Anxiety as a mother is prevalent in modern society. It’s a real thing. For many people, motherhood and anxiety seem to go hand in hand. Two years ago, I didn’t even know that anxiety was a recognised mental health condition. All I knew was that I hated the monster I turned into when I found myself in certain situations, and it was causing a massive rift between my children and me. The day I noticed that my girls were looking at me like I was a crazy, unhinged monster was the day I knew that something had to change. I needed to get a grip! Being a mom with anxiety is not the mom I wanted to be.
In recent years, mental health conditions such as Post Natal Depression (PND) have become less of a stigma. People now accept that it is a real thing. How many of us can honestly reflect on those early months of motherhood and realise that we probably needed a little help but were either were too busy to understand what was wrong or were struggling to admit to ourselves that we weren’t quite coping? I mean, we’re mothers. We’re supposed to be feeling like this, right? It’s just tiredness, right?
As a mom with anxiety, I want to open up the conversation, and I want ‘anxiety’ to be recognised for what it is, a state a mind that we can’t always control. Anxiety sucks!
What Is Anxiety?
- distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune:
- earnest but tense desire; eagerness:
- a state of apprehension and psychic tension occurring in some forms of mental disorder.
What does that mean, though?
I am going to share a personal scenario from a couple of years ago that I lived through too many times. Let me know if you can relate?
I know none of us chooses to take our children grocery shopping if we have an alternative, but the reality is that I don’t have a choice.
In the car on the way there I calmly remind the girls of ‘the rules’:
“When we go inside please remember to stay close to mommy? Please don’t touch anything, it’s not necessary, and the quicker we can finish, the sooner we can leave.”
When we get inside the store I immediately become distracted because my eldest child has already wandered off. I can feel my stress level rising. The youngest one is trapped inside the dirty trolley. I begin to feel frustrated because it’s not as simple as taking 10 steps away to retrieve the eldest child. Why? Well because then the youngest one might get stolen from your trolley (a reality of life in South Africa where we were living at the time I wrote this post), or empty the shelf of glass jars!
My voice starts to go up in pitch as I call for the eldest child, who is six years old. I can feel the rage building inside me. She eventually strolls back towards me. I angrily explain that she must not wander off, she needs to stay with me, with the trolley! People are starting to look.
The youngest child then randomly puts her mouth on the handle of the trolley and potentially contracts some gross deadly disease (even though I know I wiped it clean before putting her in there).
Something inside me explodes, and I either start yelling at them or talking to them in short, sharp commands through gritted teeth with a strained smile on my face that is fooling no one. Everyone around me now stares, and at least one of the girls starts to cry.
Eventually, I get to the queue to pay, and it is wall-to-wall sweets and junk food on both sides for the entire length of the line. By this point, I am almost in tears because as fast as I am taking contraband sweets out of the trolley, the girls are putting others in. They don’t even care that I am snapping at them, “No, put that back. No more sweets!”
It is usually at this point that you hear it – a ‘tut’. I look back, and there’s an older lady in her 60s or who won’t make eye contact with me but is rolling her eyes and whispering about me to her browbeaten husband. Her entire demeanour conveys the message of how exasperated she is by my undisciplined children and my inability to ‘control’ my children.
Clearly, I am not doing a good enough job in her eyes! Maybe she’d be happy if I smacked them? That’s how you did it in the old days, isn’t it?
It’s Not Over …
We eventually finish in the store and then I have to load the groceries into the car while making sure that the girls don’t run into traffic in the car park. I daren’t strap them in their car seats while I load the groceries in the boot of the car because what if someone steals the car with them in it – another sad reality of life in South Africa.
My anxiety levels are through the roof, and we have all had a torrid time. All I did was try to do the grocery shopping. the grocery store!
Is It Just Me, Or Are There Other Anxious Mothers?
Not so long ago, I watched a heavily pregnant woman leave her full trolley of groceries in the queue and walk out carrying her inconsolable 18-month-old child, with tears streaming down her face. Why?
Well, she was unable to get him to stop throwing a tantrum.
