You’re supposed to be enjoying the afternoon but then all of a sudden you think of one horrific possibility after another…
Picture this: you’re relaxing in your home, it’s the weekend, and you’re watching the snow gently falling as you sip a green tea. It should be a relaxing moment—there’s nothing urgently calling for your time and attention. But it’s often in supposedly “peaceful” times like these when your mind drifts and you catch yourself in a spiral of worst-case-scenario thinking.
Like your child getting hurt. Or sick. Becoming injured. Or even dying…
This can look like a lot of things for moms. You’re supposed to be enjoying the afternoon but then all of a sudden you think of one horrific possibility after another. Your baby getting SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Or RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus). Or you wonder what will happen if your six-year-old gets in an accident while playing in the snow.
This is such a common experience in motherhood but it can be so easy to feel like it’s just you or that you’re dwelling in harmful, what-if thought patterns.
The excessive anxiety about a child getting hurt that we often feel as mothers isn’t exactly material for Instagram stories or the easiest topic to bring up at a coffee meet-up with mom friends. But it’s actually such a typical everyday experience for many mothers.
Here, I’m going to explain why we can’t stop thinking about our babies and kids getting hurt, sick, or even dying, why that’s a form of anxiety, and what to watch out for.
Anxiety about your child getting hurt: Common fears for moms
Sure, it may not be the most talked about subject and some moms might worry that they’re the only ones dealing with this. Just because it might not be commonly acknowledged though doesn’t mean that other parents aren’t having this same experience.
You might be dealing with catastrophic thinking multiple times a day or a couple times a week. And these thoughts or mini scenarios that play out in your mind could center around:
- Illnesses like COVID, SIDS, RSV, leukemia, a pneumonia, appendicitis, chicken pox, or a bad case of the flu
- Accidents like a child falling and breaking a limb, having to get stitches, or crashing while skiing or riding their bike
- Getting hurt during everyday play like at the playground or slipping down the stairs
- Coming down with less severe illnesses (like a common cold or stomach bug) at school or daycare
The specific fears that you might be focusing on are likely to change as your children get older. For example, maybe when they were a baby, you feared that they would stop breathing in their sleep. Now, you’re scared that your dare-devil nine-year-old is going to try something risky and fall.
Even though the thing that’s giving you anxiety changes, the mechanism is the same. So what’s going on?
Intrusive thoughts: What they are and how they show up
If everything in this post so far has defined your experience, you may be dealing with one or two specific categories of intrusive thoughts.
Have you heard of the term “intrusive thoughts,” before? If you’re a mom struggling with anxiety, you may have heard of this already.
Intrusive thoughts are those random, unexpected, and sometimes really horrific worries or irrational fears that pop into your mind without warning. They often relate to harm coming to your children. Even though they’re just thoughts, they can really negatively affect how a woman experiences motherhood.
Intrusive thoughts fall under four categories:
- Physical injury: Sudden images pop into your head that involve your child getting hurt. This could be anything from tripping and scraping a knee to getting in a car accident.
- Illness: This overlaps with health anxiety in some cases. This is the anxiety that your child will get sick, experience a major illness, or have to go to the hospital for something major.
- Abuse: This is the worry that someone will abuse your kids. Oftentimes this area of intrusive thoughts focuses around sexual abuse.
- Harm coming to you: As a mom and likely your childrens’ primary caregiver, you worry that something (like an accident or terminal illness) will happen to you and you won’t be able to care for your kids.
Even though intrusive thoughts exist purely in your mind, they can leave moms constantly fearing the worst or wondering if their thoughts could be premonitions. They interrupt your peace, your wellbeing, and your state of calm.
When anxiety starts to control you: What to watch for
It’s totally normal to have anxiety during motherhood or to deal with intrusive thoughts. Because you’re a mother to young, vulnerable children, you’re in a heightened state of awareness trying to catch potential threats before something harmful happens to your kids.
When we think of it this way, isn’t it easy to understand why almost all moms would experience anxiety about a child getting hurt or dealing with health mishaps?
Our anxious brains want to eliminate all of the risk and gain control in order to make sure that there’s no possible way our kids will get sick or hurt. But how realistic is that?
Part of life means getting hurt and getting sick. Everyone deals with varying degrees of injury and illness in their lifetime. Though it may be hard to sit with, you just can’t prevent it.
That isn’t to say you simply give up on normal precautions and preventive measures. Your kids still need to wear helmets, wash their hands, be careful at the playground, swim with adult supervision, etc. But the point here is that as a parent, you need to learn how to tolerate the fact that they too will get hurt. Phew, it’s hard though, isn’t it?
Parenting is about finding balance. How can you assess if you’re striking that balance… or if you’re putting too much energy into preventing the inevitable?
Ask yourself: “Am I helicopter parenting?” “Am I letting my child explore her environment and just be a kid?” “Am I stressing about horrific worst-case scenarios every so often or is this happening multiple times a day?” “How does it feel if I let go of controlling every single little thing?”
If you’re regularly imagining horrible scenarios involving your kids—like them getting hurt, sick, or even dying—you might be dealing with anxiety. If you want to learn more about how anxiety shows up in motherhood, and how to manage it, here’s a free masterclass where I teach all about it. Join here.