So our cat – let’s call him Big Orange to protect his privacy – may be suffering from acute anxiety. The symptoms are all there . For instance, after we go to bed he begins yowling in such a fashion that anyone passing by in the hallway might believe someone is being tortured in our apartment. Then when I call out his name, he answers with a questioning “Meow?” as though he’d forgotten we were there. Separation Anxiety Disorder? Maybe coupled with short term memory loss? When he comes into my room I do my best to allay his fears, but am I really successful?
Me: Big Orange, did you think we’d left you alone?
Big Orange: Rrow?
Me: Don’t be anxious. You know we would never, ever leave you.
Big Orange: (purring)
Me: That’s it, just relax now. No need to be anxious.
Then of course if me or my kids are upset or in a bad mood, Big Orange seems to know this and will hop up next to us, sniffing our faces and nudging us. He seems very anxious, so I address it with him.
Me: Big Orange, are you anxious about something?
Big Orange: (just looks at me)
Me: Is it because I’m in a bad mood?
Big Orange: Meow?
Me: You know, me being in a bad mood has nothing to do with you.
Big Orange: (purrs and lays down next to me)
Does this sound ridiculous? It does to me too. Of course I would never talk to my cat this way. (His name is Cosmo, by the way) However, I would also never speak to my children this way. And many, many people do. What is up with all the psychobabble when it comes to dealing with children? You know, if I’m upset about something and I think maybe it will affect the kids, I tell them why I’m upset. Not in a “dear, I need to talk to you about my mood this morning. You must know that it has nothing to do with you, and there is no need for you to feel anxious.” If I said that my kids would think I’d been whacked in the head or something. I might say, “Hey, sorry for being grumpy this morning.” And they would probably say, “It’s ok.” Never, ever would my being grumpy cause them anxiety. Why would it? They have no doubts about our relationship or their own security. They don’t assume something horrible is going on if I’m in a bad mood. They don’t wonder if it has something to do with them. Because they know that if it does, I will tell them. I will not let it fester or brew under the surface. There is no guesswork involved. They know that sometimes Joshua and I argue. They know that it’s natural and not a threat to them or our family. They never question our love or their place.
Now, I’m not saying that any kid who is anxious a lot is that way because of weirdness on the part of the parents, but when I read blogs on these subjects, I always think that if I talked to my kids they way these parents do – or if anyone ever talked to me that way – I’d be bonkers in about a day.
Yes, every family is different. Every kid is different. Very un-PC of me to be so sarcastic. I can already hear the comments people will send about all the valid and completely unavoidable reasons that children suffer acute anxiety. I’m sure that some of it is true. But in my defense, I am now going to copy a letter sent to Lenore Skenazy’s site (the link is: http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/a-glass-of-sprite/) by a guy who talks about his own upbringing and what he sees around him and his own conclusions. I think he is absolutely right:
Dear Free-Range Kids: I happened to rabbit-hole into your blog tonight, and read it for about 2 hours, fascinated by the psychotic parents out there. I’m 27 and was raised Free-Range. I was allowed to run amok, largely unattended, for extended periods of time. I got into all sorts of trouble and suffered many life-threatening injuries such as skinned knees, bruises of various sizes, bloody noses, and twisted ankles. One time I was attacked by a clearly homicidal rose bush. And I even broke my arm when I made the unwise decision to jump off the tailgate of a parked pickup truck and tumble down a hill. My broken arm shaped the rest of my life.
First of all, I was 10 years old. I was playing unsupervised outside in the summer with my band of heathen friends, a group of about five boys in my neighborhood. I don’t even remember what we were doing, or why I was climbing on the truck, much less why I jumped off it. I realized something was wrong when my arm was really hurting a different kind of hurt than I was used to. I got on my bike and rode home one-handed. I told my mom what happened when I got home and she sat me on the couch and got me a Sprite.
Soft drinks were a special treat when I was a kid and so Sprite was my mother’s first line of defense if something was wrong. Bad day at school? Sprite. Cold/flu? Sprite. And, apparently, broken arm=Sprite. I sat there watching TV and sipping sullenly, but when my arm was still hurting after an hour, we went to the ER. X-ray later, I was diagnosed with a fracture of both the humerus and radius, a cast was applied, and I was to follow up with my regular doctor in two weeks.
I learned a lot in the six weeks I was in a cast. I learned that I was far more capable one-handed than I has previously thought. I learned that a bent wire hanger was the perfect scratching implement for under-cast itches. I learned that I had way more friends than I thought, judging by the sheer number of signatures my cast acquired. I learned that broken bones suck, but life goes on. My parents didn’t freak out, so I didn’t freak out. I really think it was the first time my little brain followed the whole decision-action-consequence-adaptation continuum from inception to resolution.
I’ve since grown up to be a paramedic. I love what I do. It’s fulfilling in a truly indescribable way, but I’ve noticed something that troubles me. I make a lot of calls for “panic attacks” that don’t stem from a medical disorder, like clinical depression or schizophrenia. They’re panic attacks born from the inability to deal with life. There’s a college near where I work, and we make calls there all the time for kids that don’t know how to deal with the stress of being away from controlling parents. These are kids that crumble at the slightest bump in the road. They make a C on a term paper, their boyfriend/girlfriend breaks up with them, they don’t like their roommate, whatever. They panic, hyperventilate, and sob uncontrollably. They don’t sit on the couch and drink a Sprite because no one ever taught them how.
I like the Free-Range philosophy. It’s promoting a way to make kids self-reliant. Teaching them to fish, so to speak. That way, when they leave the nest and forge their own path they have the tools they need. My parents let me face life head on when I was a kid. They let me fall, but they helped me dust myself off and get back up. I’m a stronger adult because of it.
My mom always used to say “If you cry when you burn the toast, what do you do when the house burns down?” That stuck with me.
So did the Sprite.
Right on, Brad.