So my daughter's immune system is getting stronger. The Petri dish that I send her to every school day has really put her through the ringer, but I have noticed that she is going for longer stretches of wellness between her immune boosting bouts of illness. As we spent the weekend hunkered down dealing with a fever and congestion, I reflected on Anxiety and Illness.
When I was a new mother, every sniffle or cough or sneeze had my full attention. Anxiety was quick to tell me what a bad mother I was if I didn't immediately address my daugher's symptoms. I've come a long way from that and it has been one step at a time. I had to embrace the inevitability of illness and also recognize that with each round I gained more knowledge, noticed more patterns, and gained the ever important feeling of competence in being a mother.
Now I'm going to let you in on a few things. First I had to walk my talk as far as dealing with my Anxiety. It still, no matter how much work I have done, will do it's best to get my panties in a wad over the littlest thing. It wants me to worry about her health. Am I feeding her the "right" foods? Am I helping her get enough sleep? Is she stressed out? Am I stressed out? The list seems endless at times. Every day I have to deal with these questions and with what life puts in my path. Every day I have to move toward these questions that may scare me. I have to discern between Anxiety's actual signals (hey she feels hot, take her temperature) and the noise that it loves to generate (what happens if her temperature goes above 102? What if she won't eat or drink? What if? What if? What if?).
Second, accepting stress, illness, and the unexpected has been one of the most important steps in this Anxious Mother/Anxious Daughter Dance. Competence is one of the keys to this part. I have, at times, had to conciously choose to not ask for reassurance from others. You heard that right. I made a choice to position myself as the "expert" in my daughter's health. Now, I certainly consult with other experts like our doctor and other resources specific to children's health, but I do not rely on them solely. The only way for me to gain competence in being a mom is to rely on myself first, before I "check" with anyone else. This was super hard in the beginning, as I felt like I had no idea what I was doing and wanted someone else to bear the burden of responsibility. It has been my commitment to doing this work, though, that has allowed me to fully experience my anxiety and to get past the noise to actually build competence and confidence in being a parent! Do I get it "right" everyday? Of course not. I just accept that there is no absolute right or wrong and that as long as I show up and do my best, that's all that I can ask of myself.
So how do we generalize this concept to dealing with an Anxious Kid? The same two "rules" apply. We first accept that our child tends toward being anxious with all of the interesting and frustrating and scary "symptoms" that come along on this journey. Then we set a goal for ourselves to become the "expert" in our parenting of our Anxious Child. With this goal we commit to being our child's first and foremost expert and view the other "experts" as resources to consult. We take responsibility and are compassionate with ourselves during the lifelong learning process!
We also commit to dealing with our own anxiety around parenting an anxious child and that means distinguishing signals vs. noise. We teach and model this to our Anxious Kids. We are willing to give them the "medicine" that they need, which may include putting them in uncomfortable situations where they have to work on their own competence building skills.
Here are today's Parenting Takeaways:
The voice behind Auntie Anxiety is Lynn Dutrow, Courage Coach and Counselor