Hello, nice to see you, Normal Parent! Lets get this playdate started with some small talk while I scan wherever we are at for potential hazards and pretend to be listening to what you are saying!
Let me introduce myself – I am Extremely High Anxiety Parent – one of the ones other moms roll their eyes at because I don’t feel comfortable being out of eye-shot of my kids like EVER. Mix a childhood where we spent more time than not in doctor offices and emergency rooms due to a very, very sick, and often accident prone little sister where a cold was never just a cold and there were several close calls, the high publicity given to child tragedies, friends who have actually lost their babies, a job where I see the worst case scenario from horrific accidents over and over every day, and my naturally very high levels of anxiety, and BAM – you have Ashley The High Anxiety Parent.
If there is a worst-case scenario, I KNOW IT. I’ve played it in my brain over and over. I am trying to act normal but all I can see is the potential for danger. Its exhausting. The fear is exhausting, the trying to act like I’m not afraid for the sake of my kids and friends even more so. The trying to act like the “cool” parent, the one who isn’t quite sure where one of her kids even is but is totally ok with it, the one who cheers her kid on as he or she climbs that terrifying rock or who lets her kids outside and then closes the door and doesn’t stare obsessively out the window like a hawk for the entire duration of outside time. The one who has the kid who jumps right into the deep end of the pool and they can lay back and read a book. The one who proudly declares they let their kid play with knives/mountain lions/alone in the middle of the night at a playground. I am not in any way, shape, or form this parent. I desperately want to be.
My deep, dark secrets are that I see child abduction at the fair, lethal influenza or pneumonia on the cart handles at the grocery store, a fatal bee sting from playing at the park (who knows if my kids are allergic?). I see my kids falling down stairs becoming paralyzed, choking on those uncut grapes, sustaining a traumatic brain injury with every hard surface, every car ride potentially deadly. That neighbors dog could decide to bite, that purse with the long strap is a strangulation hazard. I haven’t even let my 3-year-old try peanut butter yet because my sister has a life-threatening allergy to it and I’m terrified my kids might too. Don’t even get me started on SIDS. As you can imagine, I am an absolute JOY to be around in situations such as the above. Good luck planning a playdate to avoid these everyday “hazards.” You can’t. You can’t live life away from these situations. I know this, and I know depriving my children of these situations would certainly be detrimental to their life, joy, development. So I hide it. Sometimes more convincingly than others.
I’m so ashamed of this side of myself, I worry I’m ruining my children with my anxiety. This type of parenting is NOT POPULAR here in my home state, land of cowboys and camping and hiking and “old school” parenting. My fears are very rarely mentioned out loud, very rarely given a voice. But they are a constantly playing reel in my head. I’m working on it. I’m working really, really hard. I hear the comments, I read the articles, see the memes shared by friends about how I’m likely ruining my children, preventing them from becoming independent, self-sufficient, well-adjusted humans. I feel the judgement, even if its never been said out loud to me. That’s why this is a secret I keep, pretending to be normal and relaxed when really I’m in a constant state of hypervigilance.
So if I seem a little “off” at our playdate, if I seem a little distracted, un-interested, like I can’t give you my full attention, now you know.
High Anxiety Parent