Posted: Oct 11, 2013 9:00 AM
Having children often brings out the anxiety in even the most confident parent. Between worrying for their safety and wondering if you are royally screwing them up, parents can easily let their foreboding thoughts take over. Here moms disclose some of their deepest, darkest fears involving their children.

Mom of three, ages 10, 12 and 3, Arnebya Herndon, has a recurring nightmare. She wakes to find herself covered in blood, a knife in her hand. All of her children are dead, clearly at her own doing. When she wakes from the dream, she's trembling and in tears.

The causes

Terrifying dreams are an unpleasant side effect of raising children. But even in our waking hours, it's easy for our minds to drift to those horrible places where our darkest fears lie.

Anxious thought patterns are often triggered by feeling a loss of control or as if there is nothing that can be done to solve specific problems.

"Anxious thought patterns are often triggered by feeling a loss of control or as if there is nothing that can be done to solve specific problems," says Katie Hurley, LCSW, a Los Angeles child and adolescent psychotherapist.

Arnebya realizes that her nightmare stems from a fear of losing control. Her real life fears originate from her inability to regulate her children's surroundings when away, for example, sleeping over at a friend's. "It doesn't matter if it's family or friends or a parent I've only met a few times," she says. "I am sure there will be a fire, my kids won't know the escape route or the family won't have fire extinguishers. I never sleep well when they're away."

For Andrea Mowry, the fear of being responsible for her children's hardships causes several distressing scenarios to run through her mind. She has an accident at home, and her two children, ages 12 and 10, return to find her body. She's flying with her husband alone on a plane that crashes, leaving her children parentless. She fears her children having to grow up too fast, having to deal with horrific tragedy at such a young age. "These are all things that would cause strife for them, and being the cause of their strife is what I fear most."

Hopeless feelings

It seems for most parents, our deepest fears lie in our parenting insecurities. Kristin Shaw has battled anxiety since her son, now 4, was born. "Fears creep into my head every day," she says. She imagines her son falling from a third-story balcony when the rail gives way, or something happening to her while they are home alone, leaving him scared and crying. Her fears, she says, keep her from taking risks, both with her son and without.

Hurley states that anxious thoughts about the what-ifs are fairly common among moms. The problem is that most of these thoughts are not grounded in reality. "Given recent school shootings, acts of terrorism and natural disasters, the landscape of fear has changed for parents," she says, acknowledging that there is a hopeless feeling in response to these significant events. And it's this hopeless fear and the knowledge that we have no control over these things that makes the dark thoughts so hard to shake.

Learning to cope

Fear has affected Arnebya's and Andrea's parenting in little ways. Arnebya checks smoke detectors at family members' homes if her kids are staying over. Andrea talks openly with her kids about death and the fact that bad things can happen. She drives slower, is aware of her surroundings and is in general more careful with herself.

Repeating a script in response to anxious thoughts puts Mom back in the driver's seat and helps eliminate irrational fears.

Hurley emphasizes the importance of finding a coping strategy for these anxious thought patterns before it trickles down to our children. "Self-talk is a great tool for calming irrational thoughts," she says. "Repeating a script in response to anxious thoughts puts Mom back in the driver's seat and helps eliminate irrational fears." She also advises practicing guided relaxation, as with the Simple Being app, which offers guided meditation in time intervals, allowing moms to slow down and focus on presence. Relaxation breathing and focusing on positive imagery may help keep troubling thoughts at bay.

Anxious and terrifying thoughts can arise in anyone, whether or not they have a history or predisposition to anxiety disorder. While some moms may never fully rid themselves of their deepest worries, finding a way to confront or cope with them will allow moms to enjoy life instead of fearing it.

More on parenting fears

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