Psych Central Blog: 5 Ways To Be A Less Anxious Parent

This article was published on Joyce’s PsychCentral blog, The Psychology of Success.

As a therapist who has counseled parents for 20 years and as a mother of two daughters (ages 14 and 11), I understand that parenthood is a rollercoaster of highs and lows with many opportunities for learning. A friend with older teens recently advised, “Hang onto your hat!” I am sure the lessons will continue…

Parenthood can be an anxiety-provoking experience from in utero (“Is everything going okay in there??”) to grandparenthood (“How can my baby handle a baby??”). The following are five tips to help stay calm and collected while you ride the wave:

1) Practice detachment.  When my daughter was three, my oldest sister, Paula, came for a visit.  Celeste rolled on the floor and wailed, refusing to go to bed.  I was embarrassed and subsequently got in a power struggle with my toddler.  How do you think that went?  Not well! When I finally returned to Paula, she gently smiled and said, “You “locked horns” with your three year old.  You need to unlock those horns because you will never win.”  (Paula has three daughters…) I have since learned how to raise my mental red flag that I am annoyed, breath deeply and “zoom out”—as if I am watching the situation from miles away.  I observe the situation from a neutral place, decreasing reactivity. I remind myself, “this too, shall pass.”

2) Silence your inner critic.  Turn down the volume on perfectionism and practice humility.  There is no such thing as a perfect parent, only a good parent. Unplug from your ego and cut yourself some slack when things aren’t going smoothly with your bundle of joy…  Be mindful of negative self-talk (thoughts such as “I’m a bad mom” and replace those with positive mantras such as, “I am only a human being and I am doing the best that I can.”)

3) Learn to let go.  Remember that being a good parent requires us to give our children roots and also wings.  Perhaps from the moment of birth, parenthood is an exercise in letting go of that which we can not control.  I frequently refer to the Serenity Prayer and focus on what I can control and breathe out the rest, handing it over to the Universe. When we don’t let go and give our children wings, we are unintentionally telling our kids we don’t have confidence in them.  Have confidence in your kids.

4) Have a life separate from your child/children.  If you spend all your time and energy focused on your kids, your world will be small and your kids will feel pressure. Take time for your own self-care (exercise, yoga, a nice walk, a night with your girlfriends, a date with your partner, etc.)  Nurture your hobbies, your career, your friendships.  Opportunities for separation provide greater perspective so you will be less likely to sweat the small stuff.

5) Don’t write fiction.  I remember once going for a morning jog with a neighbor friend and she was flooding me with anxiety about everything from the schools to the holes in my kids already packed curricular activities.  My anxiety hit the roof and I was in sheer panic.  I started to “write fiction” in my head, imaging all the “what if” stories that are based in fear (“Are they going to get into the right schools?  Are they going to flourish?”)  Then I regrouped and  realized these are her issues and decided not to weaken the fiction in my head and not give in to FUD: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.  FUD fuels anxiety, so don’t give in to FUD. Practice mindfulness practices such as deep breathing, meditation and yoga to stay firmly rooted in the reality of the present moment.

“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn

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