How do you raise anxious, differently-wired children when you, yourself, are anxious, too? Learning to manage your own anxiety is a valuable parenting skill, not to mention entirely achievable.
There are certain things I leave up to my husband. Toilet maintenance. Drain cleaning. Small animal trapping. Teaching our children to do Things that are Potentially Life-Threatening.
Take bike riding. It doesn’t seem like a big deal at first. I know how to ride a bike. Lots of people know how to ride a bike. But put one of my children on one of those things? All I can see are bare arms and legs colliding with asphalt at breakneck speed.
It’s enough to make me pull out the bubble wrap.
Part of the problem is my overactive imagination coupled with a penchant for irrational anxiety. I envision the worst-case scenario first, then set out to avoid certain disaster. With things like bike riding (and, God forbid, driving), it seems easier to let my husband handle it. He’s been tossing the kids in the air and engaging them in roughhouse play since birth, so what’s one more attempt at death-defying behavior?
A lot, it would seem, when said husband isn’t up for it
Teaching our oldest to ride had been difficult, an experience he hadn’t yet forgotten by the time her sister expressed an interest. His response the first time she asked him to remove the training wheels? A grumbled, “not today.”
Pretty much every day was not today, and all of us were growing weary.
But then we got to the beach.
The beach is quiet. The beach is peaceful. It has wide, flat, empty roads that harbor not a soul during rush hour. It’s where I first learned to drive a car at the ripe old age of 12, and where the oldest took her father for a golf cart spin at the tender age of four. It seemed only natural to continue my family’s tradition of wild women on wheels, so much so that I acquiesced when a wide-eyed and desperate five-year-old begged me to set her bike free.
Ten minutes later I was on the front porch, my Dad’s old ratchet set in my hands. I cranked away at the rusty bolts until they were off and we were, too, across the lawn and onto the street running parallel to the water.
I did not enjoy it.
I hadn’t taken the time to throw on my running shoes or workout clothes for fear I might chicken out. So there I was, in Birkenstocks and a skirt, hunched over the handlebars and running beside the kiddo as she peddled.
Sweat ran down my brow. Loose hair plastered my face. And in addition to my physical discomfort, my anxiety was on absolute overdrive.
Every sound was amplified.
Every disastrous possibility lay in front of me on the table (or, should I say road?).
“Can we go faster, mommy?”
Faster?!? You’re in mortal peril here and you want to go faster?!?
“This is as fast as I can go in my sandals, kiddo. Take it or leave it.”
She lurched to the left. I corrected. She lurched to the right. I caught her bicep. Some sort of anguished combination of “GAHHHH” and “GOOD!” spilled from my mouth.
“I’m riding, mommy! Look!”
“Keep your eyes on the road. DON’T LET GO OF THE HANDLEBARS!!!!”
More sweat. Clenched teeth. Aching back and fussing feet – how desperately I wanted to let go.
“You can let go now, mommy.”
“Let go?!? No way! See?” (pant, pant) “You almost fell!”
“Really, mommy. Let go!”
If you are looking for the watershed moment when I, the parent, realize she, the child, knows more than I do, this is it. All my worrying. All my efforts. All my desire to keep her safe. She was ready to step out on her own, and she knew it.
My anxiety was holding her back.
She lurched to the left again. I held my breath and opened my grasp.
Oh, dear Jesus don’t let her fall keep her safe oh my gosh there she goes…
And there she went, right on down the road in front of me like she’d never not been able to ride. Down the way a bit and back again she traveled, beaming a smile to best the torches of a thousand lighthouses on a distant and rocky shore.
How did this happen? Just yesterday she squinted helplessly against harsh hospital lights, a pink, mewling bundle in my arms. And then, suddenly, she is riding away from me, secure in herself and her abilities and leaving my anxiety in the dust.
Like most mothers who struggle with anxiety, I worry – a lot – about who my children might become and what might become of my children.
I worry about what will happen to them. I imagine the worst-case scenario. I forget to stand back and let the fruits of God’s labor take hold.
But the truth is, you and I have taught our children well.
We will continue to teach them well.
And when we ramp up our trust in Him (and them!) and learn to loosen that iron grip of control, we will be one step closer to finding the peace God intends for us and our kids.
But in the meantime, we’re all wearing helmets, and I’ll keep my running shoes by the front door.
Just in case.