Child anxiety
May 30, 2015 11:28 AM   Subscribe

Dear hive mind, I'm a 48 year old father of a 5 year old daughter. My life is pretty okay, in terms of marriage, health, work. But I cannot seem to enjoy all the good things (of which there are plenty) out of anxiousness that my child will maybe not have a great life.

The current state of the world frightens me to bits, and the sheer thought that she may have to grow up in terrible circumstances just eats at my every day. Of course I understand that no parent can ever guarantee that their children will grow up in peace and harmony. I'm not sure if I have to just tough it out and learn to live with those (probably unrealistic) fears or that I should seek the help of a professional. I'm asking here because she is my only child and these feelings are only starting to surface these past few months. How do other parents feel about this? Does it get milder with time? How does one cope with these fears? I can wake up in the morning all terrified that she may one day be gone forever. I must add that I have been slightly on the dysthymic side since early childhood. I also have tons of regrets about the past, so there's a lot of "I hope she doesn't have a life as terrible as mine" in my thinking. Thanks for any insights.
posted by hz37 to Human Relations (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Are there specific concerns that you have, or is it a general anxiety? Are you in therapy?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:33 AM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

You have to accept that this is one of the consequences of choosing to bring a child into the world--you can't really control how their life will turn out. However, it sounds like you are in a comfortable, stable, situation and you care about your child's well-being, and that counts for a whole lot. Just channel that anxiety into doing everything you can to make your child's quality of life good, and also preparing her to have skills for the future.
posted by cosmicbeast at 11:40 AM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

This many not be exactly what you're looking for, but when I get anxious about my students (particularly those that don't exactly fit the "ideal-student" mold) I try to remember that for the most part people shape the world. So these little kids are going to be the positive force of tomorrow. If I help guide them and nurture their passions and interests and show them what it's like to interact positively with others, things will legitimately be better for them in the future. I am am contributing to a better place in a small way. And these kids can contribute in a big way.

It's super cheesy, but you are a big part of your daughter's life and when you treat her with respect and kindness and show her how to do this with others too, you are both making things better for her future.
posted by eisforcool at 11:49 AM on May 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

There is a takeaway message in Protecting the Gift that sometimes when you focus your worries about The Big Bad Lurking you miss the present hazards, like worrying about stranger abduction while the baby gate latch is broken, at the top of the stairs.

I would find one tiny moment each day to give her a hug, a talk, a read or a life skill moment, as a buffer to the worst isolation in the world. Focus on what is before you. Chances are good it'll be ok.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:05 PM on May 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

It's not foretold that the future will be worse, and your daughter might be the one that makes it better for all of us.
posted by COD at 12:13 PM on May 30, 2015 [6 favorites]

The men I know who are in their 40s when they become fathers, as opposed to their 20's 30's, have a solid bunch of years of experience... And are often a little tiny bit closer to retirement, dealing with elderly parents, have seen real life for a little longer and they know how things can go wrong- they've seen it. The younger parents aren't quite there yet, their parents are active and those extra few years are ahead of them and there is still a bit they haven't experienced in life... I think for the older men if they are relaxed then they are super relaxed, if prone to anxiety then extra anxious as parents. So I wouldn't compare myself to anyone and perhaps have a session with a therapist... It might make you feel a little better about the unknowns.
posted by flink at 12:14 PM on May 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh! And many people I know don't have, or in the past haven't had, a great life. The difference between the ones who are unhappy vs happy is their resilience and attitude... And that is something you can teach your daughter.
posted by flink at 12:19 PM on May 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

You're scared. You're in some fear. It's totally understandable.

But it's not helping you, nor your child.

The only place that fear cannot live is right here, right now. Which is where you reside, and where your child resides. I suspect she is more aware of living right here, right now, ... Nope. She is not yet at all aware of patterns of thought which can become habitual, she's not learned and practiced the very human art of worry.

Children, and animals -- they live right here, right now.

Words attributed to Jesus -- and who knows or cares if he said the words, and who knows or cares if there ever was a historical Jesus who said or did anything at all -- words attributed to this character are to the effect that unless we become as children we're not going to experience what he wanted us to experience.

Myself, I don't think that he was referencing the piece of childhood wherein we are shitting in our drawers still. My take on it was more about the piece of living in the present, not tomorrow, not next Wednesday, not when the polar ice caps have melted and New York City is the new Atlantis. None of that. Now. Here and now.

So this is a good thing to learn from her. Mostly by observing her. She's not going to have words to articulate it, same as a fish can't expound upon water -- it's where they live, that's all. So you'll have to learn by close observance. Not a magnifying glass or some shit; that'd get her started worrying right off. Close observance, but unnoticed by her.

Spend these precious moments of her childhood learning from her. You're not going to sit at her feet, it'll be an interdependent relationship, you observing plus doing what you can to not put your fears into/onto her, and, since she is a child, you are her steward, to protect her, keep her from walking into the street or eating that flower. Definitely interdependence.

So. Watch her eat an ice cream cone, a bit later this afternoon -- do you think she's thinking of polar ice caps? She isn't. She is right there in that moment, and happy in it. Life right then is strawberry ice cream, which isn't a bad life, seems to me.

Join her there.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:44 PM on May 30, 2015 [6 favorites]

The one thing that could ease your mind is making sure you've set up a trust or some kind of assets for her. Maybe she won't have a fairytale marriage or eternal happiness, but financial security can give a person mental and emotional security to some extent.
posted by discopolo at 12:46 PM on May 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also, I think a great gift would be you working more on relieving your anxiety, maybe through a therapist. Kids can pick up and internalize a lot of what their parents are feeling. Anxiety is not going to help her have a better life.
posted by discopolo at 12:48 PM on May 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Do your child and your wife a favor and seek professional help. Now. "Toughing it out" is forcing your family to live with your untreated anxiety disorder. And that is way way worse that whatever big scary thing out in the might potentially befall your child.
posted by vignettist at 12:48 PM on May 30, 2015 [14 favorites]

A few years ago, I learned that my father had posed a similar question to the principal of my school when I was in the second grade. The answer had a fantastic positive influence on my life.

