This week (27th January) is Parental Mental Health Day, which shines a spotlight on that most ubiquitous yet underrated of jobs and encourages parents and carers to discuss their struggles and share their achievements.
Being a parent or carer is something that a vast swathe of the population experience, and yet the impact that it has on mental health isn’t discussed much. It tends to be viewed simply as part of life, rather than a significant contributor to the state of wellbeing. It is often portrayed (both in the media and by other parents who want to paint an idealistic picture) as a wondrous, life affirming thing made up of perfect moments. This can be part of the story, but the full reality can be messy, stressful and bewildering – in short, very different to the general view, and it can be overwhelming to try and match up to those perfect images while also juggling the rest of life.
We’ve spoken to Clare at YU to find out about her experience of being a parent, and what it means for her mental health.
“I’m a mum of two young children (aged 7 & 4), and it is without doubt the thing that has the most significant effect on my own mental health. I would say I’m generally pretty stable and able to cope with most things, but parenting is the thing that can push me to my limits.
It’s quite often like a rollercoaster – one minute, I can feel immensely proud and full of love for the little people they are becoming, and then the very next minute those feelings have evaporated and instead I’m banging my head against the wall in frustration!
The joy, pride, love and wonder that my children spark in me is nothing short of phenomenal, and I really wouldn’t change a single thing. But there are times when I feel so worn down and drained that I wonder about the sanity of making such a huge sacrifice – especially one for which there is no training or preparation. Really, parents go into this enormous life experience completely blind, so it’s probably no wonder that it can feel like an uphill struggle sometimes.
If I was going through anything else that caused my mental state to go through such extremes, I would probably be questioning what I was doing, but we don’t do that with parenting. We all just get on with it, and I’m not sure how helpful that is. If we talked about the reality more, not only would it help those of us going through it realise that it’s not just us, but it would give those about to embark on the journey a more realistic expectation of what’s to come.”
If you are a parent or carer who sometimes finds things difficult, the key thing to remember is that you are far from alone! It’s an incredibly tough thing to take on, and there’s probably not a parent out there who hasn’t felt the same at some point or another, and there will definitely be someone, somewhere going through the same thing at this moment.
It’s important to make time to take care of yourself – you will not be able to provide the care that your children or dependents need if you don’t look after yourself as well. As we often say at YU, you can’t pour from an empty cup. There are some things you can do to make things a little more manageable:
Take one day at a time. No one is perfect, so just take things as they come and try not to be too hard on yourself if things don’t go exactly to plan
Build a support network. Have people you can really trust and rely on to be on hand to help you out, whether that’s babysitting to give you a break, or running errands on your behalf
Be as organised as possible. It can really help to have a routine that everyone is aware of to try and limit stress, and being prepared can save time and money
Make time for you. Even if it’s only a few minutes, find time for something that you enjoy to do that has nothing to do with the daily routine. It can give your mental health a boost to help see you through the day
Get to know you. If you learn your trigger points for stress or anxiety, you can recognise them and ask for help, rather than letting everything get on top of you
Find your tribe. If you can find other parents that you can relate to, it can really help you understand that you’re not alone, put things into perspective, and give you a space to vent and share
Above all, try not to worry. You’re doing a brilliant job.