I’m just beginning to understand the connection between the anxiety I’ve felt my whole life and childhood trauma. Until recently, I wasn’t even aware that I lived with anxiety—it’s just always been a normal part of who I am. But it’s affected my relationships negatively, especially in parenting.
This week, our little town is reeling. A teenage young man was killed when he and another guy fell off the back of the car. Another teen was driving. Three families will never be the same. My heart goes out to the families, especially the moms.
That was my worst nightmare as a mom of teenagers—they’d do irreparable harm and ruin their lives somehow. I didn’t have any rational reason to fear this—my girls were sensible and responsible.
My fears came from the deep recesses of my childhood. As a latchkey kid and a product of a very dysfunctional family, I was often saddled with responsibilities far beyond age-appropriate. As a teen living in chaos, it often seemed as if I were the parent.
When I had my own children, I reacted to the other extreme. Instead of neglectful, I was a helicopter parent. I’m sure my overprotectiveness was stifling at times.
Once, when I lost track of where my elementary-aged daughters were in a large grocery store, I flew off the handle when I finally found them. (They were in the bathroom). “Why did you disappear? Don’t’ you know what kinds of bad things can happen to little girls?” My panic took over all reason.
Cut forward to when my girls reached the age where they could drive and have some independence. My anxieties tripled. I wanted to know where they were going, who they were with, and what they were doing. No exceptions. They had to comply if they wanted the car keys.
If they were going to be out late, I’d turn on the hall light outside my bedroom and ask them to turn it off when they got home. (This saved me from having to go into their bedrooms at 2:00 a.m. when I awoke, just to check if they were okay.)
If anything bad happened to them, I believed it would reflect on my abilities as a mother. Yes, I realize that sounds a little crazy and I’m only just now getting to the point where I recognize irrational anxiety versus valid concerns. (Thankfully, my girls all seem to still want to spend time with me!)
Even now, the last thing they usually hear when they leave my house is, “Be safe!” They’re all highly capable adults, well able to make good decisions, but somehow I’m always compelled to remind them.
What I’m learning about trusting Jesus instead of living a performance-based life is that He’s always been in control. Try as I might, I couldn’t protect them perfectly when they were little, and I certainly can’t now that they’re out on their own. That’s His job.
It’s a relief, being able to shrug responsibility that was never mine off of my shoulders. I’m sure it’s freeing to my girls too, learning that they can make their own mistakes and create their own successes.
My job? Pray for them. Cheer them on. Remind them Whose they are. That’s living in trust rather than anxiety.