My heart broke for her. The entire queue of people behind her was utterly unsympathetic to the fact that this woman was having an awful day. No one cared about the fact that not only had she had to deal with her over-tired child and the judgement of strangers in her heavily pregnant state, but she also had to leave her unpaid-for groceries behind and would have to come back and try again another day.
This strong mother dealt with it in a far better way than I would have. I’m sad to say that I would most likely have yelled at my kids in an uncontrollable fit of frustration and anxiety. This would have been done in the car, though because ‘perfect mothers don’t yell at their children’, right?
I’m very grateful that a friend of mine is a GP who specialises in mental health. I met up with her last week, and I was chatting to her about the topic of anxiety as a mother. Being a mother herself, she was excited about the fact that I wanted to talk about how stress and anxiety affect us as mothers. She said that the way she explains it to her patients is this:
Anxiety is like a superpower, and you are like the hulk. The Hulk is a normal man, going about his typical day, and then the outside influences and situations that he finds himself in cause him to explode and turn into the incredible hulk.
I’d never thought about it like that before but put in those simple terms, that is exactly how it feels to me.
As a mother, I never enter a particular situation intending to turn into an angry, raging monster, but after dealing with so many outside influences, I can’t control the rage. The anxiety overcomes me. It wins.
Triggers and Outside Influences
What kind of outside influences do modern mother’s have to deal with that weren’t even issues ‘back in the day’ and how do these influences affect us as mothers struggling with anxiety?
Here are a few reasons why we have become these anxious mothers:
- Thanks to social media, and well-meaning people not being able to keep their opinions to themselves, there is an unrealistic perception of what a ‘perfect mother’ is supposed to be like, even though we know that in reality there is no such thing!
- The constant ‘witch-hunt’ that exists between mothers themselves with regards to so many aspects of our daily lives: seat-belts, car seats, sleep routine, dummies, sterilizing bottles, the ‘right’ pushchair, breastfeeding in public, eating healthy food – not junk food, the list seems endless and overwhelming and the constant ‘fear’ of getting it wrong and being judged contributes to our state of mind. We all know they are essential and necessary, but we are just as worried about getting it right as we are about getting it wrong. This is enough to make anyone an anxious mother.
- The unrealistic expectation that children should always ‘be good’, ‘not touch’, in essence, be robots! In a world of constant overstimulation, it is unrealistic to expect our children to be mini-robots who follow all commands, but that doesn’t mean we can ‘allow’ them to run riot in a supermarket now does it? The anxiety for mothers to strike the right balance is real!
- Hygiene! We are living in a world where the unseen threat of germs and disease is something we are always afraid of. The continual danger is another cause of anxiety for mothers.
- Mom-guilt: the guilt we as moms feel for even wanting to have a life beyond motherhood causes significant anxiety. We are told that as modern mothers, we can and should have careers and families. We are told that we can have it all. The reality is though that in order to ‘do it all’ we often burn ourselves out, or end up living in a state of permanent anxiety as we try to be the perfect mother, perfect wife, the ideal career-focused and ambitious employee, exercise right, eat right, and be the all-round “Ms Perfect”! The fact that we often ‘drop the ball’, a reality of this type of life, is the primary cause of mom-guilt and anxiety!
Anxiety As A Mother in South Africa
As mothers in South Africa, we have additional layers of stress to deal with.
- Safety and security. That of having to keep our children safe from the dangerous people in this world. The unfortunate reality is that the world we live in is just not as safe today as it once was. We are always on the defence, trying to keep our children safe, not to take our eyes off them for even a moment, just in case. We see it in the news every day, the horrendous crime against women and children. Every Day! It is real, not imagined, not inflated by the media. It is a reality.
- Merely driving in heavy traffic is another anxiety-causing scenario for many of us. The sheer anxiety I feel when driving my children at 120 km/hr on the five-lane highway and feeling like I’m going significantly slower than everyone else often causes me to turn into a monster and scream and yell at my kids.
- It’s not just the sheer speed and unpredictable driving though. Even when I’m at a traffic light, I am constantly scanning my surroundings anticipating a car-jacking. I often feel like I have a target on my back driving in Gauteng with my Free State plates. That is the reality of my life and that of many other South African mothers.
