Parenting and Anxiety: What's Normal?
Parenting and anxiety frequently go hand-in-hand, and it can be difficult to determine when parenting worries are normal and when they escalate to unhealthy levels. The term normal is a loaded one, of course. Here, it implies no judgement whatsoever. It's a mathematical term indicating that parenting anxiety is typical, experienced by a majority of people as they lovingly raise and care for their children. It's common for us parents to wonder about our own parenting and anxiety and whether it's normal or unhealthy.
In Parenting, Anxiety is Normal When it Serves a Function
Anxiety, fear, and worry have a meaning, an expressed purpose. They exist to help us survive. In keeping us on the edge, aware of potential dangers, these nuisances actually do us a favor. We watch for danger, spot it, take action to protect ourselves, and survive to begin the cycle anew.
In the world of parenting, dangers abound. They begin long before birth (Am I taking the right vitamins? Will my baby be healthy?), continue through the school years (Is my child doing well enough? Does he/she have friends?) and, as far as I can tell, they don't really stop. My 18-year-old daughter is enthusiastically preparing to head off to college, and while I'm excited and happy for her, my parenting brain fills itself with what-ifs until it overflows, washing my being in anxiety.
It's, indeed, common for parents to experience anxiety about the safety, health, happiness, and wellbeing of their children. To a certain degree, parenting and anxiety do co-occur, and it is normal for a parent to experience worries and fears. Anxiety keeps us vigilant so we are ready to take action and protect our offspring.
Sometimes, though, anxiety escalates and takes control. A little bit of worry keeps us alert and safe; however, too much worry can be too much.
Keeping Parenting and Anxiety at Normal, Healthy Levels
When it comes to parenting, anxiety does serve a function, but left unchecked, it can get in the way and cause a myriad of problems for both parent and child. This is something that anxious but well-meaning parents don't wan't. How can we keep parenting anxiety at normal, healthy levels?
Let's face it, many parents worry about their children. To keep that worry within normal limits (I'm afraid that my kid will get seriously hurt if he goes cliff diving with friends, so I'll have them go play paintball in a controlled area instead.) rather than escalating out of control (I'm afraid that my kid will get seriously hurt when he does anything active or hangs out with friends, so I'm just going to keep him here in the house with me.) be aware of your anxiety as it impacts your parenting.
To increase your awareness and help keep your parenting anxiety in check, catch yourself worrying, notice your fears, and ask yourself questions about your anxiety:
- What is the purpose of your specific worry?
- Does it attend to the safety, health, happiness, wellbeing, etc. of your child?
- Is the purpose realistic and limited to a certain event, place, time, or situation? Or is it too global with unrealistic anxiety that everything always be okay?
- Does your parenting anxiety interfere with your child's growth and development by placing too many restrictions on his/her activities?
- Does your anxiety as a parent rob your child of opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them?
- Do your worries interfere with your relationship with your child, leading to resentment?
Asking questions such as these can help put parenting and anxiety in perspective. When you find yourself answering "yes" to any of the questions, congratulate yourself. You care enough about your child to have some anxiety about his/her safety and wellbeing, and you care enough about his/her growth (and your relationship) to know that your parenting anxiety could possibly be out of the normal range. Armed with this insight, you can adjust your outlook and actions to do what is best for your child. (And isn't a desire to do what's best for your child what fuels parenting anxiety in the first place?)
My 13-year-old son recently sustained a significant concussion. Because I've dealt with concussions and traumatic brain injury myself, I know the consequences concussions can bring. My first instinct was to worry excessively and imagine all sorts of "what-if's" and "what-could-happens." Then, I wanted to ban him from doing anything. That, though, would have far worse consequences than the concussion itself. I ran through the above checklist, and when I realized where and why I was worrying excessively, I was able to stop and take specific measures to return my caring anxiety to healthy levels.
Parenting and anxiety are partners. They don't, however, have to control you and your relationship with your child. Recognize your parenting anxiety, question it, and keep it well within the healthy, normal range. Doing so could go a long way to reducing the relationship between parenting and anxiety.
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Peterson, T. (2015, June 11). Parenting and Anxiety: What's Normal?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, March 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2015/06/parenting-and-anxiety-whats-normal
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, DAIS
Devoted parents do not produce happy children, says a new book that has become a bestseller in America and is about to be published in the UK. Adults who want the best for their children should spend less time trying to be the perfect parent and more time striving to be the perfect spouse, according to David Code, author of To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First.
Thank you for sharing your insight. Parents that are devoted to the whole family -- their kids as well as each other as spouses -- do indeed promote healthy, happy children (and adults). Completely neglecting anyone in the family system leads to problems, as does hovering, also called helicopter parenting. I think that the majority of parents care deeply about their kids. There are many different things to do and approaches to have that will promote love and growth while reducing parental anxiety.