Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Balancing Mental Health and Parenting Priorities

*DISCLOSURE*  This post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.

It is not uncommon to hear about parents who, despite their best efforts, are struggling to raise their children the way they desire. In many cases, those parents have found it challenging to prioritize their own needs, making it more difficult for them to meet the needs of their children. This article will examine mental health needs specifically and how maintaining good mental self-care can enhance both parenting and overall well-being.

Why does mental health matter for parents?

Parenting, often described as one of life's most rewarding journeys, can also be a significant source of stress, anxiety, and even depression. The responsibilities of caring for a child, ensuring their well-being, and managing the day-to-day tasks of family life can be overwhelming. Parenting and mental health have a bi-directional relationship; one can strongly affect the other.

For example, consider a parent who is experiencing significant stress aside from parenting, such as career or other family obligations. Most days, they try to use positive parenting and create a nurturing environment, but as their stress increases, their mental health depletes, and they find it increasingly difficult to address their children’s behavior in a proactive way. Eventually, the parent resorts to yelling and withdrawal in response to undesired behavior, which further reinforces it. Over time, the children begin to act out more frequently in response to their parent’s inconsistent approach to parenting, further increasing the emotional drain their parent experiences.

The concept of "parental burnout" is increasingly recognized by mental health professionals. It refers to a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that parents may experience due to the constant demands of parenting. Symptoms can include irritability, feeling overwhelmed, detachment from parenting duties, and a sense of incompetence. Similarly, the effort put into effective parenting tends to decrease, potentially worsening burnout further. In contrast, a mentally healthy parent is typically better equipped to handle parenting challenges, which can significantly reduce the risk of burnout by lowering the emotional burden of parenting.

Strategies for managing mental health as a parent

Navigating the challenges of parenting while maintaining one's mental health requires intentionality, self-awareness, and practical strategies. As parents, acknowledging that your mental health is as crucial as your physical health is the first step towards achieving a harmonious balance. Here are several strategies designed to support parents in this endeavor:

crucial for replenishing your mental and emotional energy. This could mean engaging in activities you enjoy, practicing meditation, exercising, or simply taking a few moments of silence to breathe and center yourself.

Seek social support: Parenting was never meant to be a solitary journey. Building a support network of family and friends or joining parenting groups can provide emotional support, advice, and a sense of community. Sharing experiences and challenges with others who understand can be incredibly validating and comforting.

Establish routines: A predictable routine can provide a sense of security and control, both for you and your children. While spontaneity has its place, a structured routine around meals, bedtime, and family activities can reduce stress and help manage expectations.

Seek professional help: There should be no stigma attached to seeking professional help. If feelings of anxiety, depression, or burnout become overwhelming, talking to a therapist or counselor can provide strategies to manage these feelings more effectively. Seeking professional help may be especially important for parents with mental health conditions. PTSD, for example, is a common condition known to interfere with parenting ability. Other conditions like depression and anxiety can also have an adverse effect.

For more information about how evidence-based therapy can help with PTSD and other conditions, check out this article from BetterHelp, an online therapy and mental health resource provider:

Fostering a healthy family environment

Creating a nurturing environment that promotes the mental well-being of every family member is also likely to be helpful. While self-care is undertaken to improve mostly individual well-being, focusing on the family dynamic can also help parents balance their mental health and parenting. Here are some strategies to foster a healthy, supportive family environment:

Open communication: Establishing a culture of open, honest, non-judgmental communication within the family encourages members to express their feelings, fears, and joys. This practice often helps to build trust and understanding. Encourage children to share their thoughts and listen actively without judgment. This can teach them emotional intelligence and resilience from a young age.

Mindfulness and stress reduction techniques: Teaching and practicing mindfulness

can be beneficial for both parents and children. Techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can help manage stress and foster a calm home environment. Integrating these practices into your family routine can encourage a healthy approach to mental well-being.

Setting healthy boundaries: It’s important to establish and respect personal boundaries within the family. This includes recognizing each other’s need for space and privacy, as well as setting limits on work or screen time to ensure quality family interactions. Teaching children about boundaries can also help them develop respect for themselves and others.

Encouraging independence: While it's natural to want to protect and help your children, fostering an environment where they can make decisions, solve problems, and take on appropriate responsibilities is crucial for their development. Support their autonomy while being there to guide and assist when needed. This balance can promote confidence and resilience in children.

If you’re struggling to balance parenting and your mental health, remember that you are not alone. Parenting is a daunting task that requires an enormous amount of mental and physical energy. If you’re finding the day-to-day difficult, strongly consider reaching out to a mental health professional who can help you prioritize your self-care and well-being. Self-care isn’t selfish; it is essential to parenting, mostly because it keeps your health in check and gives you the energy to parent in a manner that suits you. You deserve to prioritize your well-being as a parent, and doing so will likely make the challenges easier to face going forward.

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