I’m sure these situations are not only applicable to life in South Africa, but I know that I feel far more ‘at risk’ in South Africa than I do when I am in other countries.
The New Normal
I asked my friend if this is normal? Are the feelings of anxiety I have normal?
Apparently, it is. Anxiety in mothers is prevalent, especially in South Africa; we just don’t hear about it very often. The reality is that we are not in control of most of the outside influences that cause us to feel anxious. We can’t always avoid them, and we can’t move just because the traffic to work is terrible. At some point, we do have to go out in public. It’s also not healthy to wrap our kids in cotton wool! Unless we can? Asking for a friend!
How To Cope With Anxiety As A Mother
The fact that we can’t control these influences means that we need to find ways of coping with anxiety. Some people cope better than others, whilst others need a little help. The help is there if you need it! Speak to your GP and work out a way of coping that you are happy with. This does not have to be medication, it can be counselling, tweaks to your lifestyle, or even solution-focused hypnotherapy.
Try to identify your triggers. Once you know what they are then you can work out how to cope with them or even avoid them.
I’m not a doctor, but here are the ways that I have learnt to cope with my personal anxiety triggers:
- I forced myself to realise that there is NO SUCH THING as a perfect mother! We all do the best we can for our children and I am the best mother for my children. If my husband is happy with the way I care for our children, then this means I am a good enough mother to our girls. If I need external validation, his is the only one I should worry about.
- I also forced myself to realise that I don’t actually care what all the ‘tutters’ think! You can tut away love, this is the way my children are. They are not bad children, they are awesome kids who really don’t want to be queuing in this line either. Cut them some slack! If you can’t be understanding enough, that is your problem, not mine. I don’t need a stranger’s validation of my parenting or children’s behaviour.
- Don’t drive in Jo’burg unless I really must! Haha. This has got better for me as my confidence has grown. I’m less distracted by my kids now that they are older too. I can focus more on the driving and less on the yelling from the back-seat. This is obviously not always avoidable, but it is one of those things that is getting better as they get older.
Update: Since I wrote this post, we have left South Africa and moved back to the UK. Many of the anxiety triggers I mentioned above have been removed from my day to day life. I no longer have to worry about the crazy driving, and my girls don’t slap each other while I’m barrelling down the highway anymore. I also really don’t care anymore what people think of my kids or me. We are happy, and we mind our own business. That’s not to say I don’t have anxiety anymore. I still do get it from time to time. However, the triggers have changed, and the frequency is much less. Moving was good for my maternal mental health.
If you as a mother identified with anything I wrote above, if this sounds like your version of normal, please speak to someone? Anxiety as a mother in itself can cause mom-guilt and we all have enough of that in our daily lives!
Very good reading. Stress and anxiety are very real in this day and age
Indeed they are. Hope you aren’t stressing anymore though!
Great article! I suffer all of the above daily!
I recon I could have it all under control if the kids just listened every time ?
Although to be fair, they aren’t the ones driving all crazy on the Joburg highways! ?
All the things you mentioned under Anxiety as a mother in South Africa – I relate with ALL of that completely! I was already anxious about safety and security here before becoming a mom… you can only imagine how that has heightened in the last eight years. The truth is I don’t feel safe here, and I worry constantly about my child’s safety in this country, even in the “small” moments – like her being a few steps away from me in the shops. Thanks for an excellent read. x
Thank you. I often wonder how people less fortunate than we are must deal with their anxiety as they surely have far more to stress about than we do.
My sympathies. Grocery shopping with kids is not fun. At least I only have one and he knows what he can and can’t have. But it’s hard when he starts whining for extra things. And the judgy people are the worst. Stand tall and know you are doing the best you can :)
I think my anxiety comes from things like decisions, the best thing to do for my child, it’s hard sometimes, you do the best you can.
I have so many other things that also make me anxious. Large crowds, excessive noise, I could go on but the important thing for me is that I am learning what the problems are and how I need to prepare myself in advance to avoid a ‘melt-down’. Thanks for commenting. x
Oh wow, I didn’t realise how much our articles speak to one another until now. I am definitely all of the above.
I know! We were clearly channeling each other today! ?
