Catholic Vancouver May 11, 2018

Parents need to learn life lessons, too

By Gemma Myers

A recent course on parenting and anxiety helped Gemma Myers respond to her daughter "with compassion and patience." (

Since she turned two, my daughter has manifested intense separation anxiety. This parental challenge coincided with a time of terrible stress within our family, and I was overwhelmed with the violence of her emotion and my incapacity to fulfill her need. How could I, with my own physical and emotional health in a hectic state, create a home of order and peace, in which my child’s sometimes stormy (normal) behaviour was part of the picturesque landscape instead of the tempest overturning the boat? 

When the Archdiocese of Vancouver offered Gordon Neufeld’s course Making Sense of Anxiety workshop, I was eager to take advantage of the opportunity. Evening engagements with babies at home is a challenge, at best, but my husband and I were convinced of the greater good for the whole family, and I was able to attend four sessions. 

The topic of anxiety would not have caught my interest by itself; Gordon Neufeld’s international reputation drew me to this initiative. Once introduced to the substance of the course, however, I saw how ubiquitous anxiety is, and how poor our understanding of its root cause. I only wish the course had had more attendees! 

The course material was applicable to children of all ages, but also to adults. The facilitator took time to recapitulate difficult abstract theories and give concrete examples. He was a good listener, welcoming questions and responses. The material covered in the course directly related to particular experiences within our family in numerous ways.

According to Neufeld, anxiety is our natural response to separation of any kind. Sometimes it is mild, such as separation from a usual traffic route because of an accident or detour, and sometimes it is extreme, such as separation from a loved one because of death. We can control our response to anxiety by identifying its stimulus. When the vague sense of unease becomes a concrete problem, anxiety becomes alarm, which is a normal part of life and has concrete solutions. Combine this understanding of anxiety with Neufeld’s attachment diagram and you have a profound insight into your child’s experience of separation.

Learning more about anxiety, especially how it affects children, gave me the knowledge and understanding I needed to respond to my daughter with compassion and patience, and to repair the relationship when I failed to give her the security she demanded.

For countless historical reasons, and in spite of our manifold advantages, parenting seems to be more difficult today than it was for prior generations. The onus is on us as parents to answer the call to become the best versions of ourselves in order to help our children realize their potential. In offering a course such as Making Sense of Anxiety, the Archdiocese of Vancouver is responding to the desire of parents and children that our homes be more unified, peaceful, and thriving, and giving us valuable help in this essential work. This material has bettered our family life.

The National Week for Life and the Family is coming up May 13-20.