One of my favorite sessions of the Warrior Mom Conference was Kate Kripke‘s presentation on Thriving After PMAD (Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders) where she asked all of us, “What does a thriving mother do?” Her list of ten blew me away and they aren’t just for moms with PMADs… they are for everybody! You’re dying to find out?
#1 – Thriving mothers know feeling anxious is a normal part of motherhood
What? I did a double take too. Personally, I thought thriving mothers were serene and centered. Maybe some are, but most parents feel some anxiety around parenthood. For me, my greatest anxiety is whether I’m doing what is best for my kids. Can I see a show of hands? Who is with me?
We make all the decisions for our kids and there are hundreds per day. Some of them are insignificant, but others could really matter. The real sticky part is that I’m okay making decisions for me, because I know I will live with the consequences of a bad one, but it is entirely different to make decisions for someone else who will have to live with the consequences of my bad (or good) choice.
All of the decisions start so early too. To eat cold cuts or not? Genetic abnormality screening? You’re barely even into the second trimester and there are lots of decisions. Then it becomes gear and names and finding out the gender. By your third trimester, you are interviewing doctors for the first time in your life. I don’t even interview doctors for myself!!! The writing of a birth “plan.” You haven’t even delivered that small human in your womb and you have made thousands of choices for their sweet entry into the world.
This post could go on forever, but you get the idea. Each of us has some level of anxiety about doing what is best for our child. I think this anxiety is at the heart of mommy wars as we want to feel validated in our choice by everybody choosing the exact same thing. To breast or bottle feed, vaccinations or not, stay-at-home or work, spank or not, sleep training or not — they are all explosive arguments and people are passionate.
My most recent nail biting decision was related to whether we would send Bigs to pre-K/4K. I did hours of research and consulted every expert who would talk to me. At his four-year well visit, I asked the pediatrician for his opinion. He sort of shrugged his shoulders in it-doesn’t-really-matter sort of way and not a brush-off kind of way. “Bigs is making very good progress on all of the milestones he should be hitting at four. He’s in a preschool program at the child care center you have been sending him to,” shrugging again, “It seems like it is working for him. How would you manage the transportation if you were to send him to 4K?”
“That’s my problem. We would have to find a different center to make it work with bussing and that wouldn’t be a guarantee.”
Dr. Shrugging: “This isn’t something you should be sweating.”
I couldn’t say it out loud, but my mind said, “True, but I don’t want to ruin the rest of his life.”
We’ve all been there. Here is the thing: anxiety can serve to protect us or unravel us. The former is a productive type of anxiety. It is what lead me to do research about what Bigs would gain from 4K vs. the preschool program. When I was done with that step I could have made a decision. Instead it transitioned (due to my guilt) into a very unproductive anxiety that was attached to something I could not control… ruining the rest of his life.
Well that’s great, right? Just stop having unproductive anxiety. How do you do that? What difference does it make? I learned that our physiology cannot distinguish between real and perceived dangers or threats. The stress of watching my child run into the street to chase a ball is interpreted the same way as the stress of deciding whether to send Bigs to 4K. Whoa! No wonder I have so much gray hair. So how do you deal with the emotions that cause you anxiety? Invite them in. Emotions are pesky and will bother us until we give them attention. They will ring our doorbell until we answer the door. Let them in, make two cups of tea, and sit quietly. Don’t engage or argue or negotiate with the emotion, just let it be. Eventually, the emotion will get bored and find its way out the door it came in.
I expect to be drinking a lot more tea and hopefully growing fewer gray hairs. Anxiety is a normal part of life, but we choose what to do with it.