I’m so excited to share with you our third guest post on ForYouMummas, “The inner workings of an anxious mama” by the lovely Alanna Jenkins.
Alanna mother of 2 year old Jameson writes about her struggles with anxiety during motherhood and what she does to overcome this on a day to day basis.
After reading this if any of you are feeling the same or would like to discuss this further please comment below as we would love to hear as many of your stories as possible.
Every parent worries right? It’s normal for us to be on the lookout for signs of illness, or to stress over whether or not they should have started walking, talking, or holding their own sippy cup. Those are the everyday worries that come with being a parent. They’re not fun, but we expect them and we’re able to get through them by talking to other parents who have the same concerns.
When you have anxiety, moving past these day-to-day worries can feel like a never-ending marathon, because your brain has a way of making them bigger than day-to-day. A sign of illness becomes a life-threatening disease, a slight deviation from the expected milestones means an undiagnosed learning difficulty. I’ve spent a large portion of my time over the last 3 years (including pregnancy) worrying about not being around to see my child grow up, or something terrible happening to him. Again, these are worries that every parent has, but for me, they can literally stop me in my tracks for hours and I can think about nothing else; I’ve even made more trips to the doctors just to make sure we’re all ok.
To help put this into perspective for those of you less familiar with how anxiety works, the ongoing pandemic is a great example. Most people are warier of their surroundings now, and some have begun to see danger around every corner because what we’re fighting against is invisible. Most parents are more cautious now about where their children go, who they see and what they touch. People are more stressed, nervous, tired and burnt out from all the thinking. This way of thinking is applied to every aspect of my life, I see the danger in everything and am constantly in a state of fight or flight.
So, how does all of this affect my parenting?
Well, in my experience, parenting is all about uncertainty; you can never predict what a child is going to throw your way (sometimes literally). Anxiety is an inability to process uncertainty in a healthy way, so suffering from it as a parent can make handling some of life’s everyday challenges problematic, and sometimes even painful. I’ve found that my anxiety manifests itself in impatience and a short temper; when I’m worrying about something or ruminating endlessly, I’m quick to snap because I’m not completely focused on what’s going on around me. As you can imagine, these traits are not ideal when you’re parenting a small child, who needs continual patience and undivided attention.
The hardest part of parenting with anxiety is the eternal loop of feeling like a bad parent for losing your temper, then spending hours overthinking the guilt of that and the potential long-term damage you may have caused to your child’s emotional wellbeing, then snapping again because you’re busy feeling stressed about the last time you snapped. I spend several hours a week analysing my parenting in painstaking detail and inevitably being too hard on myself. Anxiety is a torturous form of perfectionism, and we all know that the perfect parent doesn’t exist, so I’m a little stuck!
It breaks my heart that some of my anxieties and less-than-constructive coping mechanisms may rub off on my son. I wouldn’t wish anxiety on my worst enemy, let alone the one person I want to protect more than any other in the world. But I try to cut myself some slack by rationalising that it’s important for him to see what mental health struggles look like – that’s the only way he’s going to learn to show compassion for others later in life and (most importantly) recognise those signs in himself and get help in the future if he needs to.
Rationalising in my logical “normal” moments, helps, as well as remembering self-care. We’re always told as parents (and especially mothers) that self-care is important otherwise we’ll burn out, and that we can’t be everything for everyone. It’s become clear to me that statements like that are even more important for parents who have mental health struggles, otherwise, we end up not only burning out but retreating into something far more unhealthy for us and our families.
Despite what I’ve written, I’m not defeatist about all of this. I’m learning right alongside my son, like the rest of you are with your children, it’s just that he and I are learning a few extra life skills. Hopefully what he’ll remember as he grows up is that he had a mum who always tried her hardest, even in the face of a seemingly unmovable obstacle, and always tried to do better than the last time when handling a challenging situation, never giving up or giving in.
To any mums who want to talk about anxiety or any other part of parenting, I’m always up for a chat; my twitter is @alannajenkins14