How Can I Care Less and Move On?
May 9, 2015 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Is this normal? I often have anxiety about my kids. I need perspective.

My latest episode is when my 12-year-old boy went on a field trip to a large amusement park and since he didn't want to ride the roller coasters so his parent chaperone called the teacher to have him placed in another group "where he would enjoy himself more", but ended up staying with a teacher group, without any other kids. He came home, said it was okay, but repeated several times that he shouldn't have gone. He wanted me to chaperone, but I had to work.

The day before the field trip the kid whose parent was chaperoning asked my kid why he was in their group. My son had some apprehension about going because he didn't think the kid wanted him. The morning of the field trip was going fine and everybody was getting along but it ended when my kid didn't want to go on the roller coasters.

He lived to tell about it and he's not upset. I tend to go off the deep end and start thinking about all of the ways I've contributed to the problems my kids have and I worry that my kids don't belong or have problems socially. When I heard this story, these are the thoughts that go through my head:

1. Why would they send him to another group an hour after they arrived when there are only two roller coasters in the park? Couldn't they save those until the latter part of the day? (The park is an animal themed park and doesn't have that many rides.)

2. If my husband liked roller coasters, kid wouldn't be so afraid of them, and would have fun and try new things.

3. We have made our kid afraid to try new things. Kid is afraid.

4. My husband is lame. I can't believe he won't ride a roller coaster. He doesn't encourage our kids to take risks. (My husband and I are in our early forties and roller coasters are no longer his cup of tea. I will ride them with my older son, but younger son wants no part of them.)

5. They didn't want him in the group in the first place so they looked for a reason to get him out.

6. Kid doesn't belong.

7. Kid tagged along with teachers all day without friends to talk to. That is so sad.

8. People don't like my kid. I did something wrong.

9. He's doing something at school to make kids not like him…

10. He will never have a good group of friends.

11. Quality people don't like my kid.

12. This doesn't happen to normal kids...

…and on and on.

My kid does have friends. One time we were talking and he told me he didn't have a lot of friends and I asked him how many friends he had and he said, twelve. That gave me a chuckle. I know my kid has friends at school. He has close pals and he never eats lunch alone. A couple of his close friends didn't go on the field trip and a couple were in another group.

I have a hard time putting things in perspective when something like this happens to my kids. I start having anxiety and start feeling really bad about the current state of affairs and wondering if my kids are doing okay and wondering how my husband and I are helping them or hindering them. I wish I were more strong where I could say, "Oh well, that wasn't the most fun experience but it's not the end of the world. He's fine." Instead, I think everything is terrible and we have failed them and nobody likes them or us and so on.

I have a problem with deciphering if this is really distorted thinking or actually true. A lot of times I think the thoughts I am having are true and I feel bad and anxious and depressed.

What is going on and how can I stop this kind of thinking? My husband says I'm anxious about this and to calm down, and our kid didn't want to participate so he was placed with the teachers, that's how it goes. I tend to think we are partly to blame or something he is doing is making him not wanted.

Any advice or techniques or wisdom is appreciated.
posted by Fairchild to Human Relations (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
You're over thinking it. You're very anxious. Your kid is fine. These are all sort of normal concerns, but you've taken them off the Richter scale. It's really clear you're suffering at the moment. You poor thing. I've been there myself. You need to eat, sleep, and exercise really well and practice some mindfulness in the short term.

A trip to your gp for a health check and a referral to a therapist should be your next steps after that. I'm so sorry for your suffering. Your kid sounds perfectly wonderful. As does your husband. Well done. Now you've just got to get that through to your emotional side with a little help. Your rational side knows this. Big hugs for you. Parenting brings out all our insecurities in really dreadful ways.
posted by taff at 10:31 AM on May 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


