When You See Your Worst in Your Best


Watching your children grow up is always fascinating. To see their personalities unfold and change before your eyes is nothing short of miraculous. It’s fun to marvel at how your son’s penchant for comedic relief is just like his father’s, or to identify the scowl your youngest makes as the same expression your sister has when she’s concentrating. What’s not fun is seeing some of your worst traits and hardest challenges being passed on to your children.

child hiding face
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

When he was three, one of my sons started exhibiting some different behaviors. He would get upset over the smallest thing, throw a tantrum, and be unable to regain control of himself for awhile. He also started worrying about many typical happenings: family dinners, eating out, large groups of people, etc. He wouldn’t want to go places he used to enjoy, even though he couldn’t really tell us why. As things got worse instead of better, and as it became clear this might have been more than just a phase, my heart sank. I recognized most of these behaviors in myself. 

As a child and an adolescent, I struggled to deal with things not going the way I expected, flew off the handle, and was not able to calm down. I agonized over decisions and was constantly regretful and upset after making them. I had irrational fears (that I often kept secret) of the dark, of burglars, and of worst-case scenarios happening all around me. These are demons that I have battled through my entire life and that still challenge me daily. 

When I realized our son was dealing with similar issues, I felt horrible. The last thing I want for any of my children is to deal with the worry and anxiety that I know too well. I pushed our pediatrician for a referral to a play therapist, even though my son’s behaviors technically fell within the normal range for his age group. The play therapist considered regular sessions borderline necessary, but I insisted that we try them anyway. I know what it’s like to deal with this struggle, and I wanted to make sure we did everything in our power to give our son the tools he would need to handle it for the rest of his life. 

At home, I am occasionally grateful that I do understand what he is going through on a very real level. When our son gets overwhelmed by the thought of unpacking his backpack and getting stuff out for school the next day, I know that he is not just being difficult, but that he really believes it will take forever — so he can’t make himself start. If he tells me that he is too scared to go to the bathroom alone because it’s dark, I sympathize and don’t brush it off. When he gets off-the-charts upset over something that seems tiny and can’t calm himself down, I do my best to wait and not to get frustrated. I know what it’s like to be so upset that you can’t calm down, even if you want to. 

Although he still deals with these issues, we are lucky that he has taken great strides with his coping mechanisms and seems able to enjoy his life. We don’t allow him to use his anxiety as an excuse for behavior or avoidance, but we do recognize the effort it takes for him to do things that most kids accomplish without a second thought. We offer praise when he does something that scares him, and we give him finite amounts of time to work on a task before guaranteeing a break. Most days, you’d never know the inner battles he fights to accomplish everyday tasks and have fun. Every day, I’m proud of him for working hard at being the best he can be.

I love that my boys have my blue eyes and my love of food. I hate that I have also passed on my anxiety, insecurities, and penchant for worrying. We don’t get to pick how the genes line up. We can only choose how to parent the children we have, and that is what I do every day. As I do for all our children, I hope our son feels understood and loved for exactly who he is. 



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