Anxiety can manifest in various forms. In this case, the younger sibling is suffering from social anxiety and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). The older teen sibling presents with generalized anxiety, OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and a bit of an attitude (welcome to adolescence).
So imagine you are one of the parents. The weekend comes to an end and you look at your spouse with that look. It says, "please let him go to school tomorrow." Monday morning arrives, you and your spouse try your best. But your child doesn't go. You have failed.
You have some consolation, though. Your child is scheduled to meet with their psychologist later that afternoon. "OK," you think, "there is still hope for tomorrow." Unfortunately, your child was so anxious from that morning, s/he is too anxious to attend the meeting. The stress at home is growing. Both spouses are telling each other that things will be OK and fortunately, the psychologist is able to set a replacement appointment the following day.
Unfortunately, to further add to the mix, Mom is starting to self-medicate with sweets like chocolate and ice cream. She has a weight problem, so Dad is trying to balance his desire that his wife eat well with his realization that this is not the time to be picky.
The next morning, Mom and Dad are again very disappointed that their younger son remains home. The older child does go off to school. He is in a special program that combines school and apprenticing at various companies. This day was a workday for the older one.
As the afternoon draws to a close and Mom brings her socially anxious child home from the appointment with the psychologist, the older child is already at home. This time, Mom is greeted with some news from big brother. He smoked up too much marijuana on the way home and is having a full blown panic attack as the physical symptoms feed his anxiety.
As Dad returns home, Mom intercepts him with a warning not to freak out or say anything inflammatory while their son recuperates. He agrees and is proud of how well his wife is handling things. The laundry and dishes weren't done. The house is a mess. But neither parent has lost it.
So, what should happen at this critical moment? Both spouses are frustrated. They simultaneously are grateful that their oldest son is OK and want to strangle him (figuratively only, of course). Both of them realize that their goal is to win the war and not the battle.
And this is where open communication that is supportive and not accusatory is so helpful. Rather than losing it with each other, they join forces for the long haul. But these are still perilous times. With high levels of frustration and fear, both husband and wife could easily lose their cool and lash out at each other, further increasing each of their child's anxiety.
The wise spouse will do their best to resist these temptations to release pent up exasperation and fear. Rather than lose themselves in anger, two people who are beloved to each other are better off trying to lose themselves in sharing and demonstrating their love for each other. Oxytocin, the feel-good hormone our bodies release when we touch and hug someone we care for deeply, goes a long way in reinforcing our bonds.
Raising children is a long, slow process. It's punctuated with periods of fear and bewilderment. Seek help when needed (from health professionals, clergy, family and friends), pray and be patient. Like the hare and the tortoise, the race is won by those who consistently apply themselves with the end goal of healthy, functional children in mind. A healthy, functional marriage goes a long way toward supporting children to be their best.