Our son was late for school this morning. That's hardly earth shattering but today it was significant. For the first time we understood why he was stalling to go to school. In one word – anxiety.
Jaden has been in "school" since he was old enough to enroll in a mother's day out program. We have been blessed to find wonderful schools with caring teachers. Mrs. Linda from Tate Springs was one of our favorites.
Ever since graduating from Mrs. Linda's class, our son has struggled. Like many working moms, I felt guilty for working away from the home. Attributing his struggles to my work-life, I adapted my schedule to include flex time. Still, Jaden struggled.
As a human being, not just as a mom, I also struggle with anxiety. I've been impacted by anxiety for my entire life. My father suffered trauma as a child that left him with unresolved anxieties as an adult. By the time I came along, he was securely planted in church. Yet, he struggled. As I grew up, I absorbed his anxieties and acquired my own.
Back then, anxiety and depression were issues that people just didn't talk about. Even toward the end of my dad's life, he struggled to identify himself as having been depressed. He publicly shared his battle as an alcoholic, including multiple suicide attempts. In the end, he even took anti-depressant medication. Yet, it still felt shameful for him to confess depression and anxiety.
For church folk, all too often, depression and anxiety are considered to be spiritual issues. When I confided about some of my dad's struggles, a Christian coworker questioned my dad's salvation. All because my dad struggled with depression.
As a working mom attempting to juggle a demanding position, raise young children and care for my ailing father, I went through postpartum depression and two emotional burnouts. At work, I was advised to keep quiet about my emotional health. Others hadn't and they ended up being driven out of the organization. A Christian organization. That's a reality, and it's a shame.
We live in a world that idolizes strength and leadership and ambition. This is true of Christians and non-Christians. In our home we are making adjustments to turn this around. Mostly, we've learned to let go of our expectations.
My child has anxiety.
Jaden has always been incredibly aware of his surroundings, and especially the emotions of other people. When he started kindergarten, he became obsessed with staying out of trouble and taking care of other kids. So much so that he developed a facial tic. His bright beautiful face became distorted and contorted. It tore me up. His face only relaxed while playing video games. So, we let him play video games.
The facial tics eventually subsided but then his socks began to drive him to distraction. We bought all types of socks but nothing felt right. Finally my mother-in-law found an ugly pair of socks that he could tolerate. We washed those socks everyday until I finally broke down and purchased more at $7 a pair. So, function replaced fashion.
In searching for answers, I discovered that some children with anxiety develop sensory disorders. They cannot handle clothing tags, pants (especially jeans), and socks seams. Some children completely break down from these three simple everyday items.
Jaden's sensitivities aren't that intense. I think that's why it took us so long to figure this out. We always attributed his outbursts to behavioral issues, even spiritual issues. Family members thought we didn't spank him enough. Other thought we spoiled our kids. My instincts screamed that something else was happening. I just couldn't figure it out.
Now that we understand the root issues, we've discovered the way forward. We know when our son is simply testing boundaries as a six-year-old versus unraveling as a child consumed with anxiety. Understanding the difference has brought peace to our home.
What can help?
If you are reading this and you recognize your family in our story, here are some things that have helped us (beyond letting go of fashion).
Jaden would occasionally describe feeling "nervous." He identified his own feelings as a child, and long before we adults understood what was happening. It's become our code word. When he's becoming emotional, or withdrawn, we ask if he's feeling nervous. If he is, we stop and talk.
We also make time to talk at bedtime. He looks forward to processing his day with us. Sometimes, we simply ask, "Did you have any questions about today?" It's truly amazing to listen to him unpack his day.
Most recently, he's been stressed about art class. In one of our nightly debriefs, he said, "I hate art." It turns out that he had gotten in trouble in art class for drawing on the table. He was convinced his teacher didn't like him and wanted me to call her. Instead, I suggested that he write her a letter and draw her a picture to make up. The next morning, he woke up early to do just that. For a time he felt better. But again, the anxieties began to creep into his heart. This time, I sent a message to his homeroom teacher and she took him to have a chat with his art teacher. It would be easier for me to just call his art teacher. Instead, we hope to teach him that he has the power to create change in a positive way – and not be consumed by his feelings.
Who can help?
Jaden's kindergarten teacher, Bailey Parr, has been so helpful. She's messaged me and demonstrated a genuine kindness towards Jaden. She understands why we allow him to come to school in shorts even though its 30 degrees outside. She's his advocate at school. We do our best to support her as well.
My counselor at Creekbend Counseling Center has helped me to see myself as I am – strengths and weaknesses. In understanding myself better, I have the capacity to understand my child better.
My in-laws have always provided weekend sleepovers and trips to the park. As parents, we've enjoyed the break and our children are always refreshed after quality time with Mimi and G-Pa.
Our new church has such a thoughtful approach to raising children, and that especially includes supporting dads. The world needs more dads and Stonegate Church in Midlothian has so many wonderful examples.
If you've read this post all the way through, you might have struggled with some of the same realities. Perhaps you're in the midst of that struggle right now. If you are, it helps to know you aren't alone. Things can and will get better in time. Most importantly, God has uniquely wired your child. In our case, we've been blessed to have been given a child who has a deep empathy for others. Even now, it can drive us to distraction because he's not able to process all of that emotion at his age. But I'm convinced that God has a plan. What appears to be a weakness in our children can become a strength.