Dear Sharon,

I am writing you this letter because I want you to have emotional freedom.  I want you to let go of the guilt you have associated with your son having a severe anxiety disorder.

You know that an anxiety disorder is a true medical condition like diabetes or high blood pressure.  Anxiety is a mental illness, not physical but it is physiological in nature.

You are aware that much of your guilt comes from the fact that your son’s Dad and you have very different parenting styles and approaches to handling situations with your son.  You have much guilt surrounding this because in a sense “You picked him.”  Your son did not, he became your son’s dad because you said yes to marrying him. This guilt has no basis in reality.  You have no control over his Dad’s actions toward your son, or the choices he makes.

In addition, Anxiety disorders are real illness as I mentioned before.  Anxiety is not something someone does to themselves, or others create in them.

Anxiety is very misunderstood and is perceived as a behavioral issue and a lack of structure and discipline in a child’s life.  Sharon, this is the furthest thing from the truth.  Anxiety is all consuming to those who experience it.  It permeates every aspect of a person’s life.  It is painful and often debilitating.  It often interferes with an individual’s ability to successfully function throughout their day.

Often people avoid situations and people that make them feel anxious because anxiety makes them feel miserable.  However, the fact that they are avoiding something makes them feel miserable as well.

Your son’s avoidance and Isolation behaviors are not your faults they are a direct result of his anxiety.  Anxiety needs to be recognized for what it is; Anxiety.  Once identified, it needs to be managed.  Learning to manage and control the anxiety so it does not monitor the person experiencing it is key.

Sharon, you will be blamed a lot for your son’s behaviors related to his anxiety.  Friends, Family, your ex-husband, educators, and others, say you allow him to “do what he wants, he has too many choices, you are not providing enough structure or consequences.  Their comments will make you doubt yourself as a parent.  They will attack you self-confidence and self-esteem

It won’t be easy to hold your ground. Trust yourself and your instincts.  Parent the way you feel is most useful for your son and most natural and in alignment with your personality and who you are.

Pick your battles wisely both with your son and with those who think they know how to parent better.  Stop trying to get others on your side, and see things from your point of view.  Stop looking for other’s acceptance and validation of your parenting strategies and other life choices you make.  Just “do you.”

Remind yourself that your son does not like feeling Anxious, he hates it, and would do anything in his power to change it, if he could.  Your job is to be compassionate, and help him learn strategies for managing his anxiety.  He needs you to help him learn to use strategies effectively to get to control the anxiety, so it does not control him.  Once the Anxiety takes hold, it is like it has a “death grip” on his thoughts.  It becomes all consuming making it difficult for him to function successfully and go about his day.

He may be aware of some of his triggers sometimes, but often will feel anxious and not know why?  Understand he and you will get frustrated when others say “we don’t see his anxiety here, or he doesn’t look anxious.”  You are going to want to scream, “ANXIETY DOESN’T HAVE A LOOK.  It affects everyone differently!

The best thing you can do for your son when he is anxious is to be supportive.  This best way to do this is: to ask him what he needs.  He may not know, be okay with that, but ask.  Let him know you are here for whatever he needs.

Remind him: he has got this!  He can be successful with overcoming his anxiety, and successful in completing his tasks.

Start getting silly, and singing and dancing with him, you know these things calm him down.  Do deep breathing, and or visualization with him.  Anything that takes his mind off his anxiety, and or helps him gain control of it.

Managing anxiety is really tough.  It will require more patience than you realize or even know you have.  You will need to use some of the same techniques he needs to use, to keep your frustration in check.

Remember Sharon, you are not a failure you can, will and have learned a lot from this experience this is a learning opportunity.  Also, the calmer you stay, the calmer he will stay.

You need support from professionals, family, and friends.  You cannot and should not have to do this alone.  Your son’s Anxiety at times will be mentally and physically exhausting for you.  Taking time for self-care is not selfish it is an absolute necessity you will need to refuel.

Be prepared for his anxiety to slow him and you down.  Plan for it.  Build a cushion into your schedule.  Sometimes you will have to “hurry him up” you will have no choice. However, that perceived nagging and rushing will often raise his anxiety. 

