I saw my therapist last Monday for the first time since Christmas & it was so therapeutic that I left there thinking “I’m never skipping a monthly session ever again.” It was amazing how I could feel months worth of tension easing so much just from one therapeutic session. I also saw my NP last week for my annual physical & she reassured me that being a “Type A” person who struggles a bit with anxiety does present some unique challenges as a mom & that I should never feel the need to compare myself to other moms, especially those with different personalities &/or who don’t struggle with anxiety.
Anyhow, all that left me thinking about what being a mom with anxiety is like. No, I don’t have crippling anxiety that makes me unable to leave the house or to have a professional job or anything like that. But once I got into therapy as an adult & eventually started Prozac for my anxiety I realized how much anxiety has affected my life for a very long time, dating back to well before adolescence. In fact my blood pressure was actually elevated at times during my senior year of college & my first year after college because of my anxiety. However, once I got my anxiety better under control, especially after starting Prozac, my BP has never been high again (other than when I developed preeclampsia while pregnant, but that was obviously a whole other issue). My point is there are obviously people out there who struggle with much worse cases of anxiety than I do, but that doesn’t invalidate my struggles. Nor does it mean that my story isn’t worth sharing.
When people think of moms with anxiety they probably think of the mom who can’t stop worrying about her child, who is obsessed with incessant “what if” scenarios: “What if I’m in a car accident with my child?” “What if he falls & hits his head?” “What if she chokes on that piece of popcorn?” Or the mom who runs in her child’s room every hour to check that she’s still breathing. While I’ve certainly had those moments as a mom- I think we all do- that really isn’t how anxiety affects me as a mom. I’m actually remarkably “chill.” For example I’ve never been a worry wart about germs. If my child eats something off the floor (at home anyway) or after the dog licks it, I just shrug & say “She’s building a good immune system.” When she was a newborn I rarely ever felt a compulsion to check her breathing while she was sleeping. Even when she had her tonsillectomy earlier this year, I was remarkably calm.
The ways anxiety affects me as a mom are a bit different. For example, I get touched out really easily. When your toddler routinely uses you as a jungle gym, this can be quite trying! As a devout introvert, I fall apart if I don’t have enough alone time– which is why nap time is so incredibly sacred for me- & also why I could probably never survive as a true full time SAHM.
Anxiety also causes me to feel like whatever stage I’m in as a mom will last forever. When my daughter was a newborn & she breastfed CONSTANTLY I felt like I was going to lose my mind because I just couldn’t imagine that things would ever change. (Talk about being touched out- breastfeeding a newborn is the ultimate way to get touched out. Ha!) Now that she is a toddler thankfully I have the knowledge that I survived that crazy period of her life so I have the reassurance that if I can survive that- which at the time seemed like it would never end- I can survive anything else she throws my way. But even so when she is in the midst of a tantrum it is very difficult for me to remember that this too is just a phase- & that it too will pass.
Anxiety also causes me to constantly feel inadequate as a mom. I talked about this in my last post, but I look around & see all these moms who seem naturally “gifted” with babies & toddlers & I feel like I’m an impostor. I’ve always been very honest & admitted that I’m not a “baby” person, nor am I a “toddler person.” As I’ve written in previous blog posts, for most of my life I never even wanted to be a mom, largely because I feared I’d never be able to survive the first five years or so. Eventually I changed my mind & I’m so glad I did, but I’ll be the first to admit that I highly doubt the baby/toddler years will ever be my favorite. Yes, I will have loads of wonderful memories from these stages- I already do- but I truly believe I will “come into my own” as a mom when my child is a bit older. (I suppose it isn’t “normal” to be so honest about these things but I know that somewhere there has to be a mom who feels the same way as me- & if she reads this I want her to know she’s not alone.)
Here lately, I’m bombarded by people telling me “Oh just wait, 3 is so much worse.” “If you think she’s difficult now, wait till you see her in a year or two.” “God help you when she’s a teenager if you think THIS is hard.” And every time I inevitably want to slap these people of course. First of all, these kind of comments are so incredibly unhelpful- in fact they’re downright discouraging- & second of all, how do you KNOW that 3 or 4 (or whatever age) is going to be harder for me? As someone who is very logical & pragmatic I think the toddler stage is particularly challenging for me because toddlers are pretty much the exact opposite of logical. Most moms are terrified of their kids growing up & having to discuss difficult subjects like war, sex, & death- but those things really don’t scare me. I know I can handle that stuff. I’m not saying it will be easy- I’m sure it won’t be. But I can handle it. I know I can.
But these tantrums? The blood curdling screams- not to mention the kicks- every time I have to get my child dressed? Of if she doesn’t get the exact food she wants at the exact second she wants it? Whew, this stuff is hard, y’all. I’m not rushing her growing up, I promise I’m not. I’m just saying this toddler stage is really hard for me. I know it’s not easy for any of us, of course it isn’t. But my anxiety has definitely been on an upswing since around the time Rachel turned two. And the last thing I need is for anyone to tell me “Oh, it only gets worse from here.” So please, the next time a mom tells you she is struggling (whether she actually says it or you can just read it on her face), take a second & remember that no matter how put-together she seems- or how completely un-put together she seems- you really have no idea how she is feeling on the inside. And the last thing she needs is you telling her things are only going to get worse. After all, her child may be very different than yours. And she may be very different than you. Just give her a smile, a hug, & a quick “You’ve got this.” You might just make her whole day.