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Parenting And Mental Health: A Balancing Act

Parenting while living with a mental illness, is some of the hardest work to do. I wonder who is ever fully prepared for the reality of this long term relationship of parent/child, and adding in the element of mental illness brings another layer to this experience. What does finding the balance between caring for yourself, and caring for your children, really mean? Here are some ideas to help you be and feel successful while navigating both worlds.

It’s really important to have a solid understanding of your own mental health needs. Do you know as much as you need to about your diagnosis? Are you able to get the professional support you need? If these are areas that need some work, when you’re in a good space, sit with someone who gets you and make a “Mental Health To Do List”. If you don’t have that person in your life, connect with a supportive professional because they WANT to help you. 

Have a list for daily tasks, as well as a list for who you can call if you need support. Daily tasks are whatever YOU need to do to support you. Does showering help? Perhaps it’s having a coffee? Maybe it’s getting the kids up and out as soon as possible so that you can get some you-time. The reality is, there are days you’re going to look at the list and say “F*ck it.”, and that’s ok!  If you’re not having a good mental health day and you need some parenting relief, reach out to one of your supports. Do you have a neighbour you trust who can watch the kids? If your kids go to school, is there someone who can help take them? When you’re able to go back to bed, be alone, hang out with a friend, take a walk, or whatever YOU need, do so! Remember to set an alarm on your phone, or touch base with a friend or partner so they can call to wake you up.

You can make a second list for some long term goals, and this one is the more exciting of the two lists. This list is where you can have the visual of your goals, and the reminder that small steps lead to achieving your dreams. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to go to counselling, have a reiki treatment, try acupuncture, update your resume, go back to school, or learn an instrument. When you’re a parent, the kids tend to come first, so looking at your own goals may feel silly, or pointless. Remind yourself that  they are going to be little for a short period of time! If you have kids under 4, soon enough they will begin school, and that itself will open up some freedoms. This second list is something to work towards, and will help you to decide the first thing you want to accomplish. Maybe going to counselling will be the key to unlocking some personal healing and understanding, which would open the doors to feeling up to making an appointment at a school, hopping on the computer to update your resume, or playing piano. If you feel there are blocks to you reaching your goals, start with the basics. Getting professional help and support for your mental illness is going to be what propels you to your next level. It doesn’t mean the illness is gone, but it does mean you may be able to navigate your own life and the stresses of parenting from a more grounded place.

When it comes to the kidlets, there is no escaping the continuous cries of “mommy!” of “daddy!”, whining, fighting, arguing and the draining immaturity of these little people figuring out the world. And let's face it, on a bad day, you may have no tolerance to extend to your kids. You may wish them away, or perhaps even wish yourself away.  It’s so hard to feel so badly about your kids or wishing you weren’t a parent… but you know what, lots of people feel that way. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids, just that you need a break to regroup. And let’s face it, managing your own mental health is a roller coaster ride. So give yourself a break. Go back to the list. What do the kids need to do? How can they help you? The great thing about kids, is most times, they just want to be around their parents and help out. So let them! Do they need to make their bed? Put their clean clothes in their drawers, and dirty clothes in the laundry pile? What about behaviour?

I created a list for my kids entitled “Respect” and underneath were different ways to show respect. Then we made another list for what happens when respect is NOT happening. Tape the lists to your wall, put it on your fridge, put it up wherever makes sense for you. Following through will be challenging at first, and on bad days, perhaps impossible. The older your kids get, take time to explain your mental health diagnosis to them. Understanding is helpful and creates trust between you and your kids. If there’s a day you can’t get out of bed, it’s important for them to know why and that it’s not about them.  

Start with small and manageable steps! Get yourself the professional support you need. Then begin to work on your “To Do” lists and goals. Communicate with your kids when you’re having a good day, so they can understand the struggles you face and why some things are hard for you. If you’re having a hard time getting started, you can go to our Help Section for some ideas of where to access support. Take a breath and remind yourself that you can do this!