My friend Rita Arens wrote about anxiety and parenting today.
“I’ve tried to insulate my daughter as much as I can from my anxiety, but when you live with people, it can be hard. Especially when you’re alone with them as much as I’m alone with my girl. As a result of seeing me cry sometimes for no reason and telling her hey, it’s not you, I’m just sad and sometimes I get sad and I don’t know why, hold on, I’ll stop in a minute, I hope she is kind to herself if she ever cries for no reason. I want to make the world perfect for her but I know that I can’t and actually I shouldn’t, because if I did, she wouldn’t know her own strength.”
Parenting with a mental illness is not easy. Rita wrote so beautifully about the fears of those of us who go through this that we’re hurting our children in some way. I always worry that I’m contaminating my children with my own mental illness, as if every time they rub up against me they’ll get what I’ve got.
Don’t touch me. You’ll get the anxiety.
I know genetically speaking that my kids are more predisposed to mental illness, but I have to remind myself it doesn’t mean they’re doomed. I also have to remind myself that I’m not ruining my children’s lives by being who I am. Yes, they see me worry. They hear me caution. They know that daddy is more likely to give them wide birth and let them experiment, whereas mommy wants to keep everyone safe no matter what, even when there’s nothing to really keep them safe from. Yet, I’m a good mom despite my anxiety. I do everything possible to control it. To take responsibility for it and manage it to the extent that I can. It would be helpful if I wasn’t so uptight. I have seen how it has made them at times more cautious than necessary. If I thought about it too long I could descend into unending guilt and despair that my anxiety is hurting them, yet succumbing to guilt and despair would make me a far worse parent than I ever am now.
Here’s what I want my children to know: When it comes to my brain, I have challenges with the way it works. I’m an anxious person, more than most. I deal with it the best I can, thanks to supportive people, and coping tools and medication. Those things don’t fix my brain 100%, they just make my brain easier to live with.
Also, my mental illness is all relative, in the scheme of things. Challenges abound in life. I have anxiety, but there are a lot of things I don’t have. I don’t have diabetes or heart disease. I don’t have anger management problems. I don’t have a job or marriage I hate. There are all sorts of things that affect parents lives that may in turn affect their parenting too. None of these things makes a parent bad or good. They just are. Not managing them could turn into a problem, yes, but otherwise they are part of life. None of us is perfect, except as a perfect display of real humanity with all of its flaws.
I have things that make me feel good about myself, and things I wish weren’t part of who I am. I have cavities. I also have great hair and good blood pressure. I love public speaking. I’m kind of afraid of heights. I’m a real pain in the ass when I have my period. I’m great at putting my kids to bed. I’m a good cook but I can’t barbecue worth a shit. I’m resilient. I can help you with language arts homework all day, but I’ve never been able to count and so don’t even ask me about math. I spend too much. I’m empathetic. I’m loving. I sometimes let the laundry pile up and the floors get dirty. I help others, but I’m terrible at keeping up with my friends. Good and bad. Whatever. I’m not ruining my kids because I have a fairly well-managed mental illness any more than I’m ruining them because I burn the meat and can’t count and become highly overdramatic one week each month.
One of my favorite quotes, and one that I’ve shared with the Daily Hope subscribers, is the following:
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. ~ Plato
This is what I want to teach my kids about life and about mental illness. I hope the battle I fight with anxiety is a lesson to my children that we all have battles, numerous battles, and that it would be a mistake to expect they won’t have them too. If their battle is with mental illness, so be it. If it’s with something else, so be it. All battles count. None are better. None are worse. They simply are.