How My 20-Year-Old Babysitter Helped Me Deal With My Anxiety Disorder
Most parents are nervous about leaving their kids with someone new, or even someone they know. But it's a whole different ballgame when you're a parent with an anxiety disorder.
I saw the black Toyota pull up in front of my house. Right on cue, my chest tightened and butterflies whipped a storm in my stomach. I watched with fear and dread as the 20-year-old got out of her car and made her way up to my front door. My brain was working overtime to convince me that this was the worst decision I'd ever made.
“What if she just ends up sitting on her phone the whole time?"
“What if she forgets to feed Nora?"
"What if she leaves Nora in wet diapers all day?"
The doorbell rang. As I walked to the door, my brain shrieked, “Don't answer it! THIS IS A MISTAKE!"
I opened the door. The young woman smiled sweetly at me and introduced herself as Alexa. My immediate impulse was to slam the door, cancel our meeting and pay her for her trouble.
But I couldn't. My maternity leave was ending and I was running out of options…so I took a deep breath and invited her in.
All that fuss...over a simple meeting with a babysitter. Leaving a child with a new caretaker for the first time can make any parent sick with worry, but those feelings are more pronounced in people like me.
That is to say, people who have an anxiety disorder.
Parenting With an Anxiety Disorder: A Never-Ending Game of "What If?"
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 18 percent of the U.S. population has an anxiety disorder, and the odds disproportionately favor women. In addition to raising kids, sustaining marriages and building careers, we're also working 24/7 to keep our anxiety at bay.
Sometimes we succeed…but often, we don't.
When my first child, Murphy, turned two, I threw a backyard barbeque and hired an Elmo character to entertain the kids. The morning of the party, I woke up at 2:30 because I was having trouble breathing and my muscles were stiff. Who was this Elmo, really? What if I had hired a dangerous criminal disguised in red fur? What if Elmo took the gig to case my house and planned to come back later to rob us -- or worse? I lay awake concocting increasingly more menacing Killer Elmo scenarios until the clock struck 7:30. I then deemed it an appropriate hour to call everyone on the guest list to apologize for hiring a potential kidnapper as party entertainment.
For me, the worst part about having an anxiety disorder is that I know that what I'm doing/thinking/feeling is irrational, but I just can't stop. My brain's constantly playing the “What If?" game, and it's exhausting.
The Moment When I Finally Learned to Trust
Alexa turned out to be an incredibly sweet young woman, so I hired her on the spot. (She had great references, of course). "But despite my best efforts, I couldn't shake the overwhelming fear that I was leaving my child with an unqualified stranger." Luckily, I had the option to work from home during the first months of Alexa's employment. So, I set up a little office in the basement and tried to stay calm while a college student cared for my 3-month-old daughter upstairs.
A couple weeks in, I was working in the basement when I heard Nora's powerful screams above me: it was naptime and she wasn't happy. This went on for about 30 minutes until, all of a sudden, it stopped. For two hours, the house was silent: no footsteps, no TV, nothing. I finished my work and went up to check on them. As I peeked into Nora's nursery, there was Alexa sitting in the rocking chair – the same chair she'd apparently been in for hours -- still holding my sleeping baby in her arms. I couldn't believe that this young woman had the patience and compassion to sit in a chair — no books or smartphones to be found — for two hours so my baby could get in a good nap.
In that moment, I felt all of my fear and apprehension wash away. Although that gesture may not seem like much, it was life-changing for me. In that moment, Alexa proved to me that she could be trusted. And for the first time in a long time, I felt pure relief.
How My Babysitter Changed My Life
Alexa showed up at my door three and a half years ago and scared the heck out of me. But over the course of those three and a half years, she became an important source of love, comfort and support for my kids -- and even for me. She was an integral part of our family, and I can't even imagine how our lives would've turned out had I turned her away all those years ago.
Recently, though, Alexa graduated from college and found a full-time teaching job. Even though we miss her, the time had come for her to move on. I'm so incredibly grateful to her because, whether she realizes it or not, she changed my life. She taught me how to trust others, to relinquish some of the control I felt I needed in order to manage my anxiety. (And for someone like me, learning to trust is a monumental accomplishment.) She showed me that there are qualified, capable, trustworthy people who will not only keep my children safe, but who can also help me raise them well. Because of Alexa, the worst-case scenario mindset is not my baseline anymore.
In a few weeks, I'll be dropping Murphy off at his first day of kindergarten, and Nora at preschool. And for the first time ever, I'll be crying tears of joy, not terror.
As a journalist, ghost writer and content marketing strategist, Daria Meoli writes about the people and ideas changing entrepreneurship,SMB, women’s issues, fitness, and parenting. She also creates content strategies for national brands targeting consumers in these markets. When she's not working, she cleans finger prints off her glasses, drives too fast and watches embarrassing amounts of HGTV. But mostly, she just plays with her two kids. You can read more of Daria's work at www.dariameoli.com.