“Other than showing your child love and affection, managing your own stress
is the best thing you can do to be an effective parent.” Sissy Goff
My friend’s 16-year-old daughter called her from school, panicked and stressed.
“Mom, you’ve got to check me out! Everybody is saying how hard this history test is. I know I’ll fail it. Please come get me so I don’t have to take it today!”
Immediately my friend knew that her daughter had spent time in the Mall. The Mall is our high school’s common area where the students congregate. Often, they make each other panic as they discuss the difficulty of their classes.
My friend often warned her daughter to beware of the “Mall Mentality,” and this was exactly why.
“I’m not going to check you out,” her mom calmly replied, “because you’re ready for this test. Get out of the Mall and go to the library to clear your head. You have studied, and you know the material. I promise you’ll do fine.”
Her daughter wasn’t convinced, but she listened to her mom. She made an A on that history test, and 2 years later, this straight-A student was named a National Merit Finalist. She won a full scholarship to the college of her choice. She graduated with top honors.
Clearly, she is an intelligent student who prepared for this test, so why did she suddenly doubt herself? And what does it say for the rest of us when even the brightest people lose sight of their ability to handle challenges?
In some way, we all relate. We all have “Malls” in our life that trigger self-doubt or panic. Even when we’ve done the work, even when we leave home feeling confident, it only takes a voice or two to stir up worry, stress, or anxiety.
Maybe it’s the Mall of Motherhood, the Mall of Social Media, the Mall of College Admissions, or the Mall of Your Child Making the Team that makes you fear you’re doing it wrong or getting left behind.
Maybe it’s the Mall of an Angry World that keeps you living hyper-aroused and always on edge.
Maybe it’s the Mall of Family, the Mall of Community, the Mall of Work, or the Mall Inside Your Head that insists there is only one path to success – and if you or your child deviate or fail, life is over.
In any case, the Malls in our life can make us overreact, panic, or despair. They make us catastrophize events and believe our future rides on a singular event (i.e. “If my daughter doesn’t ace this test, she won’t get into the best college,” “If my son doesn’t make this team, he won’t play college ball or have the right friends,” “If my daughter doesn’t get a homecoming date, she’ll never get a date in high school.”)
Mindsets like these can lead parents into rabbit holes. They focus attention on our temporary circumstances rather than God’s almighty power.
Nashville counselor Sissy Goff says that anxiety is an overestimation of the problem and an underestimation of our ability to handle that problem. She has written amazing books to help girls (and their moms) develop healthy mindsets to work through it. Since we live in anxious times, her messages are super-relevant. It’s now estimated that 1 out of every 3 kids struggles with anxiety, and girls are twice as likely as boys to suffer.
So how can we, as moms, help? How can we guide the next generation through an epidemic seen in every community? Here are 5 steps to get started.
1. Address our anxiety. We can only take our children as far as we’ve come, and raising healthy kids begins with them seeing a healthy mom. We want to parent out of our wisdom, not our wounds, yet to do this, we have to work through the anxieties and insecurities that spill into our family.
Taking my friend’s story, imagine if she’d panicked and checked her daughter out. Besides removing a challenge her daughter was ready for, she might have created a new dynamic of rescuing her before every scary test. Today, her daughter is thriving in college with a rigorous major, yet I doubt that’d be the case if her mother guided her differently. If her mother lacked the skills to manage her own panic, she might have fueled her daughter’s worries and deprived her of opportunities to build self-confidence.
The work we do for ourselves, as moms, benefits our family. Addressing our anxiety helps us better lead our children.
2. Seek help when needed. My friend Kim Anderson is another fantastic Nashville counselor. She helps moms get “unstuck” from unhealthy thought loops, shame, and the stories (or lies) we tell ourselves.
Kim says it is amazing how quickly a mom’s mindset/perspective can change as she begins the process of healing herself. Sometimes we need professional help to replace unhealthy thoughts with healthy ones and work through trauma from our past (even soft trauma like a hurtful comment from 2nd grade) that is negatively impacting us and our family. If we’re not careful, our stuck places will become our kids’ stuck places.
3. Aim to be bigger, stronger, wiser, and kinder than our kids. One of Kim’s favorite counseling concepts is the Circle of Security – which helps parents grow healthy, intimate attachments with their children by being the bigger, stronger, wiser, and kinder one. Through this relationship, children draw strength and enjoy life.
