Parenting Through Anxiety In A Scary World

by Karen Galinsky Lesh
Originally Published: 
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The world is a bit of a scary place these days. I’m not sure if it’s actually scarier than when our parents were kids or when we were kids, or if it just seems so because of the constant newsfeeds available and the fact that I have three sons to protect and to raise into brave, kind young men. Regardless, there is some scary stuff out there. It can be paralyzing sometimes and can force me into a frenzy of dark thoughts and an anxiety that can lead to a cascade of tears. And yet I keep going, because I must. It isn’t always easy, though. Sometimes it’s hard just to get out the door. Here are 5 tips I use to snap myself out of the fear in order to keep parenting through anxious times.

1. Only worry about what you can control.

This is a big one. My dad has always said that we can truly only control about 10% of what happens in our lives, and that 10% is what we should focus on — things like where to live, whether to get married, what job to take. Things that are really up to you to decide and influence. The rest will happen regardless, so we shouldn’t waste time worrying about it. Remembering his advice, when there was a tornado watch in my town a week ago, rather than imagine us flying through the sky as our house was demolished into bits of debris, I gathered flashlights and snacks and set them aside in the basement, just in case we needed to take reasonable precautions and hang out down there for a bit (which we didn’t). Only spend your time to worrying about the things you can actually control.

2. Check the probability of your anxiety.

My husband recently took our kids to an amusement park. I lost sleep the night before, thinking about the possibility of a mass shooting happening there. When I got up in the morning, my thoughts turned to fear of one of the rides breaking causing my kids to be flung from it and seriously injured. That’s when I stopped myself. Which of these was more likely to happen, and should I also begin to worry that there could be a car accident on the way to the park, or that someone would choke on their picnic lunch there? As far as I’m aware, the probability of any of those things happening is enormously less than the chances of my kids having a blast with Daddy. “Focus on those smiles and the laughs and the memories they’ll make,” I told myself. And that’s how it played out.

3. Say what you want them to know, every day.

Despite having the same routine every day, somehow getting out the door in the morning is always a frenzied shuffle. But my kids and husband now know my rule — you don’t leave without saying goodbye to Mommy. That’s my chance every day to send them all off with a hug, a kiss, an “I love you,” and a “Have a great day.” They may think it’s nothing, but means the world to me. Even if we’ve had disagreements or I’ve had to scream seventeen times “Please put your shoes on!” the final send-off is calm and loving. That way, in the horrendously depressing worst case that something bad happens to one of us that day, our last interaction would have been a good one.

4. Love those little moments.

Our days are made up of tiny moments strung together. Take time to experience them in slow motion. Watch how your child’s tiny, chubby hands hold a spoon while he messily eats dinner. Listen to the 15,000 times your kids call “Mom, look,” and notice what it is that’s catching their attention. Remember the stories they tell you about how they view the world. Capture their innocent questions, like “Does wind make the trees move, or do the trees moving make wind?” This is the stuff our days are made of when we focus on the moments, not on fear.

5. Continue to see the good through the bad.

I recently discovered the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote “Be silly. Be honest. Be kind.” It so wonderfully summed up what I want for my boys’ lives that I wanted to instill it in their minds. We did a fun craft — painted handprints of all three of my sons, overlaid with adhesive letters that spell out that quote. We had it framed and hung in our new playroom. I’ve captured for all eternity those colorful little handprints, and we now have a reminder of these wise words in plain sight in our house every day. It’s important to acknowledge what’s going on in the world (if/when it is age-appropriate for your kids) and to make sure your kids are aware of their surroundings, but it’s equally important to continue to forge ahead and teach them kindness in hopes that they pass it on.

I remember years ago talking to my mom about a tragedy. Told her I don’t think I could live through something like that, and she said, “You go on. Because you have to.” As always, she’s right.

Now open the door. Say “I love you.” Go.

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