We pulled up quickly and efficiently into the darkened parking lot in our cozy and warm minivan. As I put our family vehicle into park I heard a tiny voice emerge from the backseat.
My four year old sputtered, “I don’t like it here.”
I sighed silently to myself, then spoke softly, “it’s ok. This isn’t where we’re going. We’re going over there.”
I pointed across the street to a brightly lit and inviting church. We were attending a much-anticipated social event where the girls would see their friends from the homeschool group we were involved with. At the beginning of this semester my preschooler had cried when left alone in class with new friends, but by the end she had made new pals and truly enjoyed herself. I knew this was something she wanted to do too, but still…
She asked, “Is it on the bottom floor or do we have to ride an elevator?”
“It’s on the top, but just one floor, and we’ll take the stairs,” I answered calmly.
I wasn’t always calm. It was not only challenging to raise an anxious child, but also exasperating. I ranged from wanting to throttle her during her meltdown moments to wanting to cry right along with her for my supposed failures. After all, so many times I had wondered, what did I do that has made her this way?!!
Did I not give her enough attention when the new baby came?
Was I somehow lacking in the love she needed to make her feel secure?
Was it that time I screamed like a maniac at her?
The mommy guilt had been strong over the last couple of years as I watched her quirky, unwarranted fears come out. I couldn’t for the life of me pinpoint why my first child was so social and confident, yet the second that I had raised the same was so not. I tried not to compare, but as she developed her peculiar fears I questioned my parenting over and over. What had I done differently and why was she afraid? No abuse, neglect, or negative treatment by anyone else had occurred.
So why did she ask me if I knew where we were every time I took a different route to the store?
“Are we lost?”
Why was she afraid of going anywhere that the door could latch shut?
Did that one time she got accidentally locked in the bathroom upstairs really equate to crying in the dressing room at JCPenney’s because she was worried we’d get stuck there?!
“What if we can’t get out?!!”
I wasn’t sure why my child worried, but many times she reminded me of myself. She had a tendency to overreact and definitely was oversensitive in most matters. From an early age I had noticed she cried about something as simple as a shoe not going on right, but she hadn’t really outgrew it like I thought she would. I came to realize she was my special, sensitive, and sometimes anxious child that required a different kind of approach when it came to parenting.
As we walked into the large hall at the church my seven year old ran excitedly ahead to greet her friends. My toddler tugged at my hand eager to taste the display of sweet treats, but I sensed the anxiety immediately. I turned quickly behind me where my middle daughter stood a mere two steps behind me, and immediately I caught the overwhelmed fear on her face. She was only seconds away from crying, and I scooped her up quickly into my one open arm. I carried my crew to an empty corner and started to speak to my frightened four year old.
“Is it the crowd? Are you scared?” I asked.
She nodded confirmation with unspilled tears in her eyes, and I immediately worked to calm her anxious heart.
“You don’t have to be afraid. I’m here. And Jesus is always with you,” I explained. And then we prayed together.
Within minutes she was fine, and that’s always how it was. She ran around excitedly with the other children. She laughed, she sang, she danced. She played and ate cookies. She was fear and anxiety free for the rest of the evening. I watched with pride as she smiled brilliantly, albeit shyly at the festivities. She was my beautiful, brilliant girl. Her heart was bigger than Texas, and she loved people with an enormous, unconditional love. But sometimes she was anxious. It was hard for us both.
Long ago I realized my baby was special, more so than just the typical “my kid is awesome kinda thing.” I think God made her a particular way because He has special plans for her life. Perhaps He made her sensitive so she could better relate to the tender and hurting parts of others. Sometimes I see her thoughtfully watching people and I’m certain this is true. When the idea of this post was floating around in my head I paused mid-thought at the sound of my girl across the house. I could hear the water running in the bathroom, and I could hear her tiny, musical voice carry through the hall. She was talking to one of her toys again, I assumed, seeing she had always been an imaginative, independent player. I walked up to the bathroom and heard her speaking from inside.
I don’t want anything for Christmas, God, but all the people to be happy.
I love you, God, more than money or anything you can buy.
I walked back into the living room without interrupting her little conversation, smiling as I sat down on the couch. I prayed for that child a lot, that is certainly true. Heck, a lot of the time I simply prayed for my own sanity dealing with it all. But mostly I prayed to be just the mother she needed. I figured God gave her specifically to me for a reason, and despite the challenges I certainly didn’t want to mess it up. So I frequently prayed for wisdom that God would show me exactly the best way to parent this special little star. Sometimes she freaked out big over little things, but other times she loved the little things bigger than I had ever seen.
*While I might experience some silent judgment or even unloving advice from some for this post, I wrote it in a sharing mode with the hope that my situation might make someone else with an anxious child feel less alone. I hope that you too can see the special calling the Lord has for your child. May we all raise them to the best of our abilities, and cling to His strength for the rest.