Living with anxiety means you become creative with your parenting. You sometimes have to plan staycations instead of faraway vacations. You say no when you want to say yes. You risk your child asking you why a lot. Why can’t we go to the aquarium? Why can’t we go to the baseball game? Why can’t you drive here or there? When I heard those questions, I interpreted them in my mind as, why can’t you be like other moms without anxiety? From there the guilt would seep in.
I am not always the mom who can’t. I’ve had periods in my life where I have been the mom who goes on the school trips, goes shopping alone, and drives further than out of our town. Every few years anxiety will rise up and I relapse into agoraphobia, generalized anxiety and panic. It only stays for a while and it always gets better, but during those times when it is present, it can be difficult. I’ve worked hard every day towards finding solutions and tools to help me cope and keep anxiety at bay, and for the most part, I can. During the times I can’t and anxiety is raging, it feels like life is passing by and moments are missed because of anxiety’s powerful hold. It’s the reality that life still happens despite my temporary hiatus, despite my “be back soon” or “under construction” status.
So how do we deal with the guilt? Do we wait and try to make up for lost time when we are better? Do we try to pretend it doesn’t matter and that we don’t care and just say it is what it is? What has helped me to deal with my own guilt is to just be honest and call it for the crappy feeling it is. I’m always trying to be the best version of myself that I can be, even on tough days. I’m proactive with my mental health, I self-care to try and prevent relapses, and I self-care a little more when my mental health is struggling.
Despite anxiety, I was always active in my children’s school. I even worked at one of my child’s schools for eight years, and when I was not working, I volunteered in the classrooms and for events. I did those things despite having anxiety. I spent a lot of time teaching my children how to be helpful, loving and kind by the example I set. I taught them about faith and humanity. We would do homework and projects together, and I still do with my youngest child who is still in high school. When my kids were younger, we would go for walks and play basketball at the park together. We did things within my comfort zone. I took my children to their medical and dental appointments and still do, even when anxiety screams so bad inside of me that I think everyone could hear it. I tried to do things every day against my anxiety in the hope that one day I will be totally free of it, and even though it comes and goes, it has never left me forever.
I might have not been able to take my children on long trips or do everything they wanted to do, but there were many things I did that are of great significance that they are grateful for today. One of the most important things I did for my children was to teach them how to be caring and accepting of people, and not to judge people with depression or anxiety. The ability to have compassion and empathy for others is something I see them practice in their lives now as they have grown. A part of me might always feel like I failed them in some ways because anxiety called the shots a lot of times when it would pop in and out my life while they were younger. At the same time, because of anxiety, I was very tuned into their mental health and have always been able to help them navigate through their own struggles and teach them about mental health self-care. My children knew that I was always willing to play board games, go to the park, do crafts and bake together.
Being a parent with anxiety doesn’t need to have a negative connotation attached to it. When I step out of comparing myself to other parents and recognize that I am still a good parent that has done amazing things, even though anxiety has lingered in and out of my life, I can let go of the inner critic. I can quiet the inner dialogue fueled by anxiety that tells me I am not good enough.
Parenting with anxiety has had its challenges, but it has not always been a struggle. It has motivated me to work around my anxiety so that I can be an engaging and present parent in my children’s daily life. When I reflect on everything I have accomplished as a parent with anxiety, I know that I have nothing to be ashamed of. Too many parents are carrying the guilt of having a mental illness. Having a mental illness does not make you a bad parent. Being a bad parent makes you a bad parent, and I am a great mother.