The truth of the matter is I don’t know exactly what started my anxiety. Whether it was predisposed, the situation, exhaustion, my physical pain or spiritual. All I know was that it was real. It was suffocating. I swatted at it from every direction (physical/mental/spiritual), just to be safe, and it left me feeling defeated.
Living with pain for over a year taught me a lot. I went from a mom who yelled too much to a mom who yelled all the time. I went from a laid back mom with normal issues to a mom whose life was falling apart and felt I couldn’t control anything. It was 1 car accident on 1 morning. I couldn’t control my house, my kids, or myself.
For a long time I just tried harder. That, and I was angry, sad, all the feelings. I would double down and attempt to push through. I consulted doctors, nutritionists, and my counselor. I yelled all the time because I was dealing with pain all the time. I was failing, and I was mad that I was failing.
My kids showed astonishing resiliency through all of this, at least the first few months. They maintained their childlike laughter which also made me mad. It was too loud, or too rowdy. They could never leave me alone for just 2 seconds.
I think I didn’t understand my anxiety until I started actually seeing it in my kids. It was ugly, and pierced me. When you see your kids struggle with something you struggle with, you don’t get mad. You weep. I did. My heart broke in two as I saw my kids overreact to their imperfections, say awful things to themselves, beat themselves up with their words. I don’t remember ever saying that stuff to them. It was like listening to them say something worse than a curse word.
When I saw my kids feel defeated, when I saw them get anxious and stuck, it scared me. I felt like I had ruined them completely. They started saying words that I said to myself. They saw me in my darkness and they were starting to mimic it.
If I worked hard to deal with my anxiety, let me assure you I worked 100 times harder on theirs. This was an issue so big that I fell to my knees and begged God to fix it, or at least show me how to fix it. As moms, we dabble in tending to ourselves. Our world stops, though, when that same thing hits our kids.
I have been praying, reading, and listening to some wonderful advice. The Holy Spirit coordinated all of the messages to me, so it was loud and clear.
So here’s what I realized I was doing. I was thrown into a place where I was out of control. As I recovered, the goal was to get in control. The goal was returning to some mystical, motherly perfection that my brain believed I had before the accident.
I used to think that the way out of anxiety was to get control. I needed to push harder, work harder, fail less. If only I could get past this feeling of failure, I was sure I could do it. That was my lie.
I have learned that my kids don’t respond to having control. They don’t respond when I yell, and they don’t respond with bribes or manipulation. Let me tell you what HAS worked with my kids when they are consistently falling apart:
I have learned that if I am joyful, they relax. The house doesn’t have to be clean, the meals don’t have to be on time, and the school projects don’t have to be detailed and stunning. They respond to joy.
They respond to me when I’m silly. They respond when I joke around. They respond when I smile. They respond to joyful music. They respond to dancing. Joy creates a safe place to talk. Joy opens up the heart.
I learned that this load on my back of trying to be the perfect mother was robbing me of joy, which was the biggest thing I had to give as a mother.
I started praying for joy, because God is the source of joy. I started reading about joy. I started singing about joy.
Joy is not an emotion. You don’t have to feel it. Joy comes from gratitude which is a deeply held belief. It’s not something you white knuckle through, but sometimes it’s something you walk into with timid obedience. It happens when you seek God’s face. It happens when you seek his kingdom. You guys, it’s true. All He said was true. Seek his face, bask in what he did for you. Take that heavy, dragging identity of failures and pain Satan tries to label you with. No more “I’m a bad mother,” “I yell too much.” Confess your sins, yes. That is where healing is. But do not bathe in them. Do not label yourself with them.
God has given you a new name: “His.”
Once you have confessed your sins, don’t allow them to label you. Don’t attach them to “I” over and over again throughout the day, beating yourself up under your breath or out loud, or even in your thoughts. Take your thoughts captive and call them what they are: lies. You are His. Say it to yourself. Bask in that. Stop trying to explain to God why you don’t deserve grace, as though you are a better judge than He.
Because your kids are watching.
And they will start beating themselves up with their own failures.
And it will break your heart that they don’t see their God-given talents and beauty. And you will feel what God feels, and it will ache.
Live the life you were called. Fight for joy. Teach your kids to do the same. We are all in this muck together. But God has not left us hopeless or helpless. The core reason for anxiety? I believe it’s lies. The way out of anxiety? Truth. What it will look like? Joy. In fact, joy and truth are great together. Joy opens up the heart to hear, and truth sinks in.
Stop praying to be perfect. Pray for joy. Speak only truth, and don’t tell yourself lies. Stop and ask yourself whose side you are on. Speak life. Speak truth.
Open your kid’s hearts with smiles.
Entice them to laugh. Start a dance party. Giggle. Laugh hard. A clean house won’t beat the lies. A perfectly organized and implemented homeschool day will not beat the lies. The belief that your perfection will save your kids will not beat the lies.
In laughter and joy there is truth, and only the truth will beat the lies. There is a Savior, and you are not Him. Rest. Breathe. Laugh.