Great post. I get anxiety when I go out with my child shopping or when her dad has a show, her running around and then seeing him on stage, going after him… Sjoe!
I have son whos diagnosed with anxiety disorder and his anxiety has a knovk on effect. Im permanently walking on eggshells when it comes to him. I wasn’t an anxious individual but Im now an anxious mom. Thansk for your article Could really relate
Thanks Natasha. I think it’s something so many people experience at different stages of our lives.
Absolutely adores this! Brilliantly written- for EVERY mom to read! So much of it resonates with me!
Thanks Megan. I knew there were more moms like me, but this does seem to have struck a chord with so many South African mommies. x
Thank you for this totally relatable article. I loved it. I understand your anxiety. My levels have increased more so since my girls have become older. Going out sometimes and facing society scares me. I just break out in a sweat having to do my duties with kids either running ahead or dragging behind.
Love this! Thank you for having the courage to write about this. It is a VERY real thing. Both my mum and sister suffer from anxiety attacks (funnily enough grocery stores for my mum are a no go). My mum literally has to drop everything and leave the shop. It’s the coping mechanisms I’m most interested in as an attack can occur anywhere, if she looks around and suddenly there are too many people in the room (and she’s a social butterfly) or if there is too much traffic she just freezes up and panics. By writing about this you encourage other mums in knowing they aren’t alone. And that’s exactly why we blog. Thank u thank u x
I have always suffered from anxiety, long before kids, and with each kid it gets worse. I have 3 kiddos, when the third was born I knew I had to step up on dealing with it. I had started running after my first was born and that helped, then I did the same with the second but it didn’t help enough, so after the third I started doing yoga too and started really focussing on diet. That helped a lot, also forcing myself through doing things I feared like driving in the winter helped although also triggered many anxiety attacks. Life is so tough and then you have kids it just gets tougher, no wonder so many moms suffer from anxiety..
I feel the same way. I don’t even go out to the store with my little girl. The masses of people and the ‘danger’ factor is just too big.
I feel so sorry for the mom that left the shop. I always try to help wgen I see a fellow struggling mom.
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Beautifully written and I feel for you. Bringing up kids in South is so not easy. All we do is worry and stress about all the things that could happen to them. I’m really glad you reached out to someone about it, that Hulk explanation does make perfect sense.
Thanks so much. When the time was right, talking about it was much easier than I thought it would be.
I completely agree, there’s no such thing as a perfect parent. There’s no such thing as a perfect child either. We’re all human and it’s good to remind ourselves of that.
Very true – it’s not just ‘perfect parents’, but expectations of perfect kids that also cause problems!
Sad but true, and it’s also sad how our children are growing up to become anxious at a younger and younger age. Usually we are anxious about the things we can’t control as we fear the unpredictable outcomes. Some really great pointers there and I hope you find some respite. #globalblogging
Thanks Liberty. I try very hard to try not project my inner fears on to my Kids because they are only kids.
Fantastic post – anxiety is around everywhere. We put so much pressure on everything. x
True – it’s not always external pressure, sometimes it’s pressure we put on ourselves!
I have suffered with anxiety since I was a teenager but I didn’t know that my symptoms were actually anxiety until I was in my 40s! Now I know I can manage them slightly better but I’m not entirely sure of my triggers – It just comes and goes!
I also went through years of not knowing why I was so angry and stressed! It’s so much better now, but not completely over.
What a super post and so honest. Only sharing like this can help increase the understanding and lead others to be able to help if ever needed or at least understand x
Thanks Sarah. I hope so.
Yup! The key is to talk to someone rather than let it bottle up inside!
I wish I could send you a screenshot of a post I’ve been working on for the last week titled…. ‘The anxiety that comes with being a mother’….lol. This spoke to my soul because I am living this exact life. My youngest….oh my…. I never had tantrum throwing kids, but this one will throw himself on the floor inside Spar. It’s very new to me…I walk away and leave him with his dad.
I once dared to strap my kid in and locked the car as I pushed the trolley to the bay that was maybe 2 – 3m away…. I was like a paranoid freak in those 30 seconds….about somebody stealing the car and my child. Forgetting that he could also possibly suffocate in those 30 seconds I locked him in.
