This is an article I wrote for “Parenting Mental Health” a charity and support group for parents of children with mental health issues.
Its easy to lose oneself in the daily struggles of being a parent to a child with mental health issues. This can have a detrimental effect on our own mental health, but also our ability in helping our children navigate their way through life.
The thing that binds us all together is the love and dedication to helping them and our own powerlessness to change a world that doesn’t appreciate or understand neurodiversity and our wonderful children.
Over the years I have often felt exhausted and craved the need for some time on my own, just a break from having to be a ‘Super Parent’ all the time.
I wondered whether other parents felt the same or whether I was just being selfish. However, when I started to work with parents some years later, I realised that we forget we have needs and bypass ourselves to be there for our children.
This led me to develop a set of ‘Parenting Permissions’ which I’ve shared here in the hopes of helping others who are experiencing the same.
- I am important – I have this as a little mantra because when there are so demands on us, we can become invisible. Make time for you – Take some time during the day to be alone and quiet, ideally to do something that’s for you and soothing (even if it’s 10-15 minutes)
- Put down the books on how to parent a neurodivergent child – The books are great, but they can completely absorb us with strategies some of which work, and some don’t. They can often reinforce our feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
- Try and do something fun – As parents we forget that we have a ‘child’ part that needs attention and is wanting to do something that is fun. Indulge that part of you.
- Meet up with Friends – Friends who you can chat to about a range of things, but not necessarily about being a parent. Friends are our lifeline to the outside world, often as parents of a neurodivergent child, we become isolated and distanced from the world particularly if your child doesn’t like going out.
- Have the courage to say NO – Say no to taking on additional responsibilities, ‘that group you think you could support because you have the knowledge and skills’. They will survive without you!
- Take a break from the fight – As parents of neurodivergent children, we are always fighting for something, whether that be with Schools, CAMHS or other services. We are often exhausted, angry, and demoralised. We can’t change everything so choose your battles and recognise when your energy levels are low or you’re spinning too many plates. Step back for a while, reenergise and then decide what are the priorities
- Recognise your skills and limitations as a parent – We cannot be good at all aspects of parenting, there are no templates on how to do this. Allow your intuition to guide and acknowledge the things that challenge you. There is no shame in saying when we feel something is too much. At that point we might need to seek advice and guidance from others, the PMH community are always there to offer suggestions. Throw away the feelings of shame and guilt of not being the perfect parent, you are ‘Good enough’.
- Praise Yourself – We all need ‘Warm Fuzzies’ so when acknowledgement from those around us, is not forthcoming, recognise the things that you have done that you are pleased about – that meltdown you managed, getting your child to school – it all counts.
- Every day is a new day – Start each day with a blank slate, whatever happened yesterday is in the past, don’t dwell on the negatives, but stay focussed in the moment, the hour. the day.
If we don’t look after ourselves then we cannot provide our children with what they need. We make ourselves more susceptible to mental and physical health issues.
I recognise many people reading this will be saying “I don’t have time for me, I’m not important.” Whatever bit of time we can grab is better than nothing. I am great lover of musicals, but I realised a long time ago despite trying and ending up exhausted I am not nor do I want to be Mary Poppins, “Practically Perfect in Every Way.”