My Constant Anxiety is Ruining Parenting For Me

I used to be a girl who had no fear.

I mean sure, I was scared of normal things like walking down the hall as the new girl at my high school, and I worried every time I wore white pants that my period would start. But in general, as a young woman, I had a sense of adventure. I hopped on my first plane ever at the age of 19 and flew straight into Paris, before cellphones were even a thing. I moved across the country without knowing a single soul, and I plunged head-first into new situations without so much as a second thought.

I lived.

And then I had kids.

Something happened to me around kid #3. It was as if the lens through which I viewed the world completely shifted. I used to see fun and adventure; now I saw complete and total danger. As a first-time mom, I just didn’t worry a lot because I didn’t know enough to know that I should worry. I let my daughter sleep on her stomach because she slept better that way. I packed her up and took her everywhere with me, and I most certainly didn’t lose sleep worrying about her getting shot in broad daylight.

But today? Today, I worry about everything.

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like the world is scarier than ever.

The older I get, the more stories of horrible things I hear: babies dying of cancer, parents losing their little ones before they are even born, families saying goodbye to fathers and mothers much too soon. It seems like everywhere I turn, I see sorrow and agony and heartbreak.

And instead of being able to hear the stories of others, or absorb their lessons and learn to fill my own heart with more gratitude for what’s good in my own life, I’m left paralyzed — my anxiety increases with every horrible thing I hear and I’m having a hard time enjoying my own family because I’m so scared of something horrible happening.

When we sit down at a holiday parade, I’m scanning the crowd and strategically placing my kids behind barriers in case someone opens fire.

When I take them to school, I am torn, wondering if it might be the last time I ever see them and if homeschooling would keep them safer (or cause me to lose my mind).

When I contemplate taking our family on a trip, I decide against it, because I just can’t take the risk that we would die on our way to Disney.

I worry about everything, and it feels like my worry is ruining everything.

I know, logistically, that many of the things I worry about, statistically speaking, are a lower risk than, say, getting in a car accident on the way to school, yet they consume me. Social media posts, my work as a writer sharing some of the really, really hard stories, and growing older all play a part. Sometimes, I wonder, why now? Why does all of this worry and fear and anxiety seem to be hitting me all at once?

I think it has something to do with leaving the “baby bubble” that I lived in for so long as a mom of four young kids. I spent practically 10 years having babies back-to-back, and the majority of my time and energy was consumed with breastfeeding and potty-training and snack-cutting and all of the demands of very young children.

And then, as kids tend to do, they grew up.

Practically overnight, my bubble burst and I emerged into the world with “big kids” under my wings. It feels like we’re on the edge of our doorstep, peering out cautiously, and I’m not sure how to take that step out safely. I am deeply suspicious, nervous someone will trip and fall, and downright terrified a stranger down the street will pose an immediate danger to my family.

But somehow, I have to learn to do it. I can’t let my anxiety and fears and worries dictate our lives. I have to learn to navigate forward in a world that is scary and where bad things really do happen–not only for my own sake, but for my children’s.

I don’t want them to be paralyzed with fear and anxiety.

I don’t want them growing up so worried about what could go wrong that they miss out on what is going right. I don’t want them so scared of the bad that they can’t see the good. And I don’t want my own fears to ruin the time I have with them. As one of my favorite quotes goes, from an author who was all too familiar with the dark parts of life, “The mud and pigsties may be a part of life, but the trees and forests are just as real.”

In other words, the good parts exist too, and we can’t allow ourselves to forget them.