Savvy Minds: Ask Dr. V ~ “I’m an Anxious Mom”
I’m a relatively new mom. My son is 21 months old. I feel like I’m totally overwhelmed with fear; fear that he’ll hurt himself, fear that I’ll mess up somehow and hurt him, fear that when he needs medicine I’ll give him too much or too little and I don’t want to even go into the kinds of child predator fears I have. It’s getting to the point where I can’t relax at all around him, and I’m afraid every adult at the park is a serial killer. I feel like I’m starting to miss out on this amazing time in my little boy’s life. I just want to enjoy it and be happy. What can I do?
I completely relate to and empathize with the feelings you describe. It goes without saying of course, that part of the job description for being a parent is worrying about your child’s safety and wellbeing. We are hardly alone as a species with this sentiment. Mothers of all kinds strive tirelessly to feed their young and keep them safe from predators. It just so happens that we seem to be the only species that can drive ourselves crazy worrying about that which might happen along with what’s actually going on.
That being said, it does sound like your fear-reactor is on overdrive, so to speak. We should try to move towards making an adjustment. Bear in mind, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be fearful at all for son’s security, but if as you say, this constant fear and worry is interfering with your enjoyment of being a parent, then certainly it’s worth taking some steps towards restoring balance.
My first suggestion would be to breathe. I’m serious, when you have the time (which I assume would most likely be your little guy’s naptime) take a moment to sit in a comfortable chair. Take ten slow, deep and even breaths. Think to yourself, “I am a wonderful mother. I am doing all that I can. My family is loved, cared for and safe.” Even if you nod off while doing it (I remember what those early years are like… exhausting to say the least) keep going with it. The aim of this meditative exercise is to reconfigure that part of your mind that is generating the useless fear. It may sound New Agey and even corny, but it is true that if we can tell ourselves something enough we start believing it. For instance, you have convinced yourself that your son is in mortal peril every waking moment of the day, when this is simply not the case. So, I think the first step towards achieving the equilibrium you seek is to begin reprogramming that internal computer. Also, I believe that if you are more focused on what’s actually going on around you and your child as opposed to that which could possibly happen, you’ll be more alert and perceptive regarding actual hazards; your brain won’t be as clouded and jumbled you describe it.
Another aspect to consider is not just what’s going on in your head, but what you’re putting in to it. Are you watching episode after episode of nighttime police dramas that center on heinous crimes with children as the victims? Do you watch the local news? Or do you perhaps even deliberately seek out disturbing information? If so, you are essentially throwing gas on a fire that, while it should be burning within you to a certain degree, has no need to be a raging holocaust, dominating all other aspects of your mental and emotional being. If you answered yes to any of those questions, my suggestion to you is to cool it with the gritty, real-life stuff and maybe make shift towards something a bit lighter. Something that could induce laughter would be high on my list.
Thirdly, I think that if you were to take some concrete, positive action to empower yourself, it would do wonders for the imbalance of fear you are currently dealing with. For example, the Red Cross offers classes in infant CPR all over the country. Check their website at www.redcross.org to enter your zip code and find what’s available. Arming yourself with the information available through an infant CPR class will probably defuse about 98% of the fears you harbor. And the great thing about education is that it often overrides fear and panic. An example: a friend of mine who worked as a teacher at an elementary school was required to take a child and infant CPR course for his job. A few months later, his 19-month-old son choked on a nickel. Without thinking, the training kicked into gear and within seconds he’d turned his son upside down and gotten the nickel out of his throat. Now, that’s not to say he and his wife weren’t a bit shook up afterwards (the baby was OK after a five minute crying jag, probably wondering why his parents were white as ghosts for the rest of the evening. The point is that when we pass through those harrowing moments and know that “I can handle this. Things will be OK”, it adds to a base of confidence within, and I believe that confidence pairs wonderfully with practical knowledge to make a self-assured, confident and effective parent. From how you make it sound, you could do with a boost of confidence. Find out about those classes.
Again, this is not to say you should feel no fear at all, that would be ignorant and unrealistic, and you don’t appear to be either. What’s important is discerning the difference between the healthy and helpful fears and intuitions, such as “No, you may not go on the ride at the state fair operated by a gentlemen swilling Wild Turkey from a brown paper bag” but more along the lines of “He just put his mouth on the slide at the park! Will he get swine flu? I better get him to the doctor. Now!” (Disclaimer: Please don’t let your children put their mouths on playground equipment. If they happen to, don’t freak out either). Remember that you are your child’s primary model not just of how to be in the world, but what to expect from females. Be sure that you are giving him an example of confidence, strength and of course, love.
With Love and Light,
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