Updated: Jun 28, 2019
Anxiety and depression have plagued me off and on throughout my entire life but I never realized how it would affect me as a mom
In fact, for quite some time I denied that it was affecting me so severely. I had my first child in 2012, my second in 2013, a miscarriage in 2015, a child in 2016, and my fourth, and probably final child in 2018. Am I insane? Possibly? But I love every minute of it. Or at least, almost every minute of it!
"Am I Insane?"
Motherhood is hard, really hard. Living on no sleep, very little alone time, cleaning up, cooking, and everything else that comes with “momming” is a lot for anyone. Multiply it by four kids, a dog, and a bearded dragon. Then add homeschooling, hyperemesis gravidarum, and mental health disorders to the mix. Now you have got a recipe for chaos! When I was offered the opportunity to write about how my poor mental health has affected my parenting, I jumped at it! Following are four of the largest challenges anxiety has caused in parenting and how I am attempting to fight back against them.
The Problem: Anger and Anxiety
Anxiety makes me furious. Even in the midst of an anxiety attack, I still have that sane part of my brain that yells at me how stupid I am. For example, when we are already running late and all of a sudden someone can't find their shoe. My mind begins racing because I hate being late. I start considering all of the things people are going to say when I'm not on time. Anger starts to boil up at me because as that inner voice says, “Why didn't you get their shoes ready last night?' But, like all humans, taking responsibility isn't always the easiest thing for me. Sometimes, rather than accepting the blame, I shift it.
"Rather than accepting the blame, I shift it"
I put it on my kids or my husband for not doing their part and I begin to stomp around the house angrily muttering to myself or even going so far as to tell them they are at fault. Even if the anger stays directed at me, however, I'm not a fun person to be around in that moment.
The Work In Progress: Honesty
Several months ago I sat down with my kids and I explained to them that mommy's brain doesn't work as well as it should. With tears in my eyes I told them how much I love them and how much I hate when I lose my temper. I have also done my best to explain things to my husband. You see, after some inner reflection, I learned that my anger almost always stems from fear. In the above scenario, it's the fear of what others will think. But realizing that what my family thinks is way more important has helped me tremendously.
I can't say I'm perfect in this area. I still lose my temper and may slam a door or raise my voice more than I would like. But each and every time, I go to who I have been unkind to and apologize. I let them know it isn't their fault and Mommy's brain is just being crazy again. I am also working on facing my fears and my husband is helping a lot with this. When I feel myself getting angry, I am trying my best to take a time out to analyze what I'm really thinking. Am I being rational? Most of the time, I'm not. Generally speaking, in fact, I'm pretty irrational at that moment. Who cares if we're five minutes late to a birthday party or a play date? It's not worth getting angry over.
"Mommy's brain is just being crazy again."
The Problem: Depression and Driving
I have had a lot of driving anxiety since before I ever got my learner's permit. But I did manage to get my license and have kept it renewed ever since. What I haven't done since then though is actually drive a car. Yes, I am a 27 year old mom of four in a somewhat rural area and I don't drive. This creates a HUGE issue for our family. My husband has to take most of his days off to transport us to appointments, grocery shopping, etc. Playdates, birthday parties, and even church services are generally declined because I can't get us there safely. This is a huge issue.
But you may be wondering why I titled this section “Depression and Driving” rather than “Driving Anxiety”. The truth is because, while originally anxiety kept me from driving, now I believe depression is more to blame. I say that because of this, I'm no longer afraid to drive. I believe I will never be able to. Driving feels like a hopeless cause, and that is what I attribute to depression.
The Work In Progress: Baby Steps
When I was pregnant with my fourth child I decided enough was enough and that I had to push depression aside and make a decision to learn to drive. It didn't happen then. In fact, it was just about six months ago that I formulated a plan. Rather than going to driving school, I wanted to set my own goals. It started with just sitting in the car and adjusting my mirrors. Then I grew comfortable enough to drive across our bridge to the side of the road. Soon, I was able to drive about half a mile to our local church. This past week, I drove nearly 15 miles from my home to my parents house, with my kids in the back, slightly above the speed limit, and actually wasn't scared to death.
Now, that being said, I have a lot of work to do. I've never gone more than 45 miles per hour. Interstates are absolutely terrifying to me. But my baby steps are gaining in intensity rapidly. I am hoping by the end of next month to be able to drive nearly 20 miles to our nearest Walmart. A big part of me still says there's no way I can do it. But depression is not going to win this one. I'm not still not sure I'll ever master some of the busier roads in my city, but I am going to at least be able to make it where I have to go locally.
The Problem: Socializing and Squandering
This one probably isn't as big of a deal to public school moms, but this is a big one for me. One of the first questions people like to ask a homeschool parent is, “Aren't you worried about socialization?” My answer is, “Absolutely!” Providing my children with opportunities to be social is really hard as a mom with social anxiety disorder. I want my kids to get to spend time with people of all ages. In fact, I want to spend time with people. But I'm scared.
No, I'm not afraid someone will hurt my kids or myself. I'm afraid of looking stupid. The fear of saying the wrong thing, or of upsetting someone is huge for me. So huge that I often find myself canceling plans, or being so worked up by the time I arrive that I can't even find a way to enjoy myself.
While I love my God with all of my heart, even going to church sparks such horrible anxiety, I am often physically ill by the time it's over.
The Work In Progress: Pushing Myself
I have been making a huge effort lately to allowing my kids to socialize, even if I struggle so much. In fact, I've even tried to reach out to a few acquaintances lately as well. My older girls played t-ball for the first time ever, and nearly every game I was in tears preparing to go. But guess what? They have no idea Mommy was so afraid and they loved every minute of the game!
We've also been making a conscious effort to get to events we're invited to, meeting up with local homeschool groups, and even just stopping at playgrounds for them to meet new people. We aren't the most social family in the world, but between these activities and our day to day lives I can almost guarantee you my kids get a lot more socialization than the child who is sitting behind a desk being told, “School is not the place to socialize!”
The Problem: Mom Guilt and Mental Health
This is one area I know I am not alone in. In fact, it's not just for those who suffer with mental health disorders. Nearly every day I see a friend who feels guilty for leaving their child while they go to work. Or another who feels guilty for staying home with their child and not providing an income. For me, the biggest sense of my mom guilt is for not being able to “Keep up with the Jones” so to speak, but not in the financial way.
You see, I struggle a lot when I have to tell my kids that we can't go out for ice cream after church because Mommy's anxiety is so high I'm visibly shaking. Leaving stores without what we came in to buy makes me feel horrible! But sometimes, I just need to leave before the panic takes over. I feel guilty because I don't allow my kids to have big birthday parties with lots of friends. My anxiety just can't handle the chaos.
The Work In Progress: “Enjoy The Wow”
Every one of the older three kids have gone through a “Daniel Tiger” obsession phase. My three year old is in it now. Recently they have had an episode where they sing about “Enjoy the wow, that's happening now.” The point of the episode and the song is that sometimes we miss out on some really great stuff because we're looking forward or backward to something else.
I am trying really hard to internalize that. Honestly, my kids love their birthdays. Yes, sometimes they're upset that we don't get to go for ice cream, but they sure do love it when we head home from church and I let the five year old grab the box of ice cream sandwiches from the freezer.
No, it's not the same. But they can “enjoy the wow” so I am trying to learn to do the same.
"ENJOY THE WOW"
*Thank you so much Jennifer for your honesty. It was a gripping read. Thank you for reminding us the power of being honest and how none of us have to pretend to be bulletproof.
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