The opposite of this is the ET Syndrome, where the parent/child attachment grows symbiotic. In the movie ET, Elliott gets sick as ET gets sick, and in parenting, this may look like us being more upset than our child over an event in their life (note: we’ve all done this!) or being so distraught over a trial our child faces that we can’t provide love and emotional support. If we can’t handle their hard things, they certainly won’t be able to handle them.
It’s a sign of growth when our child’s emotions blow out of proportion, yet we can lovingly tell them, “I won’t get on that emotional roller coaster with you, but I will be here at the gate, waiting for you with my arms wide open when you’re ready to get off it.” It’s also a good sign when we say, “Yes, this is a challenge, but you’ve got this — and I believe in you.”
4. Fight anxiety with God’s truths. Truth begins with God because God IS truth. He’s a God of peace and order, so when we’re anxious or confused, we’re probably listening to humans and not Him.
On a Facebook page for parents of teens, a mom asked for advice on helping her college daughter handle a bad roommate. More than 700 moms replied – all with strong opinions and conflicting advice. As I scanned comments, I thought, Who is this woman supposed to listen to? Everyone thinks they have the perfect answer, so who is right? It hit me then why we need God, one central source of truth. Without Him, we confuse each other. We become the blind leading the blind.
10 years ago, we may have gotten 3 conflicting opinions, but today, we can get 700. No wonder we’re more anxious and confused than previous generations!
A counselor once told me, “If we don’t put our anxiety into something bigger than ourselves, we’ll try to micromanage it.” Here, I believe, is where we get sidetracked and extra-controlling as parents, assuming it all depends on us. Anxiety triggers the primitive part of the brain, the amygdala, which has 3 key reactions: fight, flight, or freeze. But as we pray, meditate, and reflect on Scripture, our thoughts move toward the evolved part of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex, the center of reason, self-control, and big-picture thinking.
Kids grow resilient to anxiety when they know they’re loved even if things don’t work out the way everyone hopes. As parents, we set the tone by trusting God’s plan, even if our heart breaks for our child, and saving our come-aparts for adults so we can stay strong in front of our child.
5. Give ourselves GRACE. Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
As parents, we need grace because we all make mistakes. We change, grow, and evolve. After parenting for 20 years, I can look back and see plenty of things I did wrong. While this self-awareness has made me better, it also can trigger regret or guilt.
It’s easy to dwell there, but God doesn’t want us to stay stuck. He created us to parent with a spirit of strength, not defeat, and to receive new mercies each morning. Who we are today matters more than who we’ve been in the past, and rather than beat ourselves up, we can move forward more wisely asking God to bring good from our missteps.
So if you worry that your anxiety may have made your child’s anxiety worse, go easy on yourself. We’re all working to restore our mental health after two stressful and exhausting years. More important than being a perfect mom is being an honest mom who admits her humanity and forgives herself for the past. You are I both are a lifelong work-in-progress, and it helps our kids to see this because they are too.
In my upcoming book for moms (coming April 5, pre-order here) there’s a whole chapter on anxiety because it impacts our well-being. Five years ago, my wellness didn’t feel important, but now that I’m raising and launching teenagers, I realize that 1) my girls will always remember what they witness in my life now, and I need to model what I preach, and 2) what today’s teens need most are healthy-minded guides.
A thousand voices compete for their attention, so what inspires them to tune into us? What makes us trustworthy mentors?
I’ll tell you what: Growing a strong relationship and giving wise advice. Our kids will always need help navigating real life, and as we reframe stressful situations with truth, love, and logic, we become the mentors they need. We parent through influence rather than power.
Our children are immersed in a world of loud Malls. They’re surrounded by voices that make them want to check out. As moms, we can’t control the noise, but we can be a voice of reason. We can wisely guide them through difficult moments that build their confidence, character, and ability to meet a challenge.
Thanks for reading this message. Please share it or listen audibly on the Girl Mom podcast.
My new book for girl moms AND boy moms is coming soon! More Than a Mom: How Prioritizing Your Wellness Helps You (and Your Family) Thrive, will release April 5 and is the perfect Mother’s Day gift. Pre-order now to get the lowest price between now and April 5 and amazing pre-order incentives. If you love audiobooks, you can pre-order on Audible, where I am the narrator!
My other bestselling books, Love Her Well: 10 Ways to Find Joy and Connection with Your Teenage Daughter , 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know and Liked, have been used widely across the U.S. for group studies.
Posted by Kari on March 6, 2022