When you make your child anxious ….

I was watching the slightly annoying show that is “The Worst Mother in the World.”

Nice idea, but I am a bit over Super Nanny and the range of similar shows, and no longer lie spread out on my bed as I watch other parents struggle with bratty kids – this could have been retitled “The Most Annoying Mother in the World” but I digress.

This one turns up, and generally the children are not the problem.  The problem is the parents who are a bit of the “helicopter” variety.

So there I sat, ready to judge.

Instead I said: “Yes, that is a bit extreme.  Hey, that one is fine, I don’t see any problem with not letting your child ride his bike on the road.  Okay, that one is fine, she is clearly not a helicopter parent ….. that seems fair…”

And so it went on.

It does not take a genius to work out that I was siding with the helicopter parent as being reasonable.  Why?  Clearly because I have some problems of my own.

Light Bolt Moment – watch out:  Anxious parents create anxious children.

Seems a fairly simple principle.  I would be more excited if it was not true.

The presenter mentioned that 10 years ago the biggest problem facing kids at school was “relationships” – now it seems to be “anxiety”  – she did not give me the scientific report reference, but the statement seemed logical to me.

I am not an overly anxious parent when you look from the outside.  I appear a bit glib, a bit jaded, a bit been-there-done that, almost lacksy-daisy you may say.  I almost appear relaxed (…oh how we laugh …..the we are the voices in my head and my internal anxiety driven centre)

What you do not see, or might not realise, is that I am a very anxious parent.  (For the record, my parents were what ever is the opposite of helicopter parenting ….. like the totally polar opposite)

I find parenting very stressful.  I worry about my kids in all sorts of ways.  Few of them reasonable.  Few of them sane.

If my children move out of my eyesight, in a public area, I can feel my heart rate start to climb, and I feel very anxious.  I get very agitated.

I prefer not to go to a public area with my kids, it is not relaxing.   But I still go – because that appears normal, but I go, and the entire time I am there, all I want to do is leave and go home, where I feel safe(r).

I don’t feel comfortable if my kids play outside, in our garden (which has high walls) unless an adult is watching them.  They can play in the backyard if I am in the kitchen.

They are not able to play in the driveway, which has a huge gate, unless I am sitting on the steps watching them.

I never let my kids cycle/scooter in our cul-de-sac unless I sit with them.

The entire time I am there I am so anxious that it makes me feel nauseous.  I set rules that they must stick to if we are in the cul-de-sac, and I feel like I am running around ensuring they do not hurt themselves, or a car does not come flying down the road and knock them over.

I usually can go about 5 -8 minutes in the cul-de-sac  and then I need to hustle them inside.  I just can’t take the stress any more.

It is like that with a lot of things.

But the idea that “hit home” for me last night that the things that I am anxious about:

1.  They will not get lost, they will get stolen by pae.dophi.les.

2.  They will not just move out of my eyesight, they will get stolen, forever.

3.  They will not get jeered at whilst at schools because they are doing something strange, they will become “that kid” – the kid whose life is made a nightmare by jeering and taunting.

4.  They will not bump their noses/bums on the floor of the pool when they dive in, they will snap their necks and be paraplegic.

5.  They will not slip when running around the pool and hurt themselves, they will fall into the pool unconscious and drown.

6.  They will not gag on a sucking sweet, they will suffocate and choke.

7.  They will not just move out of my eyesight, they will get stolen, forever.  (getting stolen is a bit of a recurring theme … so I have mentioned it twice)

8.  We will not have a fender bender in the car, someone will drive in to us and we will all die – so wear your seatbelt all the time, because it is just a matter of time as to when that person drives in to us.  I literally (not figuratively) shit in my pants if the kids take their seat belts off and the car is moving in any way what so ever.

9.  I do not move my car unless the kids are like 8 metres from the car, I think that if I move, and they are out of the car, they will fall under the tyres and I will drive over them.

And so it carries on.

I have realised that the anxiety I feel – and there is a lot of it – can so easily be transferred over to my kids and become their reality.