Routines help to reduce anxiety because people know what to expect they are no surprises.  People with anxiety have trouble with transitions and often need alone time to adjust to a change in the environment even when it is a familiar one. An example of this would be children of divorce who isolate themselves right before going to, or right after returning to the other parents home.  Another example would be, children who have difficulty returning to school after school breaks or weekends.

When your son returns home from his father’s house not only does he isolate, he can often become easily agitated, and aggressive in his tone of voice.  Sharon, this is just his way of readjusting, don’t take it personally.  Ignore how he says things, and pay attention to what is being said.

Sharon, don’t try to understand or figure out what is going on in you son’s head you will never be able to figure it out.  Wait it out, he will eventually tell you or talk to his counselor about it.  You don’t have to know “what is going on,” to support him through it.  Do just that support.

Others may think you “give in” to him or that he “runs the show.”  You know that is not true.  You recognize the benefit of giving him a choice.  It gives him responsibility, ownership of his choosing, and prevents resistance because things don’t feel like a mandate.

Let go of what others think to trust your instincts, knowledge, and heart and do what works and feels right.  You will make some not so great choices. Accept your imperfections.  All experiences can be learned from.  Everything can be a learning opportunity if you let it.  Teach your son to view things this way,  This will help him accept himself, flaws and all.  If you don’t like the outcome of one choice, the beauty is you can make a different choice.  Viewing things in this manner will help him let go of his need to be perfect.

Let you see your imperfections and emotions being expressed and accepted by you.  Lead by example.  Children learn what they live. Also, they find out more from what you do, and how you act/react then from what you say.

Help your son learn positive self-talk and affirmations and show him the value of these.  Help him learn to talk to his anxiety and say, I got this!  I know you want me to believe I don’t and the situation is worse than it is, but you need to go away!

People will often offer their opinions and advice even if not asked for.  It will often be in a judgmental manner, or at least that will be the way it will appear to you.  Your immediate tendency will be to become frustrated and defensive.  Try hard not to.  Instead, recognize this is their attempt at supporting and caring.  Thank them for their input and tell them you will consider it.  People will often judge what they don’t understand and/or have not experienced first-hand.

You will make “mistakes” but parenting from a place of good intentions means that you “cannot go wrong.”  Parenting from this place means, you will not “screw your son up for life.” 

The more confident you are and/or appear in yourself and your decisions the more your son will learn to do the same for himself.

Be the best support, and role model you can be for him, and that is all he really needs.  He needs to learn that he can trust himself and his abilities to handle his anxiety and make it through any situation he is faced with; even the adverse ones.  He will learn this by;  you having confidence in him when he cannot, by you giving him choices and seeing that he can handle the outcome of any of his choices.   He needs to be given responsibility so he can learn to navigate it, and learn to trust his ability and skill to handle it.  He needs to problem solve for himself so that he develops the most  important form of trust anyone needs to have in order to succeed, Self trust.

Self-confidence, self-esteem and self-trust are the most valuable characteristics to develop and strengthen to manage anxiety.  Parent and child learning to effectively use the strategies in this piece is the best way to manage anxiety and forester growth of the aforementioned characteristics.

Sharon, I love you!  Please remember to not only be patient and kind with your son but with yourself too!  Helping a child manage anxiety is really tough, and it will stretch you to your outermost limits at times.  You will have many times of self-doubt, you will have times where you are overcome by frustration, anger, and sadness.  Allow yourself to feel it, for that is the only way you can effectively move past it.  However, don’t allow yourself to stay there.  These feelings will pass quicker if you recognize them, feel them, but do not allow yourself to “soak in them.”  Instead, remind yourself they will pass.  Ask yourself what is something productive I can do to help manage this situation. 
When you take lemons and make lemonade, that is when you feel better and empowered.  It is when you feel stuck and as if there is nothing you can do to help yourself/your son where your negative emotions take over and cloud your vision.  Which in turn, hinders or even halts your forward motion.

YOU GOT THIS!  I believe in you!!

Love, patience and peace always,