When you find out that you’re expecting, you start to wonder what traits you will pass along to your children. I dreamt that I would pass along my attention to detail, work ethic, and ridiculous good looks (Read: sense of humor).
On this first leg of my parenthood voyage, I have realized that while I do pass things on to the kids, they also create new qualities within me. The most evident has been the escalation of my anxiety.
I have always had anxiety. As a child I obsessed over throwing up when I went out in public. I always thought it was just silly kid stuff, but now I know better. I eventually grew out of that around 5th grade, and just moved into typical nervous behavior.
Recently, however my anxiety has been raging. I think the recent spike has several causes.
First, modern day’s prevalence of violence, mostly against women and children, is shocking. It seems like every week I turn on the TV and hear about a shooting, murder, rape, etc. The constant reminder of this behavior in my own community is jarring.
For example, Tampa has a large human trafficking problem. According to the Florida Dream Center, which provides care to victims of trafficking, 80% of victims are women and up to 50% are children. In addition, “human trafficking is the fastest growing and 3rd largest organized criminal activity, behind only drug and arms trade.”
There have been reports of men videotaping, following, and trying to grab people at malls and grocery stores that I frequent. Reportedly, they have accomplices who wait in unmarked vans in the parking lot.
Secondly, the fact that I no longer have to worry about just myself but also the well being of my little people is overwhelming. I know that if I were to be approached or someone were to pull a gun at the movies, I can run. I can hide quietly. I can fight back. However, when I have my little people, I can’t do those things without leaving them alone. I couldn’t fight off an attacker and manage the stroller at the same time. If I were to have to hide my kids, they wouldn’t keep quiet. They wouldn’t understand.
So now that my concerns are out there, what am I doing to keep this anxiety in check?
It is easy for me to spiral. What if someone were to come in here with a gun? What if someone approaches my kids? I try to be very aware of when the “what ifs” are getting the better of me. When that happens, I try to take a step back and rationally think through more likely scenarios than “what ifs”.
Having a Plan
When I feel my heart rate rising, I think of a contingency plan in case my greatest fears were to occur. Typically, that includes being aware of exits at all times, making direct eye contact with strangers, and making sure that others know where I am all the time.
I haven’t gotten to the point where I feel like I need medication or a therapist, but I am 100% open to that. I think that realizing there is an issue and seeking treatment is the smart and courageous thing to do. No shame in that game, playa.
Ask my husband, and he will tell you that I called Lamaze bullshit within the first few minutes. However, I do some intentional breathing when I am having trouble sleeping. It does chill me out. It can be hard to actually focus on your breathing with toddlers in tow, but if possible I do this in public. Sometimes that means grabbing the iPad and turning on Netflix, but that doesn’t make me a bad mom.
Take Action Against Triggers
The largest trigger for me is gun violence. Pretty much every type of place that I frequent has been victim to shootings - movie theaters, malls, groceries, gyms, schools, churches. I literally do not go a day without thinking, “What if a gunman walks in here?” Once I realized that this was the trigger, I got involved with Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety.
I have noticed recently that the anxiety that I feel is starting to get in the way of my typical daily activities. For example, I am extremely uncomfortable setting foot in any house of worship nowadays. We used to go every weekend as a family, but the thought of someone barging into church while my family and I are sitting ducks is overwhelming, so I just avoid it.
It’s hard to explain this to someone who doesn’t suffer from anxiety. I often try to explain my emotions to my husband who is all logic, and he just can’t understand it. He tells me to think about the odds of something bad happening. But all I can think is that the parents in Sandy Hook or the clubgoers in Orlando might have thought the same thing, “It couldn’t happen to me.” But it did. And it continues to happen.
Hopefully, I will overcome these anxieties in the future. I try not to let me kids see when I am worried about our safety in the hopes that they will be as chill as their dad. I work on it everyday.
I also hope that this worrisome behavior does rub off on them a little bit. I want them to see that I am thinking through any situation that we are in. But, I don’t want them to know the extent to which I am seeking out exit signs and hiding spots.
I do, however, want them to be thoughtful decision makers. I want them to think through the consequences of their actions and anticipate the reaction. So maybe that is the silver lining. Maybe that is what I will pass along to my children.