I know what it is like to be anxious all the time.  We are not talking mild anxiety here, we are talking escalated debilitating anxiety that physically makes me sick.

I don’t want that for my kids.  It is not as much fun as it looks.  And I know I make anxiety and depression looks like what the cool kids are doing this year! Not so mcuh.

The only way I can try to help them, is to step away from things that make me uncomfortable, and just let them be.

Let them do what they need to do to be kids.  It does sometimes mean averting my eyes, as I feel a mass of vomit come up my throat, and all I want to do is run up to them and sweep them up and scream no.no.no!!

I understand helicopter parenting – but at the same time as we want to say “but I need to do it for the safety of my children” what are we actually doing?

We are reacting to the stressful life style we live in – and we are then anxious for our children’s safety. (Watch one news bulletin, and you could not be anything but anxious.)

But in our quest to keep our kid’s safe, we are doing them an injustice.

We really are sucking the “fun” and “exploring” out of their lives, and instead giving our children “anxiety” “worry” and “suspicion” ….. I think it is less likely that we will have kids who discover, who explore and who really savour life if we continue standing on the sidelines gasping every time they appear to slip out of the finger of death and disaster.

I am the same, really, so I am not about to get on to my pulpit and start telling you how to change.  I am as stuck in this as you are.

I think that is why nature provides moms and dads (metaphorically speaking).

Moms are usually wildly paranoid and anxious with their kids.  Whilst dads prefer to send them out at 7 to tend the sheep, and fight off the wolves.  Dads also teach kids to swim.  Dads throw children up in the air (and usually catch them.)

Mothers sit on the side lines and worry and wonder how long this stupid monkey play has to go on until we can sweep our children up and hold them against our beating heart and smother them in kisses.

But anxiety-motivated parenting it probably one that solves today’s problem – today you are worried about your toddler/young child dying – but they (inadvertently) create an entire new set of problems when your child is no longer able to be with you 24 hours out of the day.

No, I do not have the solution, just putting it out there.

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  1. All of the above that you’re concerned about – in our home – we call ‘Good Parenting’.

    Hey, they’re still alive and under our roof right? And we only have to do it until each offspring is 18 years old right?

    We don’t have DSTV – thankfully I will never have to see the show that thinks our parenting technique needs correcting. I couldn’t bear having to worry about something else too…

  2. julz

     /  February 20, 2012

    I also think it is the way we handle situations. I am abnormally calm in a bad situation so other people tend to think I don’t care which isn’t the case, it’s just my way of dealing with a tricky situations and I fall to pieces afterwards. These shows tend to edit out parts that may make the situation seem worse than it probably is.

    And who agrees to actaully prove what shocking parents they are on public TV anyway???

    I need DSTV. This is one show i have to see. Thanks now I am stressing that I could apply to be on the South African version. More chance than getting onto Survivor although I recon thanks to my poor parenting, Dylan will be able to win Survivor in 20 years.

  3. julz

     /  February 20, 2012

    I would totally qualify for one of those shocking parents on that show. Why? Because my parent (I had both but one was to blame) was like the worst hellicopter parent you could be and I have vowed not to be one at all.

    My partner is more mindful thankfully. I will get really annoyed cause my son cut all the cords of the blinds and N will calmly ask where Dylan got the scissors from.

    Having said that I sort of go mental if Dyaln leaves my side in a parking lot as he doesn’t know how to walk, he only runs so I am terrified he is going to get knocked over so I end up smacking his bum infront of others which is shocking I know. The infront of others part. Okay seriously the smacking too, but that is another topic all together.

    Dylan has to wear his bike helmet when he leaves our garden. Even on his little black bike. I have actually left the bike riding to Neil and the swinging cause Dylan appears to lack the ability to stay on one while it is moving.

    I guess I do worry but I try to do it inwardly as much as possible.

    I obviously don’t do the inwardly part very well cause Dylan told me not to panic tonight as in “it’s okay mom. Don’t panic”.

