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I Can’t Be As Overwhelmed As He Is

“I made the biggest parenting mistake of my life this week, I think.”

I am a single parent to a 5th grader. My son’s father and I have anxious personalities so our son was probably destined to be anxious. During the first few years of my son’s life, there was a lot of conflict which just cemented his anxiety. Eventually life calmed down significantly but by then, I was a single parent.

I have some friends who live a little bit out of town. They are an older couple who could not have children so they adore my son and we spend a lot of time with them, especially on the weekends.

One weekend, we were at their house and my son became very upset. He was having an anxiety attack and just kept screaming that he didn’t want to leave their house to go back to our house. I caved and agreed to staying there the whole week. I thought maybe it would help his anxiety and we had thought about moving closer to them anyway. It could be a trial run.

The first morning we were up early heading into town for school and I knew it was a mistake. A really big mistake. Later that day, I called my friend who also knows Circle of Security. I talked to her about what happened and I was able to figure some things out.

Most of the time, I know I’m a good parent. I can support my son as he wants to explore. We spend a lot of time outside and he is a great soccer player. I also know that I’m good at hanging out with my son when he is struggling. When he feels sad or mad or frustrated. But, what I realized – for the first time ever – was that I have trouble with the Hands of the Circle. When my son gets really anxious, I collapse. I give in. I get weak. I do this about his bedtime, about getting up and going to school, about foods he does or doesn’t want to eat – about lots of things!

In talking with my friend, I realized that I still feel guilty about how our lives were when he was little. I feel guilty that I may have passed on anxious genetics. I feel guilty that he’s an only child. I feel guilty that I’m a single parent.

And because of this guilt, when he gets anxious, I give in. I give him what he wants to help him feel better in the moment. I give in because when he feels better, then I feel better. The problem is that neither of us have to deal with the bigger feelings underneath it all and his anxiety just keeps getting worse.

I don’t “Take Charge in a Bigger, Stronger, Wiser, Kind” way in the moments of his big anxious feelings because it reminds me of other times I couldn’t take charge. It’s easier to justify it as I’m good at “Being With” him but it’s not “Being With” if I’m acting just as scared and anxious as he is. Kids need parents to not be as overwhelmed as they are.

When I went to pick him up after school, I mustered up some courage and I said, “I made a mistake. I thought it would be okay to stay at our friend’s house this week but it just isn’t going to work out. I know that might be confusing or disappointing for you and we can talk about that. But I’m not going to change my mind. We will spend the night there tonight, but then we are back at our house after school tomorrow.”

To my astonishment, my son said, “okay, mom” and that was it. No explosion, no anxiety, no whining, no crying, no yelling.

So, I’m going to try to have more of a backbone in these moments. To Take Charge when he’s anxious so he knows I’m there to help and to make decisions so he doesn’t have to. To be the parent and let him be the kid. Because he’s a pretty great kid.