Diary of a busy practitioner, juggling work and family somewhere in England
I’m sorry to say we are going through another anxious phase with Deceptively Angelic Child 1 (DALC1). Why should you lawyers be interested? Because I don’t think it is any coincidence that I am on a continual journey not to be stressed out of my wits, our house is like Piccadilly Circus (but without a litter picker) and all four of us are Very Conscientious Individuals Who Value Achievement Highly. Sound familiar? Then maybe this will interest you.
I have long since come to the conclusion that you can’t make a child grow up chilled by taking them to a baby yoga class once a week. You can’t make them say please and thank you by shouting 'SAY PLEASE AND THANK YOU' at them repeatedly. You can’t make them care about their homework by saying 'please care about your homework'. Perhaps they are blank canvases when they are born, but unless you put them in a white room and never let them see colour, or life, or humans in all their wonderful intricacies they will develop in accordance with their experiences. You count for a lot of those early experiences.
I’m not about to tell you to chill out or your child will end up an anxious wreck, as I know that isn’t helpful. I hate these people who say a happy mum will make a happy baby, because it just puts more pressure on me to be happy. There is nothing I want more than to have a happy child, I would die for that. But I can’t always be happy, I can’t always be relaxed. There are a lot of good reasons I want to continue to achieve things professionally, not least the cost of her music lessons and three-weekly requests for new trainers. There are lots of good reasons I can’t always relax. I could give up work and sit in the garden smoking pot but that would clearly give my children different issues.
So we are where we are. The current manifestation of the anxiety is a twitchy face. My beautiful, beautiful child is currently spending half her waking hours with her face involuntarily distorting itself and it is painful to watch. More importantly, perhaps, there are some issues with food. We are intensely aware of how carefully we need to tread here. I think she has slimmed right down recently as a result of a growth spurt, and am fairly sure she is still eating enough, but I can almost see, from here, how things could go badly wrong.
As an aside, I would like to add that DALC1 (and 2, for that matter) has had a very vanilla upbringing so far. Two loving parents, food on the table, a lovely village school, an Enormous Puppy and more Shopkins than you can shake a stick at. The reason I say this is because if your child has had to go through something like a divorce I can imagine you will worry that this will cause them anxiety. Rest assured, life is life and kids are kids and they will react to small things if there are no big things to worry about.
It can feel a bit like the most important project of your life is going wrong. Obviously I’ve read the whole of the internet and Waterstones on the subject of anxious children. And my advice is this: keep trucking. Don’t blame yourself. Don’t get anxious about their anxiety. Be confident in your parenting and, importantly, calm. Speak to them with the respect you would show an adult, but remember they are not adults and won’t always respond accordingly. But keep doing it anyway. Be 'in the room' when you are with them and available when they want to talk. On the issue of food, try not to shout at them in panic across the dinner table that they will get heart disease if they don’t eat their broccoli (I am living and learning). It is not the time for head to head confrontations. You will know when it is time to get help from the school or elsewhere, and don’t feel bad for insisting on help at that point.
The truth is, of course, they aren’t your project. They are multi-faceted human beings. When I think back to all the phases we have gone through already (early naps, late naps, Mr Tumble, being obsessed with my friend Sophie, Trolls, rabbits, a short burst of ventriloquism, hama beads, spa music and gin rummy to name a few) I have confidence that if I try to be steady and supportive - as I very much intend to be every day for the rest of my life - this phase will run its course like the others. And nothing - nothing - can be as bad as the hama beads.
*Some facts and identities have been altered in the above article