I felt compelled to write this after reading a post by the talented and incredibly open actor Stephen Amell, aka The Arrow. In short, Stephen describes suffering a panic attack after being left behind on an ariel wire course. He says it left him physically trembling, weak, sweating and to the point of tears. Interestingly this has only started happening to Stephen following him becoming a parent…
…I completey get this. I too have felt this panic. Usually when I’m with my kids but not always. I am overjoyed to realise that one of my television heros isn’t immune from it too. Bloody hell! If the Arrow can be open about it so can I!
I suffer from what I have always named parental anxiety…I’m not a therapist and so don’t know the technical terms it’s just how I’ve rationalised things in my head. I’ve never sought help or advice as I manage things independently. It affects me daily and in various ways.
I wonder how many of you suffer from it too?
Ever since I have become a parent I have had regular moments of complete and utter irrational (or not) panic when it comes to my kids. It started when our eldest, Wil, was born. I would have to constantly check he was breathing…convinced he would suddenly stop. As the kids have grown up it’s continued. Things like they’ll be running ahead of me on the pavement, completely safe, and I’ll panic that they’re going to trip and fall into the path of an oncoming vehicle. Or they go for a sleep over and I panic that something may happen whilst they’re not with me. Sometimes they ask to go out on their own down to the village and my stomach churns that something will happen to them…My usually sensible self creates all sorts of monsters that are going to hurt or maim my children! Water, that’s a big one. If my kids are walking with me by water I have a constant, physical, state of fear that they’re going to fall in.
It also effects me in terms of my own safety…I became a nervous horse rider….developed a new fear of heights. And I don’t think it’s just a product of growing up. It’s a real fear of not being there for my kids.
I think it came to the surface for me really when we were on holiday in Portugal a couple of years ago. We visited an amazing castle and went up to the top of the castle wall to explore…to do so you had to climb a set of stone steps that were against the wall and completely open to one side….no hand rail or safety guard. I felt a mild panic when we went up..but as soon as we got to the top and the kids started exploring it developed into full blown panic. I started shaking, I felt dizzy and my legs were like jelly. My head was in turmoil and I had an overwhelming dread that the kids were going to plummet to their deaths right there and then. I managed to take some deep breaths, had a very strong word with myself and somehow managed to pull myself together…but it was so strong and so real. I called the kids to me and I let them explore but with a firm element of controlling their movement. I honestly thought we were not going to get off the castle wall though. Trying to get down the same stairs we’d just walked up was a bloody nightmare. We got to the top and the kids were all set to merrily trot down them, but whenever I tried to start the descent I turned to jelly again. In the end I made the kids sit on their bums and together we shuffled down.. one humiliating step at a time.
This was the point for me that I realised I needed to get a grip or I would really start affecting the kids.
I had an amazing childhood filled with care free dangers that no-one stopped me from experiencing or learning from. My parents got the balance spot on. Now I know that the dangers I fear now are very real and capable of happening.. which of course is the issue…but it’s managing the irrational fear of something happening, when it’s incredibly unlikely, that I am constantly struggling with.
I don’t want to be that parent that can’t let my children run free. To let them learn from life as I was able to. I don’t want to stop them being kids. I won’t to wrap them up in the proverbial cotton wall…and I never for one second thought I would be that type of parent. But the fear is so real, so strong, and it takes all my will power not to let that take over.
Usually I’m able to rationalise things and let them get on with what they’re doing, but occasionally the anxiety is too much and I have to call them back to me. The fear is too powerful. My head is saying they’re fine, safe, let them run and learn…but I can’t always fight that fear. What if they do trip, what if they get shoved out in front of a car accidentally, what if they get hurt? Not healthy right?! But I’m guessing I’m not the only one? Do you experience it too?
For me I think it boils down to a control issue. If I can’t control what my children are doing then something bad will happen to them. But I will NOT be that person. I believe that I have found the right balance between arming our children to be able to manage and reduce risks rather than avoiding them. I do allow them exposure to all sorts of risks to learn and grow but have also provided tools to reduce it. My fears will not be my children’s weakness. They are mine to manage, to own and to control.
I realise from speaking to people about this that it is entirely normal and most people have varying levels of the same thing. I never realised however that it would be such a life-long confliction of head over heart!! Love bloody hurts Sometimes!!
Much love, S x x