The principal told my father that it didn't matter what I did; that I was going to be absolutely fine. And my father believed the principal, and didn't worry about me so much. As a child and an early adult and even to this day, I needed and am grateful to have my father's confidence in my ability to navigate this world we live in.

And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I have this to offer:
If the situation or problem is such that it can be remedied, then there is no need to worry about it. In other words, if there is a solution or a way out of the difficulty, you do not need to be overwhelmed by it. The appropriate action is to seek its solution. Then it is clearly more sensible to spend your energy focussing on the solution rather than worrying about the problem. Alternatively, if there is no solution, no possibility of resolution, then there is also no point in being worried about it, because you cannot do anything about it anyway. In that case, the sooner you accept this fact, the easier it will be for you.
posted by aniola at 1:07 PM on May 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

You have some good advice just offered. Now look at it this way:
what if things are getting worse and not much will be done to fix things, what now can you do?
I was born in what was one of the bleakest times for America: The Great Depression. My mom an dad did what they could, had to do, were able to do...and here I am, 85 plus years later on.
Your child too will thrive etc...just enjoy her all you can, now
posted by Postroad at 1:15 PM on May 30, 2015 [21 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all.
posted by hz37 at 1:23 PM on May 30, 2015

I'm a weird one to offer advice, since I don't have kids. But I loved my cat as much as anybody ever loved their kid. It was this deep, aching, protective love, and I would have given my life for the fuzzy little bastard, as crazy as that may sound. He was an awesome little guy, but he had kidney issues and I knew he wouldn't be around forever.

That kind of love can be murder on the anxious. You know how cruel and painful life can be, and you can't bear the thought of life being that cruel and painful to somebody you love. It feels like it's your job to keep them safe from harm at all times, but you know you can't really do that. The thought of losing him used to torture me, and the thought of anything bad happening to him ever was too awful to bear. Even taking him to the vet was hell, because he'd cry and tremble and I felt like I was putting him through a terrible ordeal. I remember thinking that I had to find some way to love him less, because I was fated to lose him and I simply couldn't bear that. But how can you make yourself love somebody less? And even if you could, would you really want to?

But a cat's not a person. People start off as dopey and disaster-prone as cats, but they get smarter. As your daughter grows and learns, she will acquire the skills to survive and thrive in the world. You can help her there, and teach her.

Maybe, when you're feeling anxious about her, you should try to put that energy into figuring out the things she needs to learn, the things that will help keep her safe. Disaster preparedness, how to change a tire, how to switch off the gas, basic self-defense, money management, on and on. As you see her becoming capable and strong and confident, and she starts to go off and have adventures of her own, you'll see that she is not a helpless little kitten anymore. You'll know she can take what life dishes out. She may astonish you with what she can do.

Also, my girlfriend swears by Xanax as a quick anxiety-obliterator. I've been meaning to try it myself.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:43 PM on May 30, 2015 [4 favorites]

Were you an anxious person, to one degree or another, before your daughter was born?

I never thought of myself as an especially anxious person until I had a kid. Depressive, yes, but not anxious. I think my anxiety was spread out more before I had her: will I finish my degree, will I find a good job, will anyone ever love me, is the world going to hell, etc. It wasn't anything I couldn't handle, I had excellent coping mechanisms.

But after my daughter was born, all that generalized anxiety was focused, laser-like, on her. In my case it was compounded by PTSD after her traumatic birth and depression, and things got a little OCD and all around terrible. Anyway, many many years of therapy later, I have it under control. I take an anti-depressant that also treats anxiety and, just as importantly, a battery of skills to cope when, from time to time, it breaks past the meds.

When I am feeling anxious, the worst of it does end up focusing on her, though. I think that's the parental condition and inescapable. In some ways it's helpful for me; if I'm stressed at work and find myself thinking about all the horrible ways my kid could be killed, I know the worry and fear isn't "real" it's just anxiety. It works like a flag to tell me I need to do some work.

TL;DR To some extent, worrying is the work of parenthood. But it sounds like this is sucking the joy out of your life, which is something more than your run-of-the-mill dad angst. Consider seeing a therapist to get some coping skills. You probably don't need to be analyzed to death, but some practice re-directing those feelings would be really helpful.
posted by looli at 3:17 PM on May 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Stop watching and reading the news.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:40 PM on May 30, 2015 [10 favorites]

This isn't meant to answer your whole question, but it is interesting to see evidence that the world, in general, is getting better in many, if not most ways. That's not the impression you'd get from 24/7 news, but the truth that the world isn't getting worse, we're just getting more efficient at distributing news of the bad things that do happen.
posted by the jam at 10:01 PM on May 30, 2015 [6 favorites]

I share your concerns. There are ways in which the problems faced by the current generations of humans are much larger than those ever faced before. Climate change is the big one, obviously, but there are others.

My comfort is that each generation is born with its own hope, its own dreams, and its own will to live. Our children may curse us for the problems we left them, but they will also work with a creativity, diligence, and the gift of a new perspective to solve those problems. They will do better than we did, because they won't be fooled by the things that fooled too many in our generation. The problems will be too obvious. And as they go along, they will love, and laugh, and cry and likely have children of their own.

So do your best, love your children, and raise them to do well for themselves and for others. It will be their world eventually.
posted by alms at 5:59 PM on May 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

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