Teaching our Kids about Anxiety: Be True, Not "Tough"
If you didn't know, I am the mom of four boys ages 8, 10, 10, and 12. I always imagined I'd have a daughter. My 8 year old assures me he "needs" a sister and I in turn have assured him that will not be possible! All the older three boys require is there own room and/or another bathroom in the house (we have one). I am able to let them know that they will most likely not have their own room until they move into a place of their own. We will, however, be sure that our next house has two bathrooms, one for them and one for me! They don't think that's very funny, but what they don't realize is: I'm not joking.
It's so much fun having boys. The activity is endless as are the hugs and the concern over mom's wellbeing. Their dad has taught them to be sensitive to my needs and they truly have grown to be considerate of me. We as parents try to tell our kids things we think are important for them to learn in hopes of raising responsible and kind human beings. For my part, I try to teach them to be able to identify their emotions and talk about them. It's probably the therapist in me, but it's also the mom who knows that there are so many people who file all their tough emotions in the "angry" folder. Or others who simply avoid, suppress or straight-up lie about how they're feeling. I want my boys to be able to identify the feeling, put words to it and then know what they can do with those feelings.
As we all know, often actions speak louder than words. When my husband or I fail to manage our own emotions in plain view of our children, that requires conversation. And when we want to impress something upon our children, typically the best way to do that is to show them.
My opportunity to show them something happened just recently. I've been on crutches due to knee pain since early November. This was next-level pain that kept me up at night most nights so when my surgery was abruptly scheduled for 2 weeks out, I jumped at the chance. Once surgery was in the books, it was all of a sudden very real.
My boys started asking me questions about surgery: how long I'd have to be away from home, what my limitations would be after surgery, and so on. Part of me wanted to down play the pain I was in, the extent to which the surgery could knock me down, and any other of the details I would otherwise wish to "spare them" from. After all, we don't want to show the worry or the pain to our kids, right? Especially our boys...they need to learn to be "tough", right? No way! Not in my house. Not my boys. I will not teach them "tough" in the conventional way. Not in the "that doesn't hurt" or "I don't care" or "just shake it off" type of way. I've been through more surgeries than I can count, have completed treatment for 4 different types of cancers, have had to re-learn to walk a few times, have dealt with heartbreak and loss and failure just like everyone else, and consider myself to be pretty darn tough. But my tough includes tears and tantrums, it includes days of feeling weak but forcing myself to put one foot in front of the other quite literally. My "tough" is more about the truth of the challenge and being honest about how it feels each step of the way rather than shrugging it off as if it's no big deal. So, I answered all the questions. I didn't hide a single tear. If it hurt, I said so. If I was nervous I asked for the extra hug or prayer. My boys knew what was happening and what could happen and they were able to voice their concerns and questions freely. I realized through this process that the truth IS tough. So, it turns out that I am teaching my boys how to be tough, just not the conventional version of it.
Anxiety was a big part of my struggle in this and I was able to teach my boys some of the ways I heal my own anxiety.
Anxiety wants us to avoid or deny those hard feelings and seek out/stick to the easy path. But in the long run, that avoidance or denial of those feelings will catch up with you and create more problems than toughing out the truth would have in the first place.
I encourage you to be true to your feelings, put words to them and share them so that you will not compound problems for the future.
As for my surgery, that was just over 2 weeks ago and I feel about 100% better now than I did before. I have actually been able to sleep! I did not require pain meds other than Tylenol and haven't needed them since the first week after surgery. I have recently ditched the crutches and am hoping to be able to lose the immobilizer that I am currently wearing 24/7 until the doctor releases me from it in my post-op appointment this week. All in all I would say I have been tough through all of this and my boys have seen it. I hope they have learned that being tough is about being true to your feelings and honest about what those are and how to deal with them. It's not always easy, but again, that's what makes us tough!