Jennifer, mother of two school-aged boys, finds that parenting is fraught with anxiety. “I am doomed because I come from a long line of worriers,” she says. “I have anxiety about whether I am being the best parent I can be. I also have anxiety about my boys becoming teenagers and something happening to them because of an accident or bad choice that I cannot control.”
Jennifer turns to her husband, Dave, for support. “He reminds me that we can’t control the unknown. He’ll encourage me to pray about what I am anxious about or will even pray with me. His reminder about having faith helps to calm me as much as the prayer itself. It inspires me to relax, take a deep breath, and believe.”
Anxiety is an age-old problem. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 4:6-9 reads, “Brothers and sisters: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.” Paul tells us to turn over everything to God, to take every situation in our lives and either be thankful about it or make a request. Paul does not allow us to pray and keep worrying. Instead, he tells us to focus on the true, the beautiful, the honorable, the lovely, the gracious, and the excellent.
To Jennifer, for example, Paul might say, “Don’t think of all the dumb or dangerous things your kid might do someday. Instead, think of that beautiful soccer goal from last weekend; that true smile when he tells a story at the dinner table; the gracious way he helped his grandma.”
Paul’s way is not an easy one. Once we begin to carry the burden of worry, we become accustomed to it, and it’s difficult to hand over that worry to Christ. Yet Paul promises that when we are brave enough to trust Christ and be mindful of all the loveliness around us, we will find peace.
Helping anxious children. In addition to managing our own fear and anxiety about our children, parents need to help kids manage their anxiety in a healthy way. Angie, who has struggled with anxiety in her own life, says she’s happy to see that so far, her children have strong coping mechanisms, including turning to God. “They’ve told me how they turn to God with prayer or requests when they are worried,” she says. “This makes me very relieved that they’re using their relationship with God on a regular basis to calm their stresses. They always feel they have someone to talk to.”
Marcus has a son with anxiety severe enough to be diagnosed as a disorder. “It’s important to deal with anxiety by first getting a medical opinion and professional support in evaluating the anxiety,” he says. “A child deserves relief from anxiety, whether through breathing, meditation, calming techniques, better sleep, or medication.”
Talking (and exercising) through it. Carol has a teen daughter who gets very anxious about her grades. “One helpful thing,” she says, “is when I ask, What's the worst thing that could happen? ‘I could get a bad grade.’ Then what? ‘I'd have to work hard to bring it back up.’ OK—so not an impossible thing for you to do, right?” Carol says this helps her daughter understand that even the worst case isn’t so terrible in the grand scheme of things.
“In managing my own anxiety, it absolutely helps to exercise, to simply breathe, to stretch, and to pray,” says Jenna. “As a parent, I get used to putting myself last, and I have to remind myself that it is when I’m best taking care of myself that I am best able to take care of others.”
Sean and Maribeth, parents of three, find that going on runs together allows for an important combination of exercise and conversation.
“We’ll leave for a run with a big feeling of stress because of something one of the kids is going through,” Sean says. “But by the end of the run, we’ve usually come up with an idea of how to deal with it, and it doesn’t seem like such a big problem.”
This article originally appeared in At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications' family spirituality newsletter, in October 2014.