I would suggest therapy for your anxiety. You need to be able to separate yourself more from your kids and their experiences. It only gets harder as they get older and things feel like they have higher stakes - dating, athletics, driving, etc. It's ok for a kid to choose to not go on a ride and to hang with the teachers on a trip - not a big deal. Not everyone enjoys those rides. I never did and my kids went on them without me - with my hubby or friends or each other - or not at all as they preferred. I think the bigger issue is that you are holding onto this stuff and worrying about it more than is good for you or for them. We always worry about our kids. When my oldest BIL was in his late 60s he asked his father (my FIL) who was in his late 80s when he had stopped worrying about his kids and he said he didn't know because it hadn't happened yet. The key is that it needs to not be as all consuming as your worry sounds like it is. That's more stress than helpful. Your kid sounds like he is doing fine!
posted by leslies at 10:32 AM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Part of cognitive behavior therapy is to write down your worries and then compare them to reality. I think you know how to do this, because you did it well in the part I quote below. If you don't feel the need for formal therapy or tranquilizing substances (like tea and petting a cat), then find the positive statement of the situation and repeat it to yourself as a mantra. Like repeat to yourself what you wrote here.

My kid does have friends. One time we were talking and he told me he didn't have a lot of friends and I asked him how many friends he had and he said, twelve. That gave me a chuckle. I know my kid has friends at school. He has close pals and he never eats lunch alone. A couple of his close friends didn't go on the field trip and a couple were in another group.
posted by puddledork at 10:48 AM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Holy bananas, mom. Yes, you should get some therapeutic support for this level of anxiety, because this is so unnecessary. It's completely normal to worry about our kids, but you're having massive distortions and doing that horrible thing where you're deciding that the almighty power of your thoughts can make terrible things happen. I mean, you can stare at a chair and keep telling yourself that it's a marshmallow, but that chair is NEVER going to turn into a marshmallow.

But as a parent, I get the worry about our kids, especially in unknown social situations. You seem to have a reasonable handle on this somewhat screwy field trip, but then you overreact. I work with kids and I know that running field trips is a MASSIVE PITA. We leave a lot to helpful parents, who usually are less helpful than if we had the kids just run the damned thing. It seems like there were some dopey parents who unfortunately shuttled your kid around because of the roller coaster riding. It's really not a big deal. Don't turn it into one.

It's great that you recognize you're being irrational and freaking out. Getting some CBT will help. The chair is NOT a marshmallow.
posted by kinetic at 10:50 AM on May 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


You need to get a handle on your anxiety so you can help your son get a handle on his. It will be a huge investment in his future to do this sooner rather than later.

I was just listening to the One Bad Mother podcast episode about anxiety, and one of the hosts found out from her insurance company that she could take a free class (like a 6-8 week, one evening a week thing) on anxiety management, basically an Intro to CBT Techniques class, and she was surprised that was a thing. It's one of those benefits that's buried down so far in the fine print nobody ever knows about it.

Hopefully you do have insurance, and maybe also access to resources like that if you have an Employee Assistance Program through your work benefits - call and ask anywhere you have benefits, the worst they're going to say is no, they don't have anything like that. If they don't (and check your city/county resources, too!), you should find a therapist who can teach you some coping skills for these things. It will make your life better and happier, and your kids' lives too.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:36 AM on May 9, 2015


"He wanted me to chaperone, but I had to work.... I tend to go off the deep end and start thinking about all of the ways I've contributed to the problems my kids have..."

I'm glad your son had this experience of such a minor social failure in a safe, non-permanent way, and I hope he learns from it and does not waste your hard-earned money on the trip the next time. You are not in any way, shape or form responsible for the bad time your 12-year-old son chose to have when you were not there and his teachers and other adults were. He certainly could have used his words to those adults and advocated for himself to meet up with a new group sooner -- kind of makes me wonder if maybe the teachers would have a different story to tell than the one he shared with you: there are two sides to every story and all. It also sounds like maybe amusement parks are just not very special experiences for him, like maybe since you all are living in Florida he has been to too many awesome parks there so many times over already in his life, such that he did not really feel the need to fully seize that particular opportunity to enjoy himself more on that day. As a neurotypical (I'm assuming) 12-year-old young man, that's on him. This sounds like him developing normally as a person and figuring out his own preferences in life -- not your issue at all, and no cause at all for you to get so anxious!

