Mothering with Anxiety and Empathy

This morning I was helping Charlotte get dressed for church, a ritual that is always difficult, no matter how many advanced preparations I make. During the week, she is usually agreeable to put on the clothes I’ve picked out for her, but something about Sunday mornings is different. Her clothes, her hair and her shoes have to be “perfect” in her eyes, or she spirals into negative emotions and self-talk, and there is just no reasoning with her.

This morning, as I brushed her hair, I could see the panic rise in her face and tears well up in her eyes.

It’s not right! she cried. It doesn’t look like my haircut!

As most every woman on the planet can relate, Charlotte was upset that we couldn’t make her hair look exactly how it had looked when we walked out of the salon two weeks ago. The more I tried to fix it, the angrier and more irrational she became, tears streaming down her face.

To my credit, this morning I stayed calm. In full disclosure, this does not always happen. When I felt the urge to yell, Suck it up, kid. Your hair looks fine! (it really did), I left the bathroom and closed the door instead. I sat down in the living room and listened to her sobs, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much empathy.

I’ve always been incredibly self-conscious of my own hair. I had some objectively really bad hairstyles as a kid, and got teased a lot. Even now, I’m not good at hair- I don’t know which products to use, I have salon anxiety so avoid getting it cut, and only in the past few months have learned how to curl my hair (hello Beachwaver). I’ve also chosen, for now, to stop coloring my greying hair, a decision that leaves me with mixed feelings.

I understand Charlotte’s frustration, her panic, her anger, and the tears. I understand them, because I’ve been there many times.

When it was time to leave, I gently opened the bathroom door and tried to wipe the tears from Charlotte’s face as she violently pulled the brush through her hair. This just made her even more mad, so I picked her up, kicking and screaming, and carried her to the car. I gave her a kiss, told her she is beautiful and that her hair looked good, but I don’t think it made any difference. And I don’t think it would have made any difference to me as a kid, lacking the life experience and perspective to realize hair really doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. 

But the more I’ve been thinking about it, the more I’m convinced her reaction doesn’t have as much to do with her appearance as it does her need to control her world. I see her melt down when Nolan marks on a picture she’s drawing, when Grayson retches and calls my attention away from her, or when Ryan tells her “No” to one more episode of whatever show she’s watching. I see her anger at not being in charge or being able to call the shots, and I relate on so many levels.

I’ve only recently been able to define my anger as anxiety, and I suspect this is what Charlotte suffers from as well. In many ways, she is different from me, but the way our insecurities manifest are similar. This causes us to clash more than we should, and leaves both of us exhausted and defeated by the end of the day.

Parenting is so hard, especially when I see negatives about myself in my child and want so badly to shake them out of her, but can’t.


  1. Terry Richardson on August 26, 2018 at 10:09 pm

    Been there, done that! Hard to let go even aft they are grown. But love the sweet relationship with my adult daughters😀. All worth it!!

  2. Heather on August 28, 2018 at 4:50 pm

    Raising a kiddo with anxiety, and the need for control of everything it manifests in, is…challenging. That is my “kind” word for it. There is something for me in seeing it as a challenge with mine that was like this that made it more about figuring out how I could work with her WITHIN her needs, and less about the frustration it caused me that helped. Lots of walking away, but being close enough to hear how I might could help. Lots and lots and lots and empathy helped too. It was the combination of giving her space to deal with the situation, while being close enough to help redirect at the first opportunity, and seeing in her that emotions were always going to be obvious and “out there” and that this was okay. It was foreign to me, but it was how she was created, and I could support her even if I didn’t completely understand it. At 20, she is still my challenging child, but oh my is she fierce, and independent, and resourceful. She sometimes hates that tears come so fast, and that she cannnot bottle up how she is feeling, but I suspect she will actually be better off in the long term for feeling things as they happen. You get over it faster when you do!! I missed being able to “mother” her (at least the way I saw mothering to be), but I see now that I am on the other side, and that she is all grown, that it gave her strengths I only wish I had. She is and will always be a force to be reckoned with!!

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