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We Need To Stop Blaming Moms For Their Children’s Anxiety

Blaming moms for their children’s anxiety helps no one. This is our story.


Just over a year and a half ago, the psychiatrist said out loud what I knew he had been thinking for months.

“You are too wrapped up in his anxiety and psychosomatic symptoms. You are making it worse. I suspect you are just feeding off each other’s emotions.”

He then proceeded to recommend a day program or residential treatment to separate us, so that my son could heal without me. Me, the only person on this planet he trusts and communicates with appropriately. 

It was one of the worst moments of my life.

blaming moms for children's anxiety

His words confirmed my worst fears. I was the problem. I was failing my son. 

Thankfully, as much as his words cut me like a knife, they came at a perfect time. You see, I had come to him to review blood test results from another doctor. These results revealed that my son was not experiencing psychosomatic symptoms related to anxiety. He was not manipulating me in some sort of horrible, emotionally unhealthy dynamic.

His constant vomiting, nausea, diarrhea and fatigue was not exaggerated, and the results confirmed he’d been living for years with daily symptoms that would make any of us anxious.

I blinked back tears, handed the copy of the blood test results to the doctor, said, “Well, that’s interesting because we finally have proof that something physical is causing all of this. You are wrong.”

We found a new doctor the next day.

A few months ago, a good friend of mine called me in tears of frustration.

She had just left a therapist’s office with her nine year old daughter. After months of school refusal and increasing panic each morning, they were both desperate for help. What they got was an assessment of mom’s parenting ability and her daughter’s “manipulative behaviors.”

“She knows she can get away with it with you. You just need to draw the line and make her go to school.”

Now, school refusal by all expert accounts is a very real, very complicated issue that goes far beyond my friend’s weak heart. But it didn’t matter. Like so many of us have experienced, the assumption was that mom was not only enabling, but causing her child’s increasing anxiety.

child is anxious

Is Mom To Blame When A Child Is Exceedingly Anxious?

I realize that there are times a mom may not know how best to handle her child’s increasing anxiety. I know there have been so many times I have given in and allowed my son to just avoid whatever it was that was making him so panicked, rather than encouraging him to face his fears.  We mothers are human beings, just doing the very best we can for our kids. We have our own emotions and anxiety – of course they contribute to the dynamic of our parenting.

But blame? Blame never helps. Blame solves nothing. Blame adds a barrier between the child and the person who studies have shown make the biggest difference when a child is dealing with significant issues. 

Responsive caregiving, or interactions in which caregivers give appropriate responses to a child’s signals, is linked to improved psychosocial, cognitive and physical outcomes in children. – NCBI Study, 2019

Parents and caregivers offer their children love, acceptance, appreciation, encouragement, and guidance. They provide the most intimate context for the nurturing and protection of children as they develop their personalities and identities and also as they mature physically, cognitively, emotionally, and socially. – American Psychological Association

What Do We Expect From Moms Of Children With Anxiety?

Reducing a mom’s natural instinct regarding her child to a complication in treatment is dangerous and not at all helpful. Moreover, anxiety rarely occurs in a vacuum. Anxiety is one of the most common comorbid conditions with other disorders. It’s complicated and variable in how it presents from one child to the next. 

Reducing it to a misstep on the part of a primary caregiver is simply shortsighted and frankly, mean. 

Yes, moms need help and education in understanding how best to help a child with increasing anxiety. We should provide them with it, instead of giving them a “talking to” about how weak they are. 

blame mom

We Need To Stop Blaming Moms For Their Children’s Anxiety

In my son’s case, had I listened to that doctor, the implications could’ve been life threatening. If I had not had those blood test results in hand, I am not sure how I would’ve responded.

Even with the results, I felt ashamed and questioned myself for months. Sometimes, I still do.

We need to stop this madness. Even if it was possible that it was 100% due to mom’s actions, the only way to help a family struggling with this type of intensity is through understanding and care.

Blame helps no one. 


For more encouragement and support:

Watchful Waiting and the Special Needs Mom

 

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3 Comments

  1. It’s terrible that you & your sweet son had to deal with this. The “recommendations” of the public school “experts” regarding placement for my son helped seal the deal, and we have been homeschooling ever since. It’s difficult for us to contradict or question the recommendations of the so-called experts, because we are “only” the mom. Fight strong, Warrior Moms!!

  2. One of our children suffers from anxiety (so do I) and we had a recent episode of school refusal. My husband and I prepared to do battle with the school system and instead found that there is a highly involved team of therapists, social workers, and counselors that jumped to help in any way they could. I was in tears, because in every other place and with relatives we’ve had to constantly be on high alert due to not understanding/misdiagnosing. But still, you do wonder, and since I also have anxiety I frequently am convinced I gave it to my child, so this was very timely and encouraging.

  3. Can you share what the blood test/condition was? My son is 12 and ive been struggling since he was 7 to get answers/help for him. He also has a lot of GI issues…a lot of anxiety, many “behavioral” issues etc. He’s been diagnosed with ADD, anxiety, he’s dx ASD (HFA) he has lots of sensory issues and has lots of meltdowns…almost constantly in fight or flight. I’ve been met by lots of professionals that “he’s manipulative, putting on behaviors to get attention etc…mostly by his former public school (I’m now having him homeschooled) but even his pediatrician at times. I’m done with traditional psychiatry…the meds they’ve put him on have only made him worse. I have asked his pediatrician for a referral to a pediatric endocrinologist because I’ve been concerned about the possibility with issues with hormones, pituitary, adrenals etc…but she’s poo-pooed it without any testing. Our town has very few specialists, little help for kids on spectrum, no special schools etc. I have to drive 2.5 hours to Gainesville or Jacksonville, FL. So at my wits end trying to beg & fight for help for my amazing boy…he’s so smart and under all the angst and agression, which I believe is a coping mechanism for him…he is very sweet & caring… but his potential is being stifled by a lack of appropriate care/help. Very very frustrating and makes me feel so sad and angry that everyone just wants to act like he’s just a “bad” kid…I also constantly get the feeling they are judging me too. Sorry for the long ramble…I’m at work but saw this and had to ask before I forgot.

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