There’s a common saying making its way around social media—kids don’t need a perfect mom, they need a happy one. I only halfway agree with this statement. No, kids don’t need a perfect mom (which is good, because they’re certainly never going to get one), but they also don’t need a mom who is always happy. Kids need moms who are well. My kids definitely don’t have a perfect mom, and it’s unreasonable to expect they’ll always have a happy mom. What they do have is an anxious mom, and she’s not always crushing it when it comes to motherhood. Nor is she always well.  

I have struggled with anxiety my whole life. Really, my whole life. As a child I was flippantly misdiagnosed with asthma when I was actually having panic attacks. The (incorrect) belief persists to this day that kids can’t possibly have anything to be anxious about, fed by the opinion that anxiety is always and only situational, a choice, and avoidable. 

If only, if only. 

Now that I have all the joys and pressures of adulthood, in addition to three very high-needs children, it’s rare that anyone dares to question my experience with anxiety. Now that my life is busy and full, the uninitiated find no fault with my shortness of breath, panic, and rage. Now, they reason, there’s really something to be anxious about. 

I’ll let you in on a secret about anxiety: sometimes there’s nothing to be anxious about. That’s the thing about anxiety—sometimes it’s in reaction to something, sometimes it’s chemical. Sometimes my brain overproduces chemicals that put my body into a state of fight or flight. Sometimes everything in my life is rainbows and cupcakes, and I still find myself with a tight chest, clenched fists, racing pulse, and a mind full of terror. 

This is when I take my medication. 

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Medicating mental illness is a hot topic in some circles, and that’s fine. I’ve made the choice for myself, after much prayer and even more suffering, that medication was necessary to help with the crippling anxiety I often face. 

Being so hypervigilant and on-edge put me into states of rage, anger I was taking out on my children. My mind was telling me we were in danger, but my mouth was telling them to shut up. My heart was pounding as though I was running for my life, but the rest of me sat frozen, unable to participate in activities that made me feel like I had no control. Here were three beautiful and smart little people who I loved deeply, and I couldn’t enjoy them. 

I wanted to be the mom who played with them.

I wanted to be the mom who could bake with them without needing to hide afterward and catch my breath.  

I wanted to be the mom who went on field trips without sweating in fear. 

I wanted to be the mom who spoke to my children with love, not out of irritability. 

I wanted to be the mom who made my children feel wanted, not like inconveniences. 

And so I took the medication. 

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I took the medication that slowed my heartbeat and evened my breathing. I took the medication that took the edge of panic off just enough for me to be able to participate. I took the medication that wouldn’t make me a zombie and didn’t allow me to remain a monster. 

Do I still yell sometimes? Sure. Do I still fight against paralyzing and terrifying anxiety? Every day. But am I helpless against it? No. 

I have a counseling degree. I believe in the power of prayer. I know the benefits of therapy, of breathing exercises, of quiet time, healthy diets, the great outdoors, plenty of water, exercise, and oils. I also have a very real anxiety disorder, and none of these things correct the chemical imbalance that causes it. 

I tried to be the anxious mom who overcame anxiety. I tried to be the anxious mom who treated anxiety naturally. I tried to be the anxious mom with the testimony of healing.

But I have accepted that I am the anxious mom who takes anxiety medication . . . and because of it, I’m a better mom. 

I’m a better mom when I’m able to breathe. I’m a better mom when I’m able to speak gently. I’m a better mom when my need for perfection or my fear of harm don’t hold me hostage and keep me from participating in my children’s lives. And I’m humble and honest enough to realize that I’m a better mom when I take medication for anxiety. 

Jennifer Vail

Jennifer is married to the very handsome man she's loved half her life, with whom she juggles 3 hilarious, quirky, sometimes-difficult-but-always-worth-the-work kids. She is passionate about people and 90's pop culture, can't go a week without TexMex, and maintains the controversial belief that Han shot first. She holds degrees in counseling and general ministries, writes at This Undeserved Life, and can often be found staying up too late but rarely found folding laundry.