Why is taking care of your own mental health important for your child?
If you are a parent concerned about your mental health – for example, feeling low all the time, constantly tired, or anxious – I promise you, you are not alone. Research has shown that more than half the men and women facing mental health problems are parents. And at least one in 10 women and the same number of men experience postnatal depression, although this could be higher as it often isn’t talked about or is brushed off as the ‘baby blues’.
Mental health has long been considered a taboo, and while in recent years there has been progress made towards discussing it more openly, we still have a way to go in making it possible for everyone to feel empowered to ask for help when they need it.
Think about the focus on maintaining our physical health – we are always told to get our five a day, exercise more, and drink two litres of water. When we get ill, we go to the doctor or take some paracetamol. And we complain about it to anyone who will listen!
Mental health is just as important as physical health, but when was the last time you called in sick because you felt emotionally exhausted? Or the last time you gave yourself a break and went for a catch up with a friend instead of tidying the house?
It can feel like just ‘pulling yourself together’ and just getting on with things is the easiest way to go, and means your child (and possibly your partner) doesn’t need to know that you’re struggling. However, it is exhausting to keep going like this, and it means you may not be in the best frame of mind as a person and as a parent.
Furthermore, your child learns not from your words or advice, but from your actions. Being a good role model – in this case, taking care of your mental health – means that your child is more likely to copy this behaviour.
Dealing with your own mental health issues, no matter how small, is crucial. It takes a great deal of strength to recognise that you need help, and you really are doing the best for your child by taking care of your needs first. My favourite analogy for this comes from the aeroplane safety guidance, “Be sure to secure your own mask before assisting others”.
Asking for help and taking care of your own needs so that you can be a positive role model is the approach we try to encourage with Parent Centred Parenting. It is not about neglecting your child’s needs; more than by meeting your own mental, emotional and physical needs too, you will be better equipped as a parent. Your child will also learn to respect you as an individual whilst being confident that you will be there for them when they need you.
Who can help
All parents need help, it’s just the form it comes in that differs. Some lucky parents have it readily available, others have to ask for it, some have to pay for it, and for others it’s free.
Firstly, it can help to give yourself a break and the time to take care of yourself. This might involve your child spending more time with a grandparent, or attending an after-school club or youth project. Both environments have the added benefit of providing positive and emotionally supportive role models for your child.
Seeking help might also involve talking to a support network of friends, or a counselling service. The NHS website has a great list of websites and phone numbers who can be contacted for support. Seeing mum or dad ask for help teaches your child that this is an acceptable and emotionally resilient way of dealing with problems, in turn giving them a model for dealing with issues they may encounter themselves in the future.
The important thing to realise is that it is ok to ask for help, and this is something that everybody should feel empowered to do. By understanding both your own needs and those of your child, you are well placed to ask for and accept the type of help that will be of most benefit to you and your family.
This post was written by Sarah Welland