I have this thing I do which drives my teenagers crazy: I repeat myself, sometimes up to two or three times before they walk out the door in the morning. I am constantly double-checking things like dates and times trying to keep everything straight in my mind. I tell them the same thing over and over, I check to make sure they have everything before smothering them as they are trying to leave.
I know if something falls through the cracks or we forget something, it is not the end of the world. I realize I don’t need to tell them so many times I love them. I know they are old enough to make sure they have their stuff, they are capable and rarely forget things. I know it, and yet, I can’t help myself.
I’ve always been an anxious person by nature. I used to think it was just excitement with some nervousness thrown in for good measure, but I was wrong. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to come to terms with the fact I get anxious about things no matter their size. I deal with it the best way I can, but as my kids have grown and reached the teen years, it’s gotten worse.
Now we have bigger problems to worry about than just not getting enough sleep, being late, or if they are teething. Teens aren’t with you nearly as much as they used to be and you know you need to give them the time and space to make their own decisions, and mistakes, whether you agree with them or not. You now have to consider the fact they are going to feel pressure and curiosity when it comes to sex, drinking drugs and how they want to spend their free time.
You can believe in your teen, and still be anxious about their life and their choices. Because when you suffer from anxiety, it’s hard to put things into perspective and not think of every possible scenario. It doesn’t mean you aren’t supportive or you don’t trust your child, it simply means you are having a hard time processing all the changes you both are facing, and in order to cope, you become extremely anxious. In order to deal with that anxiety, you develop coping mechanisms that are almost impossible to hide
If you are a mom of a teen and struggle with anxiety, you worry about everything. Sending them off to school these days can take such a mental toll, and if I let my mind spin out of control, it will. I clutch each of my kids before they leave, plaster them with kisses, and tell them I love them 20 times. They constantly tell me, “Mom, you already said that,” but I don’t care. This somehow soothes me, for a second anyway.
When you have anxiety, and are a parent to teens, it does seem different than when they were younger and you felt like you could hide it a bit. But these days, if you are feeling anxious or stressed and slide into the bathroom to breathe, cry, or make a private phone call, they know.
Another teen mom who also suffers from anxiety told me sometimes she feels like she’s thinking about the “absolute worst thing imaginable,” and she’s so afraid is might be happening to them when they are not at home under her watchful eye. And there are other times it’s just “heart pounding, stomach clenched, nerves when they’re experiencing a first time at something, disappointment or failure.”
And I completely relate to those physical symptoms and thoughts just like so many other parents can.
Then we get anxious about the fact they can tell we struggle. We wonder how we are affecting them, damaging them, or making them anxious because of how we react to certain situations. Trying our best to control our thoughts and feelings never seems like it’s enough.
I spoke with Dr. Kate Dow who is Holistic Psychologist and marriage and family therapist from New Mexico who has been practicing for 30 years. She who offered some great advice on how to coexist with your anxiety and your teens. Because let’s face it, you have to manage both, impossible as it may seem. You have to do what’s best for you while looking out for their wellbeing, too. And anxiety is something we live with, cope with, and have to manage; it’s impossible to hide that from our smart teens.
First, Dr. Dow says you need to be honest with your child about your anxiety and take 100% responsibility for it and says, “This means needs to be addressing it, getting help for it, and telling your kids about it.”
Another thing that is crucial is learning how to make decisions based on open communication and negotiation with your teens instead of decisions that are fear-based as this leads to “inappropriately limiting and disempowering” your child, says Dow. If we make fear-based decisions constantly, this will limit their responsibility to learn their own boundaries.
The bottom line here is our teens are impacted by our anxiety. It is hard on us, and it is hard on them but it’s our responsibility to work with it. We can do that by being open and honest with them, and letting them know we struggle but we are working on it.
The last thing we want is to limit their growth because we are so anxious and fearful of what may happen to them during every day, normal activities. And by getting the help we need, we are showing them it’s okay to ask for assistance, that we can still be great parents, and those who suffer aren’t weak.