Driving…don’t get me started. I’m going to read through all these tips again, but I seriously feel like nothing will help me with my anxiety levels. I picture death and despair all day thinking of all the scenarios…. *sigh* #LekkerLinky
Can’t wait for your post. Please speak to someone. We can’t change the reality of life but we can change our response in certain situations. X
Well done on seeking advice from your GP friend – you are definitely not alone in having anxiety. There are so many triggers in our modern world. #lekkerlinky
Love this post. I think the issue of safety and security sparks anxiety in me when it comes to my children. When my girls need to write an exam – although I support them, this triggers anxiety in me. It seems as if I take on this stress more than what they do.#lekkerlinky
I don’t know why it’s like this. I don’t believe mothers faced this much pressure 30 years ago – unless they dared to get divorced. Madness!
Agreed. I hope to have raised the awareness of anxiety even just a little.
I really love this post! I feel like the mom from the hell when I have a breakdown and scream at my two daughters! I didn’t even think it could be anxiety. I’m really stressed lately, so it doesn’t help either. I really wish I could change this? I hate being angry all the time…being negative! Life is so hard!
You sound just like me. Go and see your GP! Honestly! There’s no shame in a bit of help especially if it improves your ability to deal with your kids. We don’t want to scream & shout at them.
A very important message. The safety and security of my girls freak me out. I DO NOT EVER leave the house alon with both girls. I just cannot managed with my else’s who just bolts anywhere and everywhere (/a few times I had to run after her through a the mall!). And I believe happiness begins when we stop worrying about wha my others think about us. Such an informative post. Again – you read my mind ? #lekkerlinky
I just cannot manage with my eldest (I meant) who just bolts
My mom suffered terribly from anxiety, and it really effected my whole family. She was very bad though, and it did effect her life and ours, it just took over. I fear so much that it is something that can swallow me too. Thank you for writing this piece and bringing some light to the matter.
awesome post … anxiety and fear can cripple one into deep depression and if you through parenting and children in the mix and it takes you to whole new level … i wish you strength hun
Great post! We all have anxiety as mothers. We should talk about it more often! I feel so sorry for that mother in the grocery store. I’ve definitely been there! Thanks for sharing! #globalblogging
Thank you for sharing! Having just been diagnosed with panic disorder and having random panic attacks in the middle of a perfectly normal moment when there is nothing to fear is scary enough. Now add the two small kids into the situation where they have to witness it. For the last couple weeks I’ve been trying to fathom what the triggers are and now know they’re everything! All you mentioned and more. I’m really glad to be working with some amazing doctors and as much as I didn’t want the medication, I’m super thankful for it now. But through all this the one thing that surprised me is that no one talks about it. In this age of social media everyone puts their “perfect” face on all the time and that’s just not helping anyone. Why can’t we just talk about our real feelings? Post the photo of the hair not washed in like a year and the sink full of dishes because you just couldn’t adult that day! Be brave, speak your truth. You never know who needs to hear it.
You are an awesome mom, an amazing wife and a good person! Absolutely no gig wrong with medication but the most important thing is speaking out and making sure other people realize that anxiety is a real thing! Sending lots of love!
Love your term “new normal” I completely get where you are coming from. I’m generally NOT an anxious person but becoming a mother has definitely heightened my anxiety/made aware that I am anxious about certain things….being a parent anywhere not just SA I guess you have anxiety over things that are beyond your control. Strongs Mama #lekkerlinky
Wow, your GP friend is spot on with the Incredible HULK analogy. Spot on. Thank you for sharing this and helping all to understand a bit more about anxiety and littles. <3 #mondaystumble
Anxiety is definitely more intense for me around things to do with the kids. My elder 3 are teens and letting them have the freedom to go do their own thing is so hard !
Oh gosh. Don’t even go there. It’s so hectic.
I am one heck of an anxious mom, and knowing that Johannesburg isn’t the safest place leaves me rather worried about my little one whenever she wonders off in a grocery store too. Thanks for the post, it is really informative and helpful ?
This is amazing information about the anxiety mother thanks sharing this article
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