would pass. I also felt that I couldn’t talk about what was going on – you see I felt that there wasn’t anyone else out there who could understand what I was going through.
Thinking back now, anxiety didn’t even cross my mind
As a new mother, what I thought my first year would be like was far from what transpired. I expected sleepless nights - but I also envisioned walks in the park, visits with family and friends, and days spent running around doing errands with my daughter – all things that clearly my daughter was not comfortable doing. All of these everyday activities would end in disaster – every single time. She seemed to cry for about three years. Colic, stomach issues, too hot, too cold, too much stimulation, not enough stimulation – everyone had an opinion – but not one suggested anxiety as a cause. Thinking back now, anxiety didn’t even cross my mind. Until, she started daycare and then it was apparent that my daughter was dealing with separation anxiety.
Anxiety followed us everywhere
It's common for children to experience anxiety when starting daycare, preschool, and kindergarten, so once again, I hoped it would pass. The separation anxiety would diminish for the other children, but for my daughter, it didn’t end. Anxiety followed us everywhere. At school, at family gatherings, and at regular activities. She was extremely bright and could communicate with us, but when we asked her what was bothering her, she was only able to muster four words – “I just need you.”
As my daughter was exposed to more experiences, the anxiety got worse. I would sit and watch in awe as other parents would perform regular activities with ease - like dropping their kids off at their classroom, bringing their child to a birthday party, and having a playdate at a friend’s house – all activities that were so difficult for our family. You can imagine the toll that this took on our family. I felt misunderstood, alone, and isolated and I felt that I had become That Parent.
That Parent – you know the parent that people perceive as the “helicopter mom.” The mom who is lurking around during their child’s activities or who doesn’t leave the birthday parties. Most people think of us as overbearing momma bears who have issues with leaving our children in the capable hands of another human being. Sadly, this isn't the case. Perhaps it's difficult for people to understand what we were going through, so, as a parent of an anxious child, this is what I would like others should know:
• I’m that parent with the baby who is screaming in the grocery store because the glare of the lights is too bright.
• I’m that parent sitting on the side of the pool during my child’s lessons because she finds the other children’s screams of joy too overwhelming and won’t get in the pool.
• I’m that parent who is watching her six-year-old check all the locks in the house before she goes to sleep in fear that someone will break in.
• I’m that parent who is still sitting on the sidelines of the birthday party because my daughter is afraid that if I leave something bad will happen.
• I’m that parent lurking in the hallway of the school waiting to take my daughter home for lunch because the noon hour bells are too loud and overwhelming for her, as is lunchtime.
• I’m that parent standing with my crying child outside of school after the bell rings because she doesn’t want to go to school today.
• I’m that parent who you see crying as she leaves the school.
I’m not going to lie, the past eight years have had its ups and downs, but I can say that some very meaningful people came into our lives and provided insight exactly when we needed it. There was the special grade one teacher whose older daughter had anxiety; she had been through it and had tips for us when we were at our lowest point. There was the extremely kind grade two teacher who understood that sometimes my daughter just needed a little extra assistance - and she took the time to help her when needed. We were lucky to have a new school counsellor who understood what would help get my daughter to school, without us having to pry her off the house every morning.
When we were ready to talk about it, I was surprised at how many people there are out there who do know what we are going through and want to talk about it too. With the help of a great support team and Anxiety Canada resources, I’m happy to say that we now celebrate our wins, no matter how large or small they may seem. We are more than that parent lurking on the sidelines. So, if you are that parent, I hope you can feel reassured that one day you too will celebrate these big wins.
I’m happy to say that today:
• I’m that parent who can drop her child off at school and leave before the bell rings.
• I’m that parent of a child who went to a birthday party, and I got to leave the premises – yes leave. I will celebrate my two hours of new found freedom.
• I’m that parent of a child who got into the swimming pool and completed swimming lessons in a class with five other children.
• I’m that parent of a child who went to school today without complaining of a stomach ache.
• I’m that parent of a child who did not run out of the classroom when I dropped her off at class today.
• I’m that parent of a child who got through the day without crying.
• I’m also that parent who got through the day without crying.
Yes, I’m that parent, and I’m proud. Celebrate the big wins and tell us what you’re proud of today. If you are a parent and you need some help, we have a dedicated section on anxiety and children that were very helpful for me - https://www.anxietycanada.com/parents
Mel is a mother of a seven-year-old and the Communications Officer at Anxiety Canada.