This is a guest post from a gorgeous friend of mine Olivia. We met only months ago but clicked immediately, bonding over many a thing including the topic I’ve asked her to write about below. Anxiety in kids is tiring. It’s so stressful for them but it also is for parents who take on their babe’s stress whilst stressing about the situation themselves and trying to deal with it plus everything else that goes on in life. Between children, partners, other family, friends, work, school, after school activities, looking after and nurturing one’s self gets lost. I’ve asked her to share some words of wisdom <3
Be there for them, but never leave yourself behind
I guess the ultimate parenting question is “how do you look after yourself, whilst making sure you’re giving all you can to your children?” Is there even a viable answer to this question? Is it possible?? Aren’t we all exhausted? Run down? Racing to sign forms and clean lunchboxes out?
Simply ‘looking after yourself’ becomes so much harder when you are parenting a child with a mental health condition. I have no idea how I have managed to survive the past few years with such broken sleep, and so many concerns racing through my mind. Am I doing enough?
Parenting a child with anxiety is hard. It’s hard on everyone in the house. It’s hard on family friends to witness, it’s hard for the child’s friends to see and understand. But as her mother, I feel like it’s my responsibility to give her all I can, to give her all of me, to help her in every possible way I can. I must fight to the end, no matter the impact on myself. Or so I thought.
If the sleep deprivation isn’t hard enough, the anguish I feel seeing my daughter so distressed at the thought of leaving me, shaking, sweating and terrified has been known to push me over the edge. It hasn’t been an easy thing to deal with, and yes, I have had moments where I’ve lost my temper, walked away, run away, or begged for someone else to deal with it all. I spent a long time fueling my body with coffee to keep me awake, and racing from pillar to post trying all sorts of different activities to keep my daughters anxiety at bay! I was done in…
At the end of the day, it’s my responsibility, and my duty to look after myself well enough that I can be there for Poppy. How do I do that? How do I look after myself? How do I make sure I am the best I can be? I make sure I do a few simple things!
I have definitely come to notice in the past few years that the healthier and happier I am, the calmer I am, and the easier I find it to deal with tough days. Anxiety is exhausting, for her and for me. No one can deal with a child who is unwilling to sleep when they themselves are out of battery! No one can calm an upset child when they themselves are at breaking point. There is no way we can help our children if we aren’t completely rested and focussed. (Easier said than done I know).
I made a promise to look after myself first. Selfish? Absolutely not! There’s no way mothers can help their children with anything, if they themselves aren’t up to it.
Here are some great ways to make sure you’re ready for whatever comes your way:
- Healthy Eating – We constantly hear, whatever the issue, that a healthy diet is the best place to start. And it’s true. Making healthy meals for the family has a huge impact on everyone’s behaviour and overall well-being. Sitting around the table, eating together, and being present is more than good! When I eat healthily, I know my body and my mind function better.
‘Recent evidence suggests that good nutrition is essential for our mental health and that a number of mental health conditions may be influenced by dietary factors’ – mentalhealth.org.uk
- Time Out– When I say “Time Out”, I don’t mean for you to sit on the stairs and think about what you’ve done. Well, maybe I do. Finding fifteen minutes here or there to sit, relax, think, or even just close your eyes will do you the world of good. Grab a couple of used teabags for your eyes and take a moment to recharge. Grab a magazine, grab a shower, or just hop in to bed and pull the covers over your head. Sounds indulgent I know, but trust me. You will find it so much easier to think clearly if you’re rested.
- Take some breaths – When all hell breaks loose and it looks like everything is collapsing around you, press pause. Just stand still and take ten really deep breaths. Who cares if anyone’s watching!! Slowly, breathe in and out, don’t say a word, don’t interact with anyone, just as if you’ve paused the world. This is fantastic for giving you that extra bit of time to think about what you’re going to say, or how you’re about to react to a tricky situation.
- Have a haircut – Ok, you’re thinking “she’s gone mad”, but no I haven’t. You know that feeling when you walk out of the hairdressers all swishy? You feel great about how you look, your hair’s all shiny and it’s you against the world. Feeling good about yourself and how you look makes you fierce. Being fierce and proud of who you are makes you a great role model and a happy person too! So call your hairdresser and book in!
- Exercise – You knew this was coming. I don’t need to say much here. Exercise = Endorphins = yay!! A happier more relaxed mum! Win win! When we’re fit and healthy, we are better able to focus and parent even the trickiest situation. Endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body similar to morphine, so get moving
- Girl time – Last but by no means least, make time to enjoy your friends, and the things you like doing. Escape the house, go for dinner, catch a movie, go dancing. Whatever you like doing, do it. You are still you, and you mustn’t lose sight of that, no matter how tough it gets.
Parenting anxiety can be all consuming at times. It can feel like there is no escaping it. Having a child with separation anxiety heightens this, and I find myself trying to hide away some days, fearing I may lose my mind if she follows me anywhere else. When my daughter is at home, she wants us to be in the same room all the time, in the same bed at night. She wants to come with me wherever I go, whether it’s to the supermarket or the toilet.
Her fears can very quickly become too much for me to bear, so I absolutely have to follow my own advice. I deep breathe whilst the children argue in the background, I give myself time out before school drop off and pick up, I exercise when I can, I try and eat as healthily as possible. I do all these things to keep me going, just as much as I do it to keep her going. To be someone our children can lean on, rely on and turn to is by far one of the most wonderful things about motherhood, so when the seas are rough for all of us parenting anxiety, it’s more important than ever to look after ourselves first and not let our own health be an afterthought.
This is a shout out to all those mums skipping out the gates, thrilled to be free, and all the kids happy to be back at school this week! Please, please look out for everyone! If you see a child crying, causing “a scene” or a struggling mum, don’t judge… offer a hand! Give a smile, ask if you can help, offer to take the kid into class… Don’t just leg it out the gate to meet your mum gang for champagne! Anxiety is real, there will be thousands of kids struggling this morning, terrified to walk through the gates and wave goodbye! Be kind, and teach your children to be thoughtful! #anxiety #thefearisreal #bekind #teachthemwell #school #backtoschool #expat #expatmum #parentingfarfromhome #australia #kids #depression #mentalhealthawareness
Olivia is a passionate campaigner for raising awareness of childhood anxiety. She writes for numerous publications worldwide, and loves to public speak about “parenting anxiety”. She loves speaking to caregivers and teachers to give them more than just the clinical jargon. You can support Olivia’s campaign for anxiety awareness on Facebook and Instagram and follow her family’s expat adventures at The Wilsons of Oz