There were a few brief minutes after my daughter was born, when my husband had signed all the paperwork at the hospital, gone down to get our car, and come back to get me, that she and I were all alone. It was the first time I’d been able to look at her and whisper in her ear when no one else was around to see or hear.
I kissed her forehead and placed my lips close to her ear and whispered, “I have no idea what I’m doing and I know you have no idea what you’re doing either but we will figure this out together.”
I felt as if I were at a disadvantage because my mom had died several years before, and truthfully, I was bitter about it in that moment. She should have been there to help me figure it out, to bounce the crying baby girl when I needed a shower, or to just tell me I was going to be okay. Realistically, I know most women feel as if they have no clue, whether they have a mom to help or not. We all kind of look around and wonder, “Are they really going to let me take this baby home with me? Shouldn’t there be a test?”
For the first five or six years of parenting my two babies, my girl and my boy, I did it with a stomach full of anxiety and a fist tightly gripped on a set of rules I had made up in my head of what “good moms” did.
I yelled a lot – at them, at my husband, at passing cars, the pharmacist, and anyone who didn’t do what I said, when I said it, or how I wanted it done. I cried a lot. I didn’t just burn the candle at both ends, I lit several candles up and did a baton routine with them. I was living in fear, and I was parenting from fear. I couldn’t label it or put my finger on what the problem was at the time, but looking back, I now know that’s exactly what was happening.
I finally sought help. Not on my own, mind you. Quite a few people recommended it, and after a particularly hard day in the middle of a vacation, I collapsed and admitted I needed it. I am so grateful I was able to receive the help I needed to break several bad habits but to also look back at my life, figure out where many of my fears were coming from, and be honest about how my behavior was effecting my parenting.
I wasn’t enjoying my kids; I was trying to make them perfect. I didn’t have fun with them because I wouldn’t allow myself to have fun. That’s not to say there weren’t fun moments – there were! But overall, my anxiety was holding me captive. My worry of messing them up or worse, allowing them to mess up, was like a set of iron handcuffs. When I look back at pictures of me during those years, I was skinnier than I should have been and my eyes had a dark and empty glaze. My fear had convinced me I would never be a good enough parent and therefore, my kids would never be good enough.
Crying out to God for help and seeking the advice and teaching of people in a position to help me was the best decision I have ever made for my family. God delivered a peace to my soul and a healing balm that soothed me from the inside out.
It didn’t happen overnight. It took years of hard work and dedication to being a parent who offers love and grace. And truthfully, I’m still working on it. God opened my eyes in a whole new way to see the love and grace He offers me every day. He showed me how to rely on Him and to rest in His arms. He pointed me to loving people who could stand in the gap for me when I needed a mama of my own.
I memorized Psalm 56:3, “When I am afraid I will trust in You,” and whispered it over and over and over. I realized the enemy wants nothing more than for me to live gripped in fear. When I ask God to remind me of what is good and true, He does it. He takes away the lies the enemy throws at me and disintegrates them immediately. And when those lies sneak back in, I whisper again to the Lord and He always answers.
These days, my kids and I enjoy each other a lot. We can have fun together, laugh at each other and with each other. We laugh at their dad a lot! They talk to me about life and love and faith and I talk to them, too. I am able to give them appropriate amounts of freedom because I don’t live in fear of them making terrible choices. I trust in God. I trust in the faith we have taught them. I trust in their hearts and minds to do what’s right. Will they mess up? Of course! They mess up all the time! But so do I! Messing up is part of living and I finally learned that no matter how tight I grip my kids, they are still going to grow up and fly away from our nest one day. I want them to feel like they have been loved well and taught well and can come back any time they wish. I don’t want them to feel the need to break free from a prison I built for myself and them.
If you have been living a life filled with anxiety and fear, know there is hope. It doesn’t have to be that way and it’s never too late to seek the peace our Heavenly Father offers. I got involved with Celebrate Recovery and see a therapist regularly. You may find other ways of receiving help. Whatever you do, I encourage you to reach out to someone today. You are worth it. And your family is worth it.