Parenting Has Amplified My Own Anxiety (And Other Emotions)

On the general anxiety scale, I think I fall between panic and moderate regarding parenting. To be fair, I am not and never will be at the end of the scale where The Dude (Jeff Bridges) resides. I have always been more worried than most friends and probably the least likely to forget something.

I like to joke that my anxiety makes me highly organized and contributes to success. But, it also brings challenges to the teenagers who live with me.

A mom interviews her teen about her anxiety journey.
Parenting exacerbated my anxiety, but there are ways to handle it. (Dark Moon Pictures/Shutterstock)

Having kids raised my anxiety to another level

Creating humans and being responsible for them has added a new, unimaginable layer of anxiety to my personality. The daily worries are constant. Did my kid pack a lunch? How did she do on that important Chemistry test? These are the “little” worries that can easily morph into “larger” sized worries. Is my child having sex? Drinking alcohol?

Of course, this train of thought stops at the ever-popular “extra large” Worry Depot. Is my child happy? Will she get into college? Am I an adequate parent to her? For an anxious person, parenting can amplify this emotion.

Our children remind us of our own unresolved issues

The very job of parenting can trigger many of our emotions. When we are parenting, our children remind us of our unresolved issues. This is not intentional. Our children do not recognize or understand our past or how we were parented.

They do not mean to cause us to feel anxious, angry, helpless, or hurt. But, when this occurs, we can know that we have likely been triggered by our children. And, of course, this affects our parenting of them.

In Parenting from the Inside Out, Dr. Daniel Siegel and Dr. Mary Hartzell explain how our own experiences in childhood directly affect our relationship with our children. Much research has been done in the interpersonal neurobiology field that supports our understanding of how our children can “trigger” our emotions.

As Dr. Daniel Siegel points out,

Experiences that are not fully processed may create unresolved and leftover issues that influence how we react to our children….Our responses often take the form of strong emotional reactions [in these moments.]

Dr. Daniel Siegel

Therefore, it makes sense that a better understanding of our past experiences and relationship with our parents is a better relationship with our own children.

Childhood trauma can have a lasting impact on future relationships

For some of us, our childhood may have been pretty awful. Some of us were neglected or even abused. These types of trauma can have a lasting impact on our relationships and mental health.

Many of us, however, were lucky enough to have wonderful childhood experiences. We were raised in loving homes with no concern about how or when our basic needs would be met. For us fortunate adults, we may wonder where these triggered responses to our children are coming from.

Newsflash…those wonderful homes were far from perfect!

Our parents provided an environment and an initial example of many things. These included how to express and manage our anger or sadness, set and enforce a boundary when our feelings are hurt or we disagree, listen to our inner voice and trust it, and take care of our whole selves.

I can honestly say that my wonderful and very loving parents did not perfectly model these life skills. My parents did the best they could with what they had. They loved me with all their fallibilities and shortcomings. They joked that they would cover the cost of my wedding and my adult therapy as they surely had messed up along the way.

I know that I don’t have to repeat the mistakes of the past

Not surprisingly, I find myself in the same place as my own parents at times. Triggered. Overly emotional and in a panicked state. Yet I am armed with the knowledge that Dr. Siegel has provided me. I am not, “destined to repeat the patterns” of my past.

As a parent, I can understand and acknowledge my struggles and even create new patterns with my children. So how do we parents do this? How can an anxious parent like myself move forward?

What are some ways to cope as an anxious parent?

My parent tool chest of resources includes the following: a pediatrician I can call with medical questions or concerns, a school counselor who knows my child, at least 2-3 parents I can bounce ideas to, and my therapist. I am a practicing therapist who often goes to therapy. It’s true!

Car mechanics actually get their own cars repaired and hairdressers get haircuts from other professionals. Seeking therapy is one of the best things you can do for your child. The better we understand our shortcomings and issues, the better we recognize when we are emotionally triggered and must manage our emotions.

This personal awareness can help us be open and emotionally available to our children, even in the most challenging moments.

Someone asked me once if I thought I had learned more from my parents or my children. My children are teaching me things about myself daily. And, as an adult, I feel I am better equipped to hear and learn the lessons. So….deep breath…I will keep working on my emotional self. Just as I am sure my parents did.

More Great Reading:

My College Daughter Has Anxiety: 6 Ways We Helped Her Prepare to Leave Home

About Shelley Coleman

Shelley Coleman MA, LPC-S is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Supervisor with 15 years of clinical experience, 10 years of business management experience, and 18 years of parenting experience. Shelley’s private practice serves children, adolescents and families.  She provides parent education, play therapy, child and adolescent therapy, and family therapy.  She is trained in EMDR, Play Therapy, TF-CBT, and PCIT. 

Read more posts by Shelley

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