About your anxiety-- yes that needs professional attention, I 100% agree with everyone else here. I think you allowed your son to cross a bit of a boundary with you when he vented to you about the bad time he had at the amusement park, and made you feel bad for working instead of chaperoning him. In your shoes, I'd seriously just ignore what he said. Don't give it your emotional energy.

From one of your prior Asks, I know your own mother dressed you until the 5th grade and did everything around the house for her kids, so perhaps your own unspoken internalized norms about what healthy mothering boundaries look and feel like may be a bit off and skewed towards the "overparenting" side of the equation. Give that some thought. Nthing therapy for helping you cope with your anxiety. Good luck!
posted by hush at 11:46 AM on May 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yes, I think therapy and/or medication for anxiety would be a great idea. Not liking roller coasters is NOT a big deal in the scheme of things. I hate roller coasters - and my solution is not to ride them, and shut down the "aww, c'mon" and "pretty please" boundary-pushing if it follows. Plenty of people don't like roller coasters. Riding roller coasters is not essential for success in life - it's really not a big deal. It sounds like the parents running the field trip maybe made a bigger fuss about your son's not wanting to go on rides than was warranted. (Maybe - as hush pointed out, there are two sides to every story, and the parent chaperones might tell a different one!)

I think it's great that you want to get a handle on this now, and before it potentially affects your kids. Any combination of CBT, talk therapy, and medication can help. (I take Buspar, meditate, do yoga, and CBT for my anxiety issues, and I also have a little app called "Mood Kit" for my iPhone for CBT-on-the-go.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:59 AM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Even if all your list were true, so what? They don't make you or your kid(s) bad people or losers. I am not sure what the right solution is or even if there is a needed solution, but the fact that you recognize you may be having irrational fears is a good thing.
posted by AugustWest at 1:21 PM on May 9, 2015


It's not "being weak". Anxiety is an illness with a biochemical basis. Get treatment! See your doctor. There are good pharmaceutical and non-med options.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:27 PM on May 9, 2015


At 12, riding with Dad isn't necessarily the best option either. Dad may have pushed the point, or not - but riding with Dad may also be kind of an uncool thing by middle school standards. If he wasn't having fun with the first group, it may have been a dynamic thing - that's generally where one might try to see if changing the dynamic improves participation. Apparently it didn't. But it was probably a better social attempt then outright quitting. The kid is in middle school. It is awkward for a lot of kids. 12 doesn't feel like enough friends to him because he's sizing up comparative to other kids in adjacent social circles and he is finally at an age where kids learn that they don't have to be default friends with everyone. In a few years, 12 good friends may be something he looks back at and is quite happy with - but that'll be something in a post process - not today.
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:55 PM on May 9, 2015


Just going to directly answer your musings, since you've already got so many great answers above!

1. Why would they send him to another group an hour after they arrived when there are only two roller coasters in the park?

Because adults aren't perfect, and like another poster said above, perhaps something slightly different happened, and that's how your son perceived it. I know with kids time perception is really hard, and when mulling over an unpleasant situation, that segment of the day is often amplified. I certainly was prone to that as a kid.

2. If my husband liked roller coasters, kid wouldn't be so afraid of them, and would have fun and try new things.

Both my parents loved roller coasters. So did my brother and sister. I hated them. Not your fault.

3. We have made our kid afraid to try new things. Kid is afraid.

You can't make your kid afraid. This is why some kids want to sky dive even if their parents would never contemplate it. They are their own person. This is not a bad thing - would you have preferred if he hadn't voiced his preference and traumatised himself in the process of just following the crowd? You've raised a kid who feels SAFE vocalising his differences. That's commendable.

4. My husband is lame. I can't believe he won't ride a roller coaster.

No. For some people, the dopamine surge that rollercoaster rides can bring can be very triggering or emotional. Some people just don't like them. Having personal autonomy is a great thing.

5. They didn't want him in the group in the first place so they looked for a reason to get him out.

You know this isn't true, because your kid didn't come home saying those things. This is in your head.

6. Kid doesn't belong.

Most kids don't belong at some stage of their life. I would say I didn't "belong" all the way until college. I am now a high functioning adult with an amazing community of friends.

