“But I’m a Mom! I HAVE to worry!!”
I have a number of clients, friends and colleagues who come from cultures where parents, and especially mothers, are tacitly trained to believe that worrying about their kids is required, as it validates how deeply they care for their children. I completely understand that swimming against the tide of one’s culture can be terrifying, confusing and threatening. However, if our goal is to raise our children to be the best human beings that they can be, we are going to have to perpetually re-evaluate and re-examine our cultural assumptions to see if they serve that goal. Some will, in beautiful spades! Some, will not.
Worry does not serve positive parenting.
You can prove how much you care about your child by modeling a more centered, sane parenting style than worrying.
“But I don’t know how to not worry!!”
As mentioned in another blogpost, (http://www.mypeace.co/emotions-101/) our emotions come from our assessments of situations. When the worry cycle begins, our sympathetic nervous system, (the “fight, flight, freeze or fawn” response part of the brain,) is starting to take over chemically. Our bodies are beginning to flood with cortisol and adrenaline and the part of the brain that can actually think and reason, (the neocortex) is going off line. This will make it supremely difficult to work through what to do!
So step one, as always, is to self regulate and get “in your right mind.” I have laid out four techniques that will help you get there. (See Managing-Anxiety-and-Panic.pdf.) Once you are in your right mind, you need to think constructively about the parenting challenge in front of you. Self-regulating first will help you be responsive without being reactive.
Reactive parenting works against itself. Little kids feel insecure when we are reactive parents. They experience our flood of confusing emotions and don’t know what we will do or say next. Older children will know that we are not in control. Adolescents who are trying to define themselves separate from their parents will see reactivity as weakness. They can smell your vulnerability from a mile away, and reactivity will lead to counterproductive power struggles which damage our relationships and don’t teach our young adults to think critically. Not only that, but we exhaust ourselves!
Responsive parenting is much more effective, and frankly, a whole lot easier and less chaotic. The worrying parent within each of us begins screaming a tumbling stream of unanswered “What if?!?!?!?” questions at us, which pushes us deeper and deeper into reactivity. We can stop that flood and use the content more effectively by answering our anxious “what if” questions.
Answering “What If” questions takes the worry out of our parenting and gives us helpful content for Responsive Parenting.
“What if she gets in the car with a drunk driver???” becomes, (in calm, non-reactive tones,) “So, if you go to this after-play party and the person you’re riding home with has been drinking or smoking weed… what will you do?” This gets your child thinking through things consequentially, which sets up a lifetime of making choices based on what our kids do and don’t want in their lives, rather than based on what they can get away with. “OMG, what if someone comes up to my son at the skating rink and talks him into getting into his car with him?!?!?!?!” becomes, “So, what would you do if an adult you don’t know started talking to you, and seemed like a really nice person, and then told you he had something to show you in his car?” Because you self-regulated and got in your thinking brain first, you will be able to ask this question in complete calm and follow up with non-reactive questions that lead your child in helpful directions.
A fantastic byproduct of this approach is that it makes you a safe person to talk to when your kid is dealing with things s/he knows might get her/him in trouble! Saying “You can always come to me,” means absolutely nothing if you react out of worry, anger, outrage or anxiety when they do! When they experience you calmly talking through difficult situations with them, leading them to think, they know that when they are concerned about things like sex, drugs, relationships, problems with peers and family members, ethical questions and the like, you are actually a safe person to talk things through with. If you are reactive, you push your children away and you are NOT a safe person to talk to no matter how many times you insist that you are.
The other advantage of answering our “What if” questions is that it weeds out our own reactive insanity from ourselves. When our thinking brains are offline, worry can take on a life of its own. What starts with, “What if she catches a cold?” spins and turns in that stream of unanswered questions and eventually morphs into things like, ‘WHAT IF SHE GETS TUBERCULOSIS AND D I E S ?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?”
Oh stop, you know I’m right! And you are absolutely not alone! Because we are not using the part of our brain that can reason, our worrying thoughts connect in rapid-fire fashion to increasingly dire thoughts, fueled by adrenaline.
The good news is, you really don’t have to do that in order to be a good parent. In fact, it impairs your ability to be the good parent you can be! So trust me for a minute. Stop. Breathe. Self-regulate. Answer your anxious questions. Be as centered, confident and wise a parent as you can be … And when the kids are well out of earshot…. Go share your crazy, reactive thoughts with a friend or counselor who understands and can empathize. You are not alone!
For tips on managing emotions, see http://www.mypeace.co/emotions-101/. For more tips on managing anxiety, see Managing-Anxiety-and-Panic.pdf For personalized help with living as the parent you really want to be, click the Contact Tiffany tab and let’s talk. Let’s work together to move you from surviving to thriving!