Parenting Anxiety can be contagious: how not to pass it on to your children

  
It’s very understandable to feel anxious about the arrival of a new baby. The life is going to change drastically, we might worry if the baby will be healthy and is the birth going to go well. It’s different and personal experience for everyone, but we can say in general, that around this special moment in life, very strong feelings come to play, and possibly anxiety is among the strongest..

Some emotions are more difficult to deal with then others. Sometimes we even don’t know that we feel something. The emotion is experienced unconsciously and dealt with through defence mechanisms – the various ways in which we protect ourselves from confronting the emotion and the reason for which it appeared. For example, we sometimes displace unwanted emotion onto some other object (something else than the thing which made us feel sad, angry, anxious, etc) hence the expression, ‘kicking the cat’ .We place our attention on some peripheral issue, which becomes our main concern and we are so preoccupied with it, that we loose ability to look around and see what is really important and what else is going on for us and within ourselves.

Anxiety Driven Shopping

The example of displacing anxiety is when parents fixate on buying expensive baby gear and they focus all their efforts and attention on getting “bits and pieces” ready. The extensive baby market is riding on parental anxiety and makes enormous profit on it. So many of us bought so much equipment, which has never been used. Parents to be are surrounded by carefully crafted messages, which say that we need all these things, for the sake of our children’s safety, our peace of mind, etc. In short: when we feel anxious, it’s very easy to fall into trap of excessive shopping for the baby and forget to check with ourselves, if the emotion isn’t also about something else, than only about ‘nesting’.

As a result, some parents don’t talk about their emotions in different areas (changes in their relationship, reality of caring for the child, division of tasks, work-life balance, etc.); they are focused on getting the right buggy and a cot bed and a car seat. Their anxiety speaks through the issue of shopping for the baby.

Our Anxiety and Our Children 
Unfortunately we sometimes displace emotions when relating to our children. We might be over-preoccupied about some aspect of our child’s well being and not noticing that underneath something else worries us. 

It’s not to say, that we all should strive to eliminate our ‘issues’, and be always aware of deeper dynamics of what’s going on inside of us. This wouldn’t be a realistic or desirable goal. We are who we are and our issues or special ways of dealing with difficult emotions are what constitutes our personality. From time to time we all use defence mechanisms to deal with emotions. What we need as parents is to have some psychological awareness around these issues, in order to be able to awake and realise, when our emotions influence our children too much, and when we project onto children our own difficulties and emotions. Dealing constantly with a parents’ emotions is too heavy baggage for our children to carry through their lives.

Reflection into practice approach
It’s not an easy task – to be aware of our deeper emotions, when displacement develops and we are in the realm of our substitute concerns. We are talking about subtle matter of communication between our rational thinking and our emotional life. These two worlds aren’t separate and emotions influence our thinking even if we are convinced they don’t. 

Part of a challenge is getting the right balance between self reflection (which is needed to bring unconscious emotions on surface) and action (which has to happen in order to start doing things differently). 

Stay in Touch with Yourself and Use a Social Mirror

The first step, when learning to deal differently with tough emotions, is to spot our own ‘suspicious’ behaviour. Are you very preoccupied about some issue, concerning your child? Did you notice that similar ‘theme’ usually appears to be a big problem, when you are under stress? 
What people around you say about this issue? Are you getting signals from anyone, that your worry might be disproportionate? 

Is something else, ‘bigger” happening in your life at the moment? 

Who could you talk to about your emotions and help you understand what is going on for yourself?

***

When under big pressure financial or relational perhaps, or going through difficult transitions, moving house, splitting up or having concerns about your relatives, experiencing loss, it is important to ask yourself these questions:

– How do I feel about it?  

– Am I acknowledging difficult feelings such as sadness or fear? 

– How do I manage and cope with these feelings?

– How do my feelings affect my children? 

– What do my children need to know about this situation and how do I tell them?  

– Who can I trust to help me?

Children pick up emotions quickly, and it is not a good thing to try and protect our children from all emotions we feel. 
Our task as parents is to share what is important for the child’s welfare, and to manage our own emotions that overburden them and are not theirs to deal with. Finally, we should all remember that none of us manage this perfectly – we are all learning and trying to do our best! 

First published on herfamily.ie
Photo: http://www.mommyish.com

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For the peace of mind – baby products tricky marketing

The power of knowledge

Last may, exactly a year ago, my partner and I participated in the antenatal classes at the local hospital. Most of parents at the group were expecting the first child. We were absorbing every bit of information, coming from midwifes, physiotherapists, nutritionists and anaesthetists. It felt like
the right source of knowledge and professional information are the anchor which are going to help us through the process of welcoming the baby to this world and going through the life change.

This is a given that the set up of the antenatal classes gives the power and authority to all those who speak in front of the expecting parents. It is both not welcomed and difficult to imagine, that audience disagrees or discusses with the speakers. They have years of experience in the matter which most of parents to be, are debuting in. They are also talking to people in very vulnerable state, when excitement of awaiting for the baby mixes with the rainbow of other emotions – be it anxiety linked to birth, baby’s wellbeing, mother’s well being, stress provoked by all sorts of life challenges, financial pressure for providing for the growing family, etc.

Being in the process of huge transition, parents are prone to suggestions and it often happens that they are comforted by someone else giving clear and simple instructions: saying what exactly should happen and what steps parents should take. I am sure that intentions of those, who provide information for parents to be, are genuine. There are obviously important bits of knowledge parents need to get and comprehend (e.g. recognising signs of labour).

But some of those messages floating to parents add on to their anxiety and make them feel inadequate and confused.
This is particularly the case with commercial information which often takes a form of persuasion.
Marketing for baby products leaves parents with the impression as if stocking up with expensive and advanced products is the must for all responsible parents.

Anxiety based marketing

The antenatal classes we attended, hosted a sales representative from car seats shop. He gave a presentation on types of car seats; he brought the most expensive brand as an example, and was discussing the difference between basic and upgraded version. He said that the basic version is safe and meets the standards but the upgraded one (no need to mention about the upgraded price) is better for ‘our peace of mind’.
He didn’t say that, but the obvious consequence of his rationale is: if you can’t afford, or chose not to buy more expensive version, you can forget about the peace of mind.
The example from the shop with baby beds and mattresses is even worse. The basic version doesn’t meet the standards for protection against suffocation. If you can’t afford the better version of the mattress – we are sorry to say this – but you are putting your baby at risk. Deal with it now!
Searching through offers, articles, magazines for parents I am coming back to time when I was expecting the first baby and wondering about what we really need before the birth and trying to get get it right. In the hospital I was supplied with the plastic envelope containing the leaflets on birth plan, pelvis exercises, breastfeeding, postnatal depression, etc., and much bigger pile of adverts of cosmetic products for babies. I later on received also a small rucksack with plenty of samples. Marketing baby products is omnipresent and mostly unquestionable. The danger is that this commercial way of thinking becomes a fixed mindset, shaping our reality.

Information about product choices are based on number of assumptions which may or may not be true for expecting parents. The blurring between selling something useful and marketing a product for profit has become profound. Greater pressure is put on parents, and much of the marketing is based on raising parental anxieties…. “If you don’t buy this you are not being a good parent” is the subliminal message….The question is how do we protect ourselves from this barrage of advertising, and make the choices that are right for us, and for our babies?

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photo: http://www.redheadbabyled.com