No one is born with a sense of fear, it is a learned behaviour. Babies and toddlers are fearless little creatures, that often have us with our hearts in our throats. For all you parents out there reading this, you can totally relate to times where your child had climbed onto something and attempted to jump off with no concept of the height they were jumping from, or the possibility of hurting themselves. Or the fact that every toddler likes to play with bugs. What is that even about? My daughter once ate a spider. True story. She was about 8 months old, crawled into the kitchen, and ate a spider off the floor. Needless to say, I let her father change her nappy for the next two days. I still get goose-bumps and shiver when I think of it. My Dad often likes to tell the story of when I would play with bugs in the garden as a toddler. Supposedly, one day when he came home from work, I was sitting on the wall outside our house squishing red spiders for fun, with my finger. That can’t be true surely? If so, where did my fear of spiders come from? If you ask my Dad, he’ll say it is my Mum, as she is someone who would have screamed irrationally if one was around and would get someone to kill it. So, did I learn to be fearful of spiders due to witnessing my parent have a meltdown when they were around? Sounds plausible.
Now I’m a parent I’m aware that I could be passing on my issues onto my children. They are incredibly impressionable and whether they like to admit it or not, I’m exceptionally cool and they totally want to be just like me. This just goes without saying really. My daughters, Rachel & Rebecca, and I are close, and we do a lot together, meaning they spend a lot of time around me and hiding my quirks/ticks/OCD’s isn’t always easy. I’ve come to notice in the past couple of years that they had developed some issues of their own. Rebecca was starting to develop a bit of a stutter, cries at the drop of a hat, and was incredibly nervous in social situations. Rachel is incredibly socially awkward, doesn’t like people, has hygiene issues and little OCD’s. I could see that my issues were transpiring with them, and this is not the life I want them to have. I don’t want them to worry about every little thing and spend their life over analysing and being sad. All parents want the best for their Children, and ending up like me, even just a fraction of me, is not an option here.
Rebecca was showing signs of a stutter when she was worried about something. She worries incisively about not being good enough or failing, or worse, being wrong! To the point where she would stutter when trying to explain something, then cry. The amount of conversations we’ve had where I never actually hear the end due to sobs, is a lot. I could see that she was lacking in confidence, and I hated seeing her this way. To me, and yes, I may be slightly biased here, she is one of the most beautiful, thoughtful, caring, funny, talented girls in the world, and the fact she couldn’t see this was upsetting. Rachel had started to become very introverted, lost a lot of friends, started sleeping a lot, developed my OCD for hygiene etc. it was like looking at mini-me and I’ve hated it. She too is such a beautiful, loving, very funny, talented girl, who genuinely cannot see how fantastic she really is. Why can’t they just be like their peers, and their only concerns be with their Facebook profile picture and how many likes it’s gotten? Well, the reason for this is me. They have spent so much time with me, that they’ve picked up on my bad anxious habits.
Noticing these traits was hard, as I knew it had to be my fault. So how do I change them? How do I make them see how great they are and that the world is not that scary a place, when I don’t even have this faith in myself or the world? I spend every day telling them how great they are, I praise their small successes as if they’re a toddler who’s just used the potty for the first time, I tell them every day I love them and how lucky I am to have them. I tell them things I wish people would say to me, the things I’d like to believe in myself.
Assuring them constantly that things are ok, and will be ok, just isn’t enough. I see that they doubt me, and they will continue to be anxious. So, what now? Well, I now make them do things they say scare them, or that they’re not keen on doing. For example, Rachel hated going into shops, as she hated the crowds, queues and speaking to strangers, for fear of something happening or looking stupid. I started making her go to the shops with me every time I went, and I would make her talk to the cashier. I would always prep her with what to say, and I believe having me there made it easier. That’s not to say that she didn’t hate me for it, or leave the cashier with tears in her eyes because to her this was incredibly daunting. Now though? Well, she chooses to go to the shops with me all the time, and she now speaks to strangers with ease. This is a success. Rebecca will often get upset at small things e.g. She once got an email where the person had gotten her name wrong, she opened it, then worried it might have had a virus, so came down the stairs in a bit of state. Rebecca had believed that her laptop was now going to break, and realising I wouldn’t have money to fix it or get her another one, thought that I would have been angry/upset and now was besides herself. Thankfully it was just a case of an incorrect name, there was no virus, and the laptop is still going strong. Seeing her so upset, over something so small, was hard. I had to sit her down and explain that even if it was a virus, it wasn’t a big deal. It is fixable. And again, even if it wasn’t fixable, it’s not worth getting so upset over. Even as I wrote that sentence, I realise that is just the height of cheek. Here I am explaining to my daughter that there are things to get upset about, and things to not be caring about, yet I cannot do this for myself. Rebecca can now see the funny side of this, and we will often bring it up and laugh about it. I feel that is very important, to be able to see the funny side of these situations, as it helps to lighten the mood and in turn it doesn’t feel quite so serious.
I’m very open with all my children, about everything and anything. If my children ask me a question about sex, drugs, life etc. I will answer it as openly and honestly as possible. I don’t believe in lying to them, as this will only peak their curiosity and in turn they will make bad decisions. This is me talking from experience; When I was younger I learned about sex in the playground, so, as you can imagine it was incredibly helpful and accurate to the facts. My Mum didn’t even discuss a woman’s menstrual cycle, so imagine my horror when I got mine at the young age of 11 and thought I was dying. Just as well I had one of my close friends with me, who had started hers not long before and was able to help me out. I was shocked, embarrassed and upset. There are many other examples where my parents didn’t help or prepare me for life, so I’ve made the conscious decision to always be open and honest with my kids. I don’t want them to be sheltered or unprepared, and in turn I believe this has helped them to be the amazingly wise and mature kids they are. I have people who disagree with how open I am with them, as they believe ‘kids should just be kids’, but in this day and age, where they have the internet and a lot of misinformation, I believe it’s more important than ever to have these awkward discussions. I also feel it makes them more comfortable to be able to speak to me about anything. I have also been very open with my older children with regards to my mental illness. I need them to understand that I have these little quirks, and explain why. This helps them to better understand that how I am, is not ‘normal’, and these ticks/quirks/OCD’s are definitely not normal. We have discussed Anxiety/Depression, the symptoms, the differences between having Depression and just being sad, then the difference between being anxious and having a disorder. I believe this is extremely important, as I don’t want them thinking because they’re sad, they’re depressed, or because they’ve had a flutter in their stomach they’ve got an anxiety disorder.
Managing how my daughters are, and trying to help them be happier and more settled, is teaching me a lot about myself. A lot of what I tell them, is something I could be doing for me. Also, a lot of what I make them do, like making Rachel go into shops, has pushed me to do things I don’t like, as I know she is watching me for guidance and I need to help her learn by example. They still have their issues and their little quirks, but I’ve noticed a lot of improvement in recent months. Both Rachel and Rebecca are becoming more outgoing, they appear happier, and they don’t seem to worry quite as much. I have many days where I feel like I just can’t deal with the day, or where I just want to stay in bed and let life pass me by, but I can’t do that. I can’t let my kids see me quit, or not even try, as what kind of example is that? We still have some way to go, but who knows, in my bid to help them be happier, I might just help myself.