I Thought Sharing My Anxiety With My Kids Made Me a Bad Mother. I Was Wrong.

How I learned that sharing my vulnerability could make me stronger.

It was raining outside, and I was sitting in the driver’s seat of my minivan, parked outside of a high school, waiting for my son to finish up with his robotics team meeting.

My three little girls were bouncing around in the backseats, creating a cheerful ruckus that made the van sway slightly with every thump and bump. They weren’t doing anything wrong, but after a few minutes the noise and commotion made my heart rate start to rise. I felt twitchy, and I had the sudden urge to yell, or to jump out of the car, or to drive the car into a brick wall.

Yeah, that’s not healthy.

It became clear to me that my anxiety was getting the best of me, and my inner battle began. It started with my Rational Mom Brain, who, fortunately, was still functioning well enough to be part of the conversation.

Don’t yell at them. They’re not doing anything wrong. They’re having fun. They could be fighting. Just let them be, they’re kids.

And then Anxiety chimed in.

This is ridiculous! You’re cooped up in a car with maniacs! Make it stop! Make it STOP!!!

The two sides battled back and forth, and as anyone prone to anxiety knows, Anxiety is a formidable contender in such a battle, because when it faces resistance, it just gets stronger.

I tried some deep breathing exercises to see if I could get knock Anxiety back down a few notches, when suddenly I realized there was a third option.

I could ask for what I needed.

Anxiety, of course, had an opinion about that idea too.

They’re kids! What are they going to do about it? Probably just make more noise. C’mon, let’s just YELL at them!

Rational Mom Brain threw in her two cents as well.

It’s not right for us as parents to put the burden of our feelings on our children. It’s not up to them to ‘fix’ us. This isn’t their problem.

I thanked both sides for their input, considered both opinions briefly, and decided to throw caution to the wind and give the third option a try.

I decided to tell my kids how I was feeling and ask for what I needed.

“Hey girls, I can tell you’re having a lot of fun, and you’re not doing anything wrong, but all the noise is starting to make me feel really anxious, like I want to yell. I don’t want to yell at you, so do you think maybe you could help me feel better by quieting down a little and sitting in your seats instead of jumping around?”

To my shock, all three immediately said, “Sure, Mom,” and they sat in their seats. They wanted to help me. I felt Anxiety take a step back.

“I think I have some gum around here somewhere,” I said, fishing through my purse for a pack of Trident. “You guys want some gum? And I can turn on the radio, too, so we can listen to some music.”

I handed out the gum and turned on a Christian music station to an acceptably low volume to avoid fraying my nerves, and after a few minutes, I didn’t feel like yelling anymore. My girls were happily sitting in their seats chewing their gum and listening to music, and I realized I had defeated the Anxiety monster with their help. I had told them exactly what I needed in that moment and, like bringing me a bandage to dress a paper cut, my kids were more than happy to do what they could to help me feel better.

After that experience, I’ve realized it’s okay to ask your kids for help with anxiety and other powerful emotions, just like you would ask for help with a sickness or an injury. In fact, it’s a wonderful way to show them how to deal with emotions. One of those little girls is now a teenager, and she is able to openly talk with me about what her anxiety feels like, and to ask for help with managing it.

Being able to recognize emotions, name them, and understand what you need when you’re feeling them is what emotional intelligence is all about. It’s one of the greatest gifts we can give to our kids, and we only give it to them when we’re willing to be vulnerable ourselves.

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