“Never before had I felt that I was doing so bad at something I longed to be good at.” –Michaeleen Doucleff, author of Hunt, Gather, Parent
Last time we checked, babies didn’t come with instructions. So, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and revert to a “worst-case scenario” mindset when anything and everything goes wrong.
The baby has a fever of 101. We need to go to the emergency room, NOW!
The baby fell and bonked their head. It’s brain damage!
All my friends who have babies that are walking and talking and ours isn’t. We’re cursed!!
In truth, all new parents go through this. Logic takes a back seat to emotions.
Now for the good news: It’ll be okay.
Babies are durable. They can get hurt, cry, be completely inconsolable, run on absolutely no sleep, and still hit their milestones just fine.
First-time parent anxieties usually lessen with time and experience. A 2017 study revealed that having postpartum anxiety is not a solid indicator for parental anxiety later. In short, everything is temporary.
What is Parental Anxiety?
Any parenting problem, from sleep regressions to potty training, can result in parenting anxiety. While these fears are valid, it’s easy for them to multiply and for you to constantly feel that these issues will never be resolved. Not only can this anxiety incapacitate the parent but the child as well, hindering their curiosity, independence, and resilience within their environment and with peers.
How do you know if you’re an anxious parent?
- Overprotective – preventing any negative from happening to your child, essentially shielding them from any potential harm. Think Marlin in Finding Nemo.
- Catastrophic thoughts – thinking the worst-case scenario involving your child. Earthquakes, kidnapping by clowns, falling into vats of toxic waste…
- Thinking out loud – discussing your worries within earshot or in front of your kids, which can influence their perceptions and anxieties
- Your life is your child’s life – frequently worrying about every aspect of your child’s day, from if they brushed their teeth to their friendship squabbles
- Excessive Research – spending hours googling for answers and spiraling into an online black hole
Although parental anxiety comes from a place of genuine care and concern, it can have lasting effects on you and can create a harmful model for your kid.
What can you do to help yourself (and your child)
- Know yourself – Start learning what triggers your anxiety by jotting down any time you feel an anxiety attack coming on. Take notes of people, places, events, stresses, and fears that are arising. You might see a pattern emerge and begin to figure out the underlying issue.
- Model behavior – Monkey see, monkey do. Our kids are sponges when it comes to watching us. Model healthy coping methods (such as breathing techniques, walks, journaling, etc.) to help your kids learn appropriate ways to deal with stress.
- Promote (healthy) risky behavior – Risk-taking is necessary for your child to become confident and independent. Encourage them to try new things and provide a safe environment for them to do so. If they don’t like it, congratulate them for at least trying. If they fall down, help them get back up and will try a different way to succeed.
- Call for backup – Anxiety doesn’t just go away overnight, especially when it comes to your kids. Once you acknowledge your fear/anxiety, come up with a game plan. That may mean recruiting some friends and family for support, leaning on your spouse/partner for some tasks, or taking extra care when planning your day.
- Talk it out – It helps to talk out your feelings and label your concerns. By acknowledging them, you can manage them before the worry sets in. Confide in your partner, friends, family, or even fellow parents. Even though you know you’re not the only one freaking out, it’s nice to hear from others that you’re not alone.
- Self-care – If you feel like you’re losing it a bit, don’t be afraid to hit the reset button. Sleep, eat, workout, shower, read a book, take a walk, or watch your fave show uninterrupted. Do what you need to do to de-stress and get out of the black hole.
- Seek a pro – If you feel like your parenting challenges are becoming too much (sleep training, potty training, eating, behavior, etc.), don’t be afraid to ask your pediatrician. They will refer you to professionals specialized in those areas if they don’t have the answers. It also wouldn’t hurt to seek counseling for yourself if your stress and anxiety are affecting your daily routine. Even a session or two can start unloading a lot of stress and begin a positive step forward.
Parenting is tough and occasionally, it turns us all into a nervous wreck. Remember that parental anxiety doesn’t have to be a permanent state of mind. By seeking guidance and developing a personal and professional support system, you can shift to the kind of parent you want to be.
Huizink, A., Menting, B., De Moor, M. et al. From prenatal anxiety to parenting stress: a longitudinal study. Arch Womens Ment Health 20, 663–672 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00737-017-0746-5
Parental Anxiety: Knowing If You Have It and Finding Relief (healthline.com)
How to Cope With Parenting Stress and Anxiety (verywellmind.com)