7. Kid tagged along with teachers all day without friends to talk to. That is so sad.

I used to be one of those kids who LIKED talking to adults better than other kids. Is that sad?

8. People don't like my kid. I did something wrong.

Not everyone's going to like your kid. IT'S LIFE.

9. He's doing something at school to make kids not like him.

See number 8!

10. He will never have a good group of friends.

See number 6!

11. Quality people don't like my kid.

How are you defining this "quality"??

12. This doesn't happen to normal kids.

There's no such thing as "normal".



I guess what I'm trying to say is - this is all about framing. You can't guarantee your kids a perfect life filled with "normalcy" and amazing friendships. They're going to have subpar experiences, and this is all part of the learning journey. The way your son reacted ("He lived to tell about it and he's not upset.") tells me he's a well-adjusted kid with a healthy amount of self-awareness.

Hurrah, you're an awesome parent!
posted by shazzam! at 9:12 PM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Not riding on rollercoasters? Totally fine and normal. It won't hinder his life in any way, ever — I guarantee it. (I'm the same way.)

Your attitude about your son that he "doesn't belong," people don't "like" him, he isn't "normal" ...? Not totally fine. It could hinder his life. It isn't normal. That's what you should be worrying about — not his views on rollercoasters.

When you say things like, "He will never have a good group of friends," that's irrational catastrophizing. That's the kind of thing a depressed person says to himself or herself. The real catastrophe would be if your son picked up on that. And even after writing all that out, you're still having trouble "deciphering if this is really distorted thinking or actually true"? Wow. Get help.
posted by John Cohen at 11:14 AM on May 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Please please please get help. Like, start making phone calls tomorrow. After hush mentioned a prior AskMe I read some of your older ones. Have you ever been in therapy?

You have a lot going on with regard to what you think of yourself and what other people think of you and you need to understand this: your son's day at the amusement park is not about you. Let's say that everything you're worrying about is true, all 1 through 12: no one likes your kid, he has to hang out with teachers, he doesn't belong, this doesn't happen to normal kids, all your awful fears. What do you do? Are you going to be upset in front of him?

If your son is struggling, or even if he just has a bad day, it is your job to comfort him, it's your job to teach him how to comfort himself. If you are visibly upset around him you will put him in a position where he has to comfort you. That is not okay. You're the parent, and he's the kid.

From as early as I can remember - 4 or 5 - until I was 16 and realized how fucked up it was, my job was to comfort my mom if something bad happened to me. Or even if she just thought something bad happened to me. Today, my mom thinks my job is to her to wish her a happy Mother's Day and she'll eventually start crying and ask me to reassure her that no, she didn't fuck us up that badly. Ask me how much I like Mother's Day.

Please, get help. For yourself and for your family.
posted by good lorneing at 11:30 AM on May 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thank you to all for the comments and advice.

To answer some questions and to give a little more information:

I do not think my kid has crossed any boundary. And he didn't "vent" to me that he had a bad time nor do he make me feel guilty that I wasn't chaperoning. He mentioned that he wished I were going, however there were no guilt-trips or drama. I do agree that it's up to him to have a good time.

Yes, I have been to therapy. I am not a needy parent or person and I am not visibly upset around my kids when I'm thinking irrationally. I do not ask or need my kid's comfort. I am pretty good at self-soothing and moving on, and I think I'm pretty good at being the parent and comforting them.

Something about this field trip spun me into anxiety and it has everything to do with my feelings and insecurities and nothing to do with reality. I know that now and feel a lot better, but when you're in the thick of it, you're unsure. I think I am extra hard on myself and question my parenting a lot. I wonder if I'm doing the right things and I wonder if they are emotionally well-adjusted, secure, yada yada. I question myself often but there are plenty of times where I'm not plagued with these feelings. It may sound like it but I'm not completely cuckoo. Maybe these spells of sadness and insecurity have some medical cause. Maybe I'm going through hormonal changes or maybe I need my thyroid checked. Who knows. I get regular exercise and run four times a week and usually that keeps my anxiety and depression in check.

Thanks again to all who contributed to my question and offered advice. It has been helpful and I appreciate it very much.
posted by Fairchild at 12:10 PM on May 10, 2015


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