Don’t Worry, Be Happy! Musings on Parental Anxiety!!

Ya-hoo! I am back at doing what I love best. Back to schools with different coloured hats on (DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats) and enjoying every moment. Yes, the blogs are a little far apart now.

When schools reopened this June after 2 years, I anticipated that children of the pre-primary and primary would face separation anxiety from the parents. I had started preparing teachers to cope with the strategies one could use to help the children.

To our pleasant surprise, except for a few children the kids were happy to be back at school and the first timers were comfortable and glad to be in school.

During the month of June, I conducted 15 parenting orientations in different schools for the parents of the pre-primary and primary classes. I started each session with a question — Are you going through parental anxiety?

Except for parents of children in the Nursery — (it was their ‘Entry point’ and these children had not had any online classes) other classes, particularly up to the 4th standard, parents, were anxious about a whole lot of issues. I however discovered the underlying cause — parents were going through ‘Separation Anxiety’. After 2 years of having the children constantly with them and having participated in the children’s online classes, the parents were lost and the refrain was, ‘I don’t know what is happening at school’.

Parents had all of a sudden lost control. They had not anticipated the void, let alone prepared themselves to face the emptiness

Let me share with you two stories:

The more recent one first — a friend told me that her adult daughter was going abroad for higher studies. She as a mother, had already started feeling separation anxiety. With this, and other things going on in her life, she had made an appointment to meet a psychiatrist to help her calm down and develop strategies to cope.

The second case was also of an adult daughter going abroad for higher studies. I quote a few lines from the mother’s message to me after she did not take a couple of my calls — “Let me apologise for not taking your calls — honestly I haven’t been in my senses since ‘x’ left. Still finding it hard to cope with life, without her being around. The very thought of it, brings tears as I’m still going through the turmoil……. I will connect with you once I am in control of my emotions.”

Both stories are of parents going through separation anxiety which really puts the styles of parenting into focus.

(The following is my interpretation of the reasons for adults facing Separation Anxiety and Anxiety)

Anxiety can be defined as excessive worrying about the potential for things to go wrong, thus leading to Fears. Deep down the parent has the knowledge that during the pandemic the child has not developed the desired skills that would have happened naturally while in school. The concerns of parents depict the lack of readiness in the child.

A few concerns expressed by parents will make it clear

  • ‘Is my child using the wash room?’
  • ‘Please ensure that my child drinks water after every period.’
  • ‘Who will assist my son in the wash room, as he does not know how to pull down and pull up his zip’ (6 year old)
  • ‘The management needs to employ English speaking maids.’

These are just a few of the many examples. There also appeared a lack of faith in the school and scepticism whether the school will do their best for the child.

For the last two years, parents have been in control, micro managing the life of their child through ‘helicopter parenting’.

‘Have been in control’ has led to a ‘need for control’ and now that the baton has passed on, parents are looking for opportunities to seize it back by remote micro managing the plans of the teachers.

At a workshop a parent of a 4 year old, wanted to know if the ICSE syllabus will prepare her daughter for the Entrance Test for Medicine. When I raised my eyebrows, she quickly added that it was her daughter’s choice to be a doctor. Well, yes at 4 years!

I realised that a large number of parents are living their lives through their children. Their identity is connected to their child.

I am A’s mother / father, — and this is proudly said, so when a child decides to strike an independent path — the parent cannot take it emotionally as they have forgotten that they first and foremost needed to have looked after their own mental health.

All this Separation Anxiety and Anxiety set me thinking. Is it something to do with the pandemic and online classes? I believe the pandemic has brought Separation Anxiety and general anxiety to the open in a more virulent form, while it has always been there, perhaps in more subtle forms.

By and large, parents in India (I can only speak of India as I have no experience of any other country) are very involved with and often interfere in the lives of their children from birth till the time they themselves die. Anxious about marks, percentages, career choice, selecting a partner, wedding arrangements, handling the in-laws and then the birth of the grandchild, education of the grandchild so on and on. I have known parents who neglect symptoms of Cancer because a child’s wedding is scheduled.

Anxiety stems from the need to be in control, possessiveness and if the children rebel for their freedom, there is the cold treatment or tantrums. I have even heard parents saying that they will disinherit the child.

What does this control do to the children? It zaps their confidence and self-esteem, making decision making difficult. ‘Parents have most often won’ and this cycle continues when children become parents as they know no other parenting style. (I do not mean to generalise as we do have thinking, informed parents who have evolved their own parenting styles). Of course some children rebel leading to unfortunate consequences!

Hubby has always emphasised that the job of parents is to teach their children to live without them. How wonderful it would be to give children roots in a loving home and yet have wings to soar!

Perhaps, an answer can be found in a moving piece of parenting advice, often quoted, from Kahlil Gibran, ‘On Children’ from the book ‘The Prophet’

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them,

but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

(Please go to the internet for the complete poem)

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Phyllis Farias

Educational Consultant with 2 passions in life: the Child — from toddler to adolescent, and Education — education philosophy and psychology