As I was driving my kids to school the other morning I was asking them about their day and getting nothing in response except for a few mutters. I could feel myself becoming anxious, wondering if anything was going on they didn’t think they could tell me.
I let them know I wanted them to talk to me more because I start to worry about them when I don’t feel connected to what’s going on in their lives.
“Mom, I think you like to worry,” my oldest said. My other two teens started laughing at me and imitating me.
Oh, I’m so stressed out about all the laundry! Why do you guys wear so many clothes?
I need to vacuum again, I can’t handle this.
Why did I forget that appointment? What is wrong with me?
Why did I walk in this room? I’m losing my mind!
My back hurts and you guys are making it hurt worse by stressing me out.
Why didn’t you do your Science project on time? I’m so worried about your grades.
They could have gone on and on but I had to stop them because I couldn’t listen to their version of me any longer. It was brutal, and I laughed pretty hard which felt damn good but it was all true.
I am an anxious mom. I worry about them, I worry about their school work and their friends. I worry they aren’t getting enough sleep and if they are cutting their toe nails often enough. I worry when they don’t care about leaving the house with two white heads that look like they are about to explode on their nose. I worry what people will think when they wear the same hoodie 3 days in a row.
I worry about their mental health, and if they aren’t talkative for an afternoon I go to a bad place and dig more which makes them shut down. Then I worry about that.
I worry I am not enough for them and I am somehow damaging them. I worry I made the wrong decision when I decide not to push them to do a sport and I worry I’m making the wrong decision when I do.
And to them, it looks like worrying is my most favorite hobby. But it’s not.
It’s something I’ve tried to control and hide and brush aside. It’s something I’ve been ashamed of and wondered if something is wrong with me. It’s something I wish would get up and walk away but it’s a part of me.
The more I deny and ignore my anxiety, the worse it gets.
So, I instead of pushing it down, I am very open and honest with my teenagers about my feelings. Anyone who has anxiety knows there are days when it’s more manageable the others and when I feel a bad bubble of anxiety trying to make its way in, I tell them.
I do it as soon as I feel it. I let them know I am feeling extra anxious and the reasons why if there are any.
If I have no reasons, I tell them I’m not sure why I’m feeling it, but it’s there and if they can just be patient with me, I’d appreciate it.
My anxiety can manifest into anger in under 2 seconds. And to a child, regardless of their age, that just looks like plain anger.
I know there were many times my kids thought they’d done something that put me in an angry, anxious state before I was honest about my anxiety when in fact, it had nothing to do with them.
But it was absolutely a fair assessment. My kids would come home from school on a day I was struggling and open the pantry, complain there’s not food as kids often do and I would lose it and overreact. Here they were only in my presence for a few seconds and I’d already make them feel small after a long day at school.
I don’t tell my kids about my moods and struggles as a way to gain pity or make them feel like they are constantly on a slippery slope when I’m having a hard time, nor is it an excuse for me to rip them apart over tiny things.
I tell them out of respect. I tell them so they will understand. I tell them so they will learn there is no shame in communicating to someone you struggle with anxiety and depression.
When I started being honest with them and talking to them about it like the young adults they are, things got so much better. Not because they bent over backwards make it better, but because I felt I could breathe again. I wasn’t stuffing or hiding or being so reactive.
And we all know when Mama can breathe easy, so can the rest of the family.
And they finally knew my anxiety and anger had nothing to do with them but they did start to have compassion and understanding and were sensitive to the fact their mom was having a rough day.
I must say, making jokes about it in the car was a great release for them, and it certainly made us all laugh– if that’s not making light of a dark situation, I don’t know what is.