    Reluctant mom, you have the inward panic mode down to a fine art.

  4. Can totally relate and an so so glad I’m not alone in thinking ALL of those things!

  5. Hilary

     /  February 20, 2012

    I also sometimes experience the fears that you mention. I say sometimes because 80% of the time I give myself the pep talk to just calm the fck down and stop being morbid – doesn’t work all the time of course. For me its more like ‘They will not bump their noses/bums on the floor of the pool when they dive in, they will snap their necks and DIE’. I feel like the freak parent worrying about stupid things that may never actually happen especially when I”m in the company of those ‘ag they’ll be fine. dont worry – just sit down and relax’ parents. Meanwhile, inside, I’m stressing cause I don’t SEE my child playing where I can keep an eye on him. Ja, who said this would be easy?

  6. Sharon

     /  February 20, 2012

    I watched that same show and also sided with the Helicopter parents. Perhaps what she was teaching the parents and children is fine for the USA but there is NO CHANCE IN HELL I’m letting my 9 year old child catch a taxi by herself to go and eat pizza BY HERSELF! Forget about it.
    I have the EXACT same fears as you’ve listed above. Everyone is a pe.dophile waiting in the wings to steal my child. The mere thought of something bad happening to her makes me feel like I’m suffocating in the anxiety!

  7. countesskaz

     /  February 20, 2012

    Okay Celeste, lets give you a round of applause! (for the very relevant blog post). I realised last year when a very over protective friend of mine didn’t stress out about something that happened to her son, that I had a bit of a problem. It was something that parylised me with fear. I decided to speak to a pschycoloigist a few times to work it out.

    I told John about what your mom said to you in the Valentines Day massacre post about how we protect our kids to much and that we will have to look after them even into adulthood. (or something like that). He agreed with your mom, he says we molly coddle our kids too much.

    It’s difficult not be concerned and filled with anxiety when you see horrible things in the newspapers and watch terrible things on TV. Especially about paedop.h.il.es.

    But you see, for me, growing up with anxiety is not a new thing. Having grown up on a farm pre 1994, we were brought up to live in fear that we would be murdered in our beds by the “swart gevaar”!!!!!! (whatever……..)!! So maybe our parents are at fault beacuse we are over protective of our kids, because we grew up in fear?

  8. Hands-On Parenting (aren’t I PC?) is only a problem when you project your own anxieties onto your children and make those anxieties their own or inhibit their personal growth and experience of life.

    Then you’re doing your kids more of a disservice than a service.

  9. Blue

     /  February 20, 2012

    I can so relate to this anxiousness, and “what if” thought process! I go through it every day. In a way by protecting them, I am protecting me – I think I would lose my mind if my child was abused by anyone, or was kidnapped, like happens every day in countries around the world. I am not one of those who think “it won’t happen to me” – I am the one who thinks “it can happen to me or my kids”, and I try and make sure that I have done everything possible to avoid that.
    Now that I am thinking about it, my almost 4 year old son is fine when at home and I am around, but when I drop him off at playschool, he has separation anxiety and little meltdowns every day – he must feel like he is not safe without me? (or I have given him that impression). I think I need some more therapy – I have obviously missed something that is causing me to deal with my kids this way – funnily enough I can ascribe my own anxiety about life in general to my Mom’s way of treating me and life, and I am now projecting this onto my kids. I suppose it is “normal” to do this, but not always right. At least we are aware of it, and not going on oblivious.
    Doesn’t make it any easier though. Good luck!

  10. I hear it called ‘Over Parenting’ also. As a nature fan (!!), I wonder why we have the capacity to imagine all the terrible, highly unlikely things that might happen to our children – if it’s really best for them if we leave them alone more, and hover less. Do I hover? I think I may at times. And Hubby doesn’t. In the slightest. I’ll hear a catastrophic battle happening and I’ll run through the house, heart pounding, to get to the kids before something disastrous happens. As I fly passed Hubby he’ll mumble something like “they’re okay, just being boys”


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