ANXIOUS MOTHERS FIND ANXIETY EXPRESSES ITSELF IN MANY WAYS
Anxious mothers are devoted to their children but their anxiety makes it difficult to provide the care they want to give. Anxiety can range from unsettling to overwhelming: general all-day-long nervousness, periodic panic attacks, fears, preoccupations, worries, chest pain, butterflies in your stomach, rapid breathing, headaches. Anxiety takes all different forms because we’re all unique.
Moms of kids at all ages and stages who struggle with anxiety often fear they aren’t good mothers. Anxious mothers are afraid their child will absorb their tension. Anxious mothers don’t want their kids to be anxious like them. Anxious mothers who have an anxious child by nature or a child with an obsessive-compulsive disorder are quick to blame themselves for their child’s struggles. Mothers with children with special needs fear their anxiety will spill out and make life more difficult for their child. Sound familiar?
I want to share with you an important phrase: “The Good Enough Mother” conceived by Dr. Winnicott a pediatrician and psychoanalyst in 1953. Sixty one years ago and as relevant as ever!
“THE GOOD ENOUGH MOTHER” AND HER BABY
All a mother can do is to offer to her baby what she thinks the baby needs. Then it’s up to the baby—yes, we can trust in the baby—to take what is offered and make it into what is needed.
So, the baby can take the breast for ten minutes if all he needs is nutrition. But if he needs more than that, like more sucking, then he’ll latch on for fifteen minutes. If all he needs is to feel his mouth on his mommy’s skin, then it’s enough to snuggle for a while without even sucking. The mom didn’t have to know exactly what the baby needed: it was good enough to offer something that the baby could do something with.
The mother offers. The baby creates. Amazing!!
What is offered may take some trial and error, but that’s GOOD ENOUGH! Mothers can’t always know what is needed. The baby does his part. Then there is an interchange between what is offered and what is taken.
THE “GOOD ENOUGH MOTHER”
AND HER CHILD WITH ADHD
& A READING DISABILITY
“MY EIGHT-YEAR-OLD FIGHTS ABOUT DOING HOMEWORK AND I’M VERY ANXIOUS”
So, let’s say you are having a very anxious day. You already had two panic attacks and your eight-year-old comes home from school with a reading assignment and she has a reading disability and an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. She cries and protests about having to read her four pages and answer questions. You feel for her because you know reading is difficult for her and she’s already had a long school day trying to cope with feeling she isn’t as smart as her peers. Her crying escalates your anxiety. Her medicine for her ADHD is wearing off and she’s getting jumpy. Arguing over doing the homework will only make you both more anxious and escalate her hyperactivity.
What is good enough? What do you offer?
The first rule of Parental Intelligence is to Step Back. Observe yourself and your child. That is, offer some waiting, not jumping in impulsively as if something urgent is going on. Reacting very quickly while well-meaning only increases everyone’s anxiety. See what your little girl takes from the offering of waiting, slowing things down instead of speeding things up. Probably she’ll calm down a bit.
Then you can offer something else. Offer sitting by her side while she reads if that’s what you think she might need. See what she takes from that. She may create you into the helpful teacher who tells her a sight word she forgot. She may create you into a gentle soother who sits quietly by her side. She may make you into a warm audience who she reads to. She may make you into a friend who makes her less lonely as she struggles.
She might read for ten minutes and need a break. So you offer a snack. She eats because it’s comforting not because she’s hungry. She takes what she needs from what you offer. Then she reads some more. Each time you offer what you think she might need, she creates what helps her. You’re working together and both feel better.
An anxious mother sometimes thinks she has to do everything for her distressed child, forgetting the child is capable of taking what she needs from the goodness you offer. That is “good-enough mothering.” Trust your child. Trust yourself.
THE “GOOD ENOUGH MOTHER” AND
HER TEEN WITH ASPERGERS
“MY TEENAGER WITH ASPERGERS HAS HER HEART BROKEN.”
Every kid with Aspergers is different. Some misguided people think that if you have Aspergers, you don’t get your feelings hurt. But you know this isn’t true. You’ve had a rough day trying to ward off your anxiety while at work and then you went about getting everything done that your family needed before you got home. You’ve done too much and didn’t take the time you needed for yourself.
Your daughter comes home angry that she tried to have a conversation with some girls at lunch and they made fun of her. You know this was a very big effort and she wants friends. She’s been so lonely. You know that teenage girls can be mean to each other out of their own insecurities. Your daughter doesn’t know that. You’re really proud of your daughter for trying to make friends and for telling you what happened. You think she is angry because the girls weren’t nice, but you also think she’s really hurt inside.
You share her disappointment and hurt inside of yourself. What’s good enough mothering? What can you offer?You ask her if she wants to talk or be alone for a while. That’s a kind offering.
You offer what you think your child needs and he or she creates what is needed from your offering. As the mother, you adapt as you observe what happens. In other words, there is an overlap between what you supply and what your child takes.
The child doesn’t know at first what precisely is needed. But he or she is capable of deciding (with your help) what meets his or her growing need.
It takes time.
You give time.
That’s good enough.