This blog has been even more of a beast to write then its predecessor, found here. If I believed talking about my parenting was difficult, recognizing how it has impacted my children is well, it is heartbreaking. I tried not to be too clinical in this post, but I know at times I am - call it a coping strategy for the anxiety this post provoked (oh the irony).
I don't even know really how to begin, so I will just say it - my children are anxious. This is not a mental health diagnosis, although one day that might be a reality, it is an observation of how they interact with their world. Each exhibits anxiety in varying degrees of course and it manifests itself in very different ways dependent on which kid it is, but they are very anxious kids. While I recognize that generally children are showing more indicators of anxiety and as a society we are more aware of how anxiety manifests - I cannot help but believe that as a hyper helicopter parent I have contributed to their anxiousness. This is not a self criticism (not really anyway), the reality being that I do not believe I could have been any other way after Flynn died and I have not sat idly by hoping it would correct itself either (more on that later).
Speaking frankly, anxious parenting has a higher probability of leading to anxious kids. In my last post I talked about parenting from a perspective of constantly evaluating the danger of every situation my children approached and regularly saying things like "don't do that", "get off that", "you will hurt yourself" and flat out "NO." Children are not just led by what is communicated to them, they also use their intuition to understand what is expected of them. They look to their caregivers for guidance on every new experience they encounter. So not only were my children verbally hearing that most things they wanted to do was scary they likely sensed my highly anxious state and interpreted that as "I need to be on alert for the danger." Manufacture that cycle enough times and children become engaged in a continuous belief that nothing is safe and anxiety as a feeling becomes the mechanism of assessing their environment for danger.
You may be wondering how my children exhibit their anxiety.
My oldest, who is quickly approaching 17, starts by getting quiet around the "thing" that is provoking an anxious response. Typically these are issues relating to school and relationships but if anything is off with his health, he will immediately believe it is the worst possibility he can identify. If we as parents haven't clued in to what we are not talking about he will progress to an angry reactiveness with limited ability to communicate verbally and from there he quickly escalates to rage. Once we give him time and space he generally comes to us about an upcoming test, an unfortunate report card or a sore throat and he acknowledges that he was experiencing anxiety.
Our older middlest who is almost 12 is very different. He is almost constantly dealing with anxiety. For example he is always asking questions relating to safety at home, for his siblings, for our extended family and for himself. He is my parrot parent, constantly telling his siblings (yes even the older one) what they should or shouldn't do and again it generally relates to safety. He is so hyper-aroused that he has difficulty sleeping, sitting still and experiences physical pain very intensely, so he is hurt often. His emotional responses to everyday concerns are large and intense too and he often is moved to tears. He doesn't have the emotional vocabulary to assist him in getting support from the adults around him but we are working on it. Additionally we are teaching him coping strategies and validating his feelings so that we can talk them out.
Interestingly our younger middlest doesn't seem to exhibit much anxiety outside of situations/scenarios that would naturally provoke an anxious response, but I have a theory on that.
I said earlier that I have not sat idly by when it comes to my hyper helicopter parenting and the impact to the boys. I have sought out my own support through counselling so that I can cope with and alleviate my own anxious responses and feel more capable of parenting my children as they explore and navigate new experiences. I have educated myself on the environmental impacts of anxiety on development and how to foster resilience. Most importantly I am practicing self compassion rather then self criticism. I really believe that my younger middlest is evidence that it is working. The two older ones are going to be fine too because they have our love and support, we communicate openly and honestly with them and they have benefited greatly from the changes in my parenting that have come about through my own transformation.
Now that I have gotten to the end of this blog, it wasn't so bad to say it out loud!