February 13, 2024
Mothering a Child with Anxiety

Mothering a child with anxiety can be unexpected and challenging. The author reflects on their initial lack of awareness and the journey of understanding and supporting their daughter. They emphasize the importance of accepting the realities of anxiety, removing stigma, and focusing on love and support. Asking new questions and helping their daughter focus on her strengths are also key lessons learned.


Leslie Means

Mothering a child with anxiety caught me completely off guard.

Like everyone else on the planet who’s breathing, I have my own list of struggles and challenges, but anxiety has never been one of them. My siblings didn’t battle it, nor did my husband. Neither of my children exhibited any readily identifiable signs of worrisome anxiousness during their younger years.

So when my seventeen-year-old daughter asked for help finding a counselor to deal with anxiety, I felt like nominating myself for a lifetime achievement award in the “worst mom ever” category.

How had I missed this? How hadn’t I seen the signs? As my daughter uncovered and dealt with her anxiety and shared pieces of her past, things suddenly made sense in the light of this new understanding (the river float trip for her birthday when she sobbed her way down the river comes to mind).

I told her, “I’m so sorry I didn’t know about this. I’m sorry I didn’t recognize it.”

But my daughter reassured me, “Mom, it’s not your fault. I didn’t know about it either.”

When you know better, you do better, so since my daughter’s diagnosis, I’ve tried to do just that. I’m trying to be a good (or at least passing) student in the school of parenting a child with anxiety, and I’m trying to apply these lessons well (even if my daughter admittedly often has to grade me on a curve).

I’ve learned to accept some new realities:

  • Our kids can be well loved and still be anxious.
  • They can come from secure homes and still be anxious.
  • They can be reasonably scheduled and still be anxious.
  • They can have good friends and still be anxious.
  • They can have strong faith and still be anxious.
  • They can be covered in prayer and still be anxious.
  • They can be getting enough sleep and still be anxious.
  • They can have a happy childhood and still be anxious.
  • They can be excited for their future and still be anxious.
  • They can have realistic expectations for themselves and still be anxious.
  • They can be good but not overly pressured students and still be anxious.

I learned anxiety is no respecter of schedules or finances or grades or family dynamics or social status.

I learned I could play a part in removing the stigma of anxiety. I needed to respect my daughter’s privacy, but when she granted me permission to share about her journey, I owed it to her to do so in a way that didn’t paint anxiety as something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about—because what would that tell my anxious daughter about how I felt about her?

I learned to remind my daughter she wasn’t the only one fighting anxiety—not by a long shot. I assured her that if she chose to share this part of herself with others, it wouldn’t scare them off. In fact, it would probably make them feel less frightened of their own battles.

I learned that while it was important to address the causes of my daughter’s anxiety, I needed to spend less time trying to figure out who and what were to blame and more time supporting my daughter, guiding her, finding helpful resources, adjusting details of her life as necessary, and loving her more fiercely than ever.

I learned to ask some new questions.

  • “Is it going to increase your anxiety if I [fill in the blank]?”
  • “What don’t I know about having anxiety that you think I need to know?”
  • “What have I done lately that has made your anxiety worse?”
  • “What have I done lately that has eased your anxiety?”

I learned to help my daughter focus less on asking what was wrong with her and more on claiming all that’s right with her. Her strengths. Her talents. Her victories. Her perseverance. Her compassion. Her bravery. Her determination. Her dreams. Her goals. Her hope.

And above all, her willingness to do what it takes—with my often-clumsy help, support, and reinforcement of truth—to get to the place where she can say and believe, “I have anxiety, but it does not have me. Anxiety is part of my life right now, but it is not the whole of it. I am anxious sometimes, but that is not all of who I am all the time. And who I am, both with and without anxiety, is someone the world needs me to be.”

Published in So God Made a Mother by Leslie Means. Copyright © 2023. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.