- It’s nearly impossible for me to take my kids out in public alone because of my anxiety.
- I have a fear that if I do, something bad will happen and I’ll wish I’d left them safely at home.
- My husband and parents are supportive and help with errands, and I’m trying to be easier on myself.
I can count on one hand the number of times in the past 13 years that I’ve taken my children to the grocery store — or anywhere, for that matter — alone.
I think about the sidelong glances people would give me if I were to talk about this in public. I can imagine other moms feeling jealous, wishing they were free not to tote their kids around with them everywhere they go, should the conversation ever arise.
However, though I wish I could say my tendency to do errands solo is a matter of choice, that isn’t true. I adore doing things with my kids, now 9 and 13, but venturing out of the house with them gives me anxiety.
It’s more than just wanting time alone
I enjoy running errands, going to lunch, and taking trips to Target. I love a Starbucks run as much as any other mom. There’s just one problem: In my world, grocery shopping with my kids feels like a riptide sucking me underwater.
The last time I took my kids grocery shopping, a panic attack left me in a heap on the floor of the pasta aisle. People looked at me wide-eyed while I struggled to regain my composure. My kids hadn’t done anything wrong; they rarely misbehave or act out. They’re great kids. My anxiety is the hurdle that prevents us from going out in the world together.
Every time I consider trying to go beyond my comfort zone, I convince myself that leaving the house with my kids will result in tragedy — that somehow a typical day will go to hell in a handbasket and I will regret my decision to leave the house with my kids.
These scary thoughts nag at me, telling me that something will happen beyond my control and that I will live the rest of my life wishing my kids had been safe at home when it did. It’s ironic how vastly different I feel leaving the house alone compared with leaving with my kids in tow — free versus terrified.
My family is concerned for me at this point, as they worry about the severity of my perceptions rooted in my anxiety. I’m not oblivious to how it sounds, trust me. The logical part of myself deems my thought process ridiculous, flawed, an overarching narrative to justify my anxiety. But when I’m gearing up to leave the house with the kids, intense fear and debilitating anxiety overwhelm me.
My family is supportive, but it’s still hard to juggle schedules
Being immobilized by anxiety is an ugly reality that weighs heavily on my life, hindering not only me but my family. Since leaving the house with my kids alone isn’t an option, my husband bears the most weight. Sometimes our evenings are chaotic, jam-packed with everything I couldn’t get done while my husband worked.
He often comes home and takes over watching the kids while I take the opportunity to run errands. Other times we do things as a family, which offers me the security I need to stave off anxiety while allowing me to spend precious time with my children outside of the house.
Things look different during the school year, as the kids’ absence at home gives me more time to do things alone. But even then, with my career, housework, and other obligations, sometimes things have to wait until the evening or weekend.
Getting kids to their sports practices, extracurricular activities, and any other things they need and want to do can be hard enough for any family; for us, it really feels like it takes a village to make it happen. My husband and parents often rearrange their schedules and go out of their way to pitch in. The arrangement works for us, but it isn’t always smooth sailing, let alone convenient.
And while I’m thankful for the closeness of my family and their support and willingness to be flexible, I feel like a burden more often than not. My days might not look so different from other families’ days, with spouses and parents rearranging schedules to assist busy moms. But my anxiety-induced inability to take my kids places alone is taxing emotionally and physically on us all. I dream of the day I’ll be able to say to my kids, “We’re going out today — just the three of us!”
While I’ve been open about mental-health topics on social media, I struggle to be fully forthcoming about the raw, less-than-perfect parts of parenting. The beauty of social media is that hiding behind a screen is much easier than having open, honest conversations about tough topics such as debilitating anxiety.
I’ve kept this aspect of my anxieties and my life tucked away, without talking about it with anyone except for my husband and parents. I fear judgment, criticism, shame, or worse. I fear that people may not understand the scope of it and will nudge me to just get out there and join the audacious moms wrangling kids at the park or the grocery store.
Mostly I fear what my kids think about my avoidance of taking them out on my own. I’ve diligently avoided the topic with them, though I suspect they must have their own suspicions and may have come to their own conclusions. Discussions with my husband have always resulted in his sympathy and, therefore, his emotional support. Still, I’m ashamed and feel inadequate — I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I knew my kids or even my husband saw me how I see myself. Self-punishment is bad enough without adding salt to the wound.
If there were a golden nugget of advice that could help me overcome this issue — which has haunted me for so long — it would be fantastic, but my years-long search for one has come up empty. More than a decade of counseling stemming largely from heightened anxiety and depression after my first child’s birth in 2008 has not improved the anxiety that comes with taking my kids out of the house alone.
I’ve heard so many well-intended recommendations — doing breathing exercises, taking baby steps like making mini-trips to a convenience store or park close to home, and meeting up with others and their kids for moral support — but none of those will work if I can’t get myself and my kids in the car to leave in the first place.
I’m trying to be easier on myself
The thing is, it often feels like days with my kids are slipping away. Any parent knows how time flies by, a feeling that leaves me frustrated and filled with regret. Refrains of “should’ve, would’ve, could’ve” reverberate in my mind.
But I know that parenting isn’t hard for just me — it can be hard for everyone. And there was simply no way to know before having children that this was an issue I’d face. I’ve come to realize the best thing I can do is deeply inhale and remember to be patient with myself.
Years of berating myself for my imperfections as both a parent and a person have led me to this place. It feels now like my best option is to try optimism and gently remind myself that I am a good mom who provides for her kids, even in the face of anxiety.