Anxiety: How to Avoid Passing it On To Your Kids
It's very understandable to feel anxious about the arrival of a new baby. Life is going to change drastically. It's a different and personal experience for everyone, but we can say in general that, around this special moment in life, very strong feelings come out to play and anxiety is often among the strongest.
Some emotions are more difficult to deal with than others. Sometimes we don't even know that we feel something. The emotion is experienced unconsciously and dealt with through defence mechanisms - the various ways in which we protect ourselves from confronting emotions and the reasons they appear.
For example, we sometimes displace unwanted emotion onto something other than the thing which made us feel sad, angry or anxious. We place our attention on some peripheral issue, which becomes our main concern. We are so preoccupied with it, that we lose the ability to look around and see what is really important and what else is going on.
An example of displaced anxiety is when parents fixate on buying expensive baby gear and getting "bits and pieces" ready. The baby market is riding high on parental anxiety and makes enormous profit on it. So many of us bought so much equipment, only to find it's never used. Parents-to-be are surrounded by carefully crafted messages, which say that we need all these things for the sake of our children's safety. In short: when we feel anxious, it's very easy to fall into trap of excessive shopping for the baby and forget to check with ourselves.
As a result, some parents don't talk about their emotions in different areas (changes in their relationship, the reality of caring for a child, division of tasks, work-life balance, etc.); they are focused on getting the right buggy and a cot bed and a car seat. Their anxiety speaks through their shopping.
Our Anxiety and Our Children
Unfortunately we sometimes displace emotions when relating to our children. We might be over-preoccupied about some aspect of our child's well being and not noticing that underneath, something else worries us. From time to time we all use defence mechanisms to deal with emotions. What we need, as parents, is to have some psychological awareness around these issues so we realise when our emotions influence our children too much.
Dealing constantly with a parents' emotions is heavy baggage for our children to carry through their lives.
Turn Reflection Into Practice
It's not an easy task - to be aware of our deeper emotions; they influence our thinking even if we are convinced they don't.
Part of the challenge is getting the right balance between self-reflection (which is needed to bring unconscious emotions on surface) and action (which has to happen in order to start doing things differently).
Stay in Touch with Yourself
The first step, when learning to deal differently with tough emotions, is to spot our own 'suspicious' behaviour. Are you very preoccupied about some issue concerning your child? Did you notice that similar 'theme' usually appears to be a big problem, when you are under stress?
What do people around you say about this issue? Are you getting signals from anyone that your worries might be disproportionate? Who could you talk to about your emotions to help you understand what is going on for yourself?
When under big pressure (financial or relational perhaps) or going through difficult transitions (moving house, splitting up, experiencing loss) it is important to ask yourself these questions:
- How do I feel about it?
- Am I acknowledging difficult feelings such as sadness or fear?
- How do I manage and cope with these feelings?
- How do my feelings affect my children?
- What do my children need to know about this situation and how do I tell them?
Our task as parents is to share what is important for the child's welfare, and to manage our own emotions so as not to overburden them with issues that are not their's to deal with. Finally, we should all remember that none of us manage this perfectly - we are all learning and trying to do our best!
Agata Western is a Psychologist at Balancing Parents, mum and trainer specialising in life-long learning and personal development. She facilitates parenting workshops, which promote the understanding of emotional experience of parenting. Next workshop: Galway, June 5.