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.
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.
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.
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.
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