Why, did she melt down? She couldn’t find the right pants.
She ran around the house crying and yelling and screaming in her underpants and a shirt. It would be funny, except it wasn’t.
She ended up wearing day-old-pants and I put her on the school bus with a blotchy-red face and a look that said, "My insides itch and I hate everything."
As my own frustration and anger drained away I reflected on the whole situation and realized it was me that got her train rolling to Meltdownville, because yesterday I asked her, “Are you sure?”
Are you sure?
This stupid question is right up there with What If scenarios in their anxiety-inducing effects on people.
Are you sure?
Yeah, of course. Well, I think so. Maybe. I don't know. Maybe I remembered it wrong.
Who is really sure about anything? We can delve into the metaphysics on this for hours. No, I’m not sure, because what is reality? Do you want the blue pill or the red pill?
This, I asked her yesterday when she casually informed me that she had a field trip the next day. I had seen neither a message from her teacher nor a permission slip. So naturally, I pass my doubts on to her when I ask, “Are you sure?” I’m effectively telling her, “I don’t believe you. I doubt your ability to relay a simple message, and the consequences for getting this information wrong will be dire, e.g. you could be left behind, excluded, displaced, or worse yet embarrassed in front of your peers. So tell me again. Are. You. Sure?”
The change in her was visible. I just spooled the poor thing up. I softened my tone but continued peppering her with questions like, “Where are you going? What time will you be back? Do they need chaperones?” And I said, “It’s so weird that I haven’t heard about this.”
Why didn’t I just say, “OK. Do I have anything to sign?”
Arrrg! Hindsight is a bitch sometimes.
Worse case, she is wrong and doesn’t have a field trip. So what? Or she doesn’t have a signed permission slip, then she has a choice to make, ask to call me or do whatever kids do that don’t go to field trips. Stay in the library or the computer lab, maybe mentor the little kids? So what? She can handle it when/if presented with the actual situation. Situations are never as bad as anxiety says it will be. And anxiety lives in the future—rarely in the present.
She’s feeling agitated now and fires off answers, “It’s a concert in Portland. I dunno, when the bus takes us. Oh! I have to wear nice clothes with no writing on the front.”
She’s getting worse now, “I don’t have any clothes without writing! Can you get me a new sweatshirt without writing?”
I try to be helpful and point out a few things she has that might work, all of which are not the normal comforting attire she prefers. (Think portable security blanket.)
“I don’t want to talk about this right now.”
This is code for I’m getting overwhelmed and I need some space to calm down. I take the hint and give her some space. She calms down, but the trip is never far from her thoughts.
She has an uneasy sleep and wakes up grumpy.
I suggest a shower to make her feel refreshed.
She says, “I don’t have time! They don’t want kids with wet hair at the concert.”
Uh-oh. She’s on the brink…
She takes a shower anyway and wants to blow-dry her hair immediately. She puts on one of the shirt combinations I mentioned and a pair of underpants and starts looking for the one pair of pants that will make the outfit tolerable.
And...she’s lost it.
I finish making lunches and try to help, but the cacophony is too much and I get agitated too. We check all the usual places, drawers, dirty laundry, machines, under her furniture… No pants. Her sister’s drawers, nothing, nothing, nothing.
Total. Epic. Meltdown.
Are you sure?
In telling my husband about our morning, he felt my use of this question to be justified.
In a way he’s right, a kid without anxiety might have said, “Yep.”
My response to him was that I wanted all of these answers to make me feel comfortable. I should have just emailed her teacher rather than grilling my kid. Which I did this morning and her teacher sent me a short reply that they were indeed going to a concert, and then to a park for lunch afterward. No signatures required.
Oh, sounds nice.
This incident got me thinking about other ways I’m sabotaging my kid.
Here are a few I came up with:
1. I Never let her Forget she has Anxiety
Nope, I’m right there every time she begins to struggle to point out that her anxiety is getting the better of her and she should do A. B. and C. to get right again.
Why this is a Problem:
It reinforces the idea she’s less. Kids born with challenges like missing limbs will find astonishing ways compensate if given the space to find them. Kids without arms brush their teeth with their feet, and paint, draw, write, and feed themselves. This probably wasn’t a smooth process. It probably required extraordinary struggles and plenty of trial and error. But their parents wisely gave them the space to learn their own way and refrained from doing everything for them that they would normally use hands for.
My kid needs the same latitude. She knows she has anxiety, if I let her struggle her own way through, she’ll learn to manage, better than if I’m there telling her she struggling to brush her teeth because she has no arms and that should try using her big toe and long toe instead. "Here let me show you." If I don’t rush in to the rescue when she gets upset at her struggle, she’ll eventually learn that it’s because I know she can handle herself.
Why This is Hard to Change:
When my child is in pain, she's really, really vocal about it. I have a biologically driven response to want to help and comfort her...and get her to be quiet.
2. I Remember her Past Struggles
Each of her epic meltdowns had burned an indelible video into my brain. Watching my kid suffer like she suffers hurts—a lot. When we come to a similar situation, I automatically start running an offense to clear the way for her. The way a parent with a wheelchair-bound kid might ensure there are ramps and sidewalks.
Why This is a Problem:
It doesn’t account for growth. She struggled the last time, so may or may not struggle again. Struggle is the precursor to growth. I need to allow her to do that, even if it's to the detriment of my own sanity.
Why This is Hard to Change:
Sometimes I’m not even consciously aware of what I’m doing. Usually, it’s my husband that points it out, and I stop and reflect and find it’s almost always connected to a past meltdown. Her pain hurts me too.
Also, today’s world is ruthless in their judgment of parents. If I get all the obstacles out of her way, she won’t melt down and I won’t look like a bad parent.
You’re doing it right now—you’re judging me. See what I mean?
3. It’s on My Mind Constantly
If it’s on my mind and she knows. She can read me just as well as I read her.
Why This is a Problem:
She feels bad for making me feel bad.
My younger child gets the short shrift because I’m emotionally preoccupied with my explosive child, which expands the rift between them.
Why This is hard to change:
I love her. She’s a shining star in my life. I accept her as she is and love all of her. I just want to help.
I struggle to walk the line of taking care of my kids and giving them the space to grow. That line is elusive. My girls have such different needs that present themselves in totally different ways that are both similar and dissimilar from me and my husband, and the lines changes continually as they grow.
It’s my version of the Schrödinger’s Cat paradox. The line is both there and not there until I open the box to see if I screwed up again.
This time, I killed the cat.