My first son was a certified in-utero kickboxer. When lying on my side trying to count his kicks, I’d often reach double or triple the number my doctor recommended I should feel. Both she and the ultrasound tech made several comments throughout my pregnancy on just how crazy active my baby was.
I was certain he’d be a clone of my husband: active, athletic, energetic. My husband is rarely still, always going, ready to take on any physical challenge. And with all that constant, certain movement comes a personality that’s easy-going, open to spontaneity, curious, explorative, and more. His nature is a perfect foil to my own anxiety, caution, and need for structure.
I braced myself for welcoming a little boy with the same adventurous spirit, preparing to never catch my breath in a whirlwind of adventure and activity.
And so it began…
As a baby, my son met all of his developmental milestones early, but more than that, he just never stopped. He never cuddled; he never held still. Surely, that was all those athletic genes coming through. But the older he got, the more his personality came out, and I recognized something.
I recognized myself in him.
I had been ready to parent a personality similar to my husband’s. I wasn’t prepared to deal with a miniature version of myself scaled down to a two-year-old level. I suddenly found myself trying to handle my son’s intense separation anxiety, generalized anxiety over so many issues, an extreme need for ritual, structure, and schedules– all of which I need for myself.
You would think it would be easy, essentially parenting yourself, because who knows you better than you? But I felt extreme guilt in having passed on the worst parts of me to this perfect boy of mine. I hated knowing that he would likely go through all the struggles that I did growing up with anxiety, that he would have to learn how to manage it on his own one day. I wasn’t sure how to help my son conquer monsters that I still have to try to conquer myself every day.
At first, it broke my heart to watch other kids playing without fear and see my son standing on the sidelines, afraid to play, hesitant to join in. We worked to find routines that gave him the feeling of safety he needed, but then we would be bound to it, and any attempt to do something differently would result in meltdowns. He was happiest in a routine with rules and boundaries, where he knew what was coming next, and so we kept to it, even if that meant my husband and I became restricted in our own time and activities.
Not My Clone
But beneath the anxiety is a crazy smart, hilarious, observant little boy who is learning how to be brave and growing more and more sure of himself every day. Turns out, he isn’t my exact clone, nor is he my husband’s. It brings me great joy to see elements of his personality that are so uniquely him outshining the anxious genes that we share. Instead of dwelling in helplessness at parenting an anxious child, I am using my own experiences to figure out how he might best respond to situations. I can sense when he will become overstimulated and need to step away; I know how much time he will need to find his quiet, regroup, and return to the commotion.
Learning to parent my mini-me has taught me so many lessons about myself. Of the many bonds we share as a parent and child, anxiety is not the one I would have chosen for us, but it exists, and I know this makes me his very best advocate. I love this boy so wholly, not because of his father’s athleticism that showed up in his infancy, not because of my personality that dominated his toddlerhood, and not because he is so often a mini-me… but because he is himself, his own person, unique and exactly as he should be.