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When Parental Anxiety Tears Co-Parents Apart

When Parental Anxiety Tears Co-Parents Apart

Meeting a co-parent and conceiving a child with them is surely one of the most fulfilling life experiences you can have if this has been your lifelong dream. As your baby grows and begins to take its first steps, then starts attending school and partaking in sport and other childhood activities, you might begin to find that you are worrying more than usual. Concern about our children is part and parcel of parenthood; everything from our child’s diet to choice of sport can be a matter of debate. However, when worry is severe or constant, it could transform into parental anxiety – a state which should be avoided by both co-parents for the sake of their child.

Co-parents kissing their baby

When does Worry Become Anxiety?

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact point at which normal worry becomes parental anxiety. Anxious parents are those who ‘hover’ over their child (does the term ‘helicopter parent’ ring a bell?), worry frequently, and feel distressed when plans change. One of the worst things about parental anxiety is that kids can feel it. One study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry found that anxiety in parents causes their children to become anxious too. Another study undertaken at Florida State University found that an anxious or hovering parenting style increases a child’s risk for depression and anxiety.

Co-Parents Seeing Things Eye-to-Eye

If you do not live with your co-parent, then your child may spend some of his/her time with you and others with your co-parent. If you are already anxious, then doubts about how your co-parent is dealing with your child’s food, schooling etc could exacerbate this emotion. From the outset, it is important to ensure that big life decisions and issues such as religion, spirituality, education etc. are discussed so as to avoid big clashes once your child is born. Knowing your co-parent sees important issues in a similar light will help lower anxiety and enable you to be a little more relaxed about smaller things (like what afternoon snack your child eats or the fact that your child went to bit half an hour later once at the co-parent’s home than they normally do at yours). Ideally, your co-parent should be a friend you can count on and be honest with about issues like anxiety. They should support you rather than judge you, and be willing to be flexible while you work on letting go of your anxiety.

What to Do if Your Co-Parent has Parental Anxiety

It is important to be supportive if the shoe is on the other foot and it is your co-parent, rather than you, who is affected. Let them know about therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and the way it sheds light on the vital relationship between how we think, feel, and behave. A few CBT sessions will help them see how changing one or two small behaviors can make a big difference to how they think and feel. Show them acceptance by lowering tension in stressful moments and spending time as a family, playing entertaining kids' games that will produce plenty of laughter and build beautiful memories as a family.

Keeping Stress Levels Down

You and your co-parent can also battle anxiety through powerful natural methods, including yoga and mindfulness meditation. Did you know that both these activities have been found to significantly lower stress hormone (cortisol) levels in people with anxiety and depression? By keeping the mind in the present moment and accepting thoughts like worry and fear, we begin to realize that anxiety is a temporary emotion and that it does not define us.

Sometimes, anxiety is like a wave we need to recognize, accept, and ‘ride’, knowing that better moments will come. We can also take a more proactive stance by opting of CBT and by engaging in mindfulness pursuits. Parental anxiety can and should be reduced for the benefit of our child and co-parent, but also for our own health, wellbeing, and happiness.

Written By Jennifer Gluck

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