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You're not a bad parent for struggling with your mental health

Today is Parent Mental Health Day. It’s a day I didn’t even know existed until late last year but believe is a day that deserves much more attention than it has received to date.


Seeing my sister become a parent for the first time has been a really beautiful experience – proud doesn’t come close to describing how I feel witnessing her abilities as a mother.


But seeing my sister become a parent has also made me realise just how much stigma surrounds parent mental health. There is so much judgement in society when it comes to how grateful people should be to be a parent without any acknowledgement of how challenging it can be to take care of another human being while simultaneously trying to maintain a sense of wellbeing.


Poor parent mental health can have an affect on the whole family. That’s why it’s important to make sure parents are happy and healthy if we want children to be happy and healthy too.

There is not enough empathy or awareness of the difficulties parents face, and I want to do my part to change that by writing this blog.


That’s why I’m so grateful to Tom, Clare and Holly who’ve each shared their experience of being a parent and managing their mental health and wellbeing. They hope by doing this, they can show other parents that they’re not alone and may even inspire those who may need it to seek help and support.


Tom, 42, is a father-of-two whose mental health deteriorated shortly after having his first child.



“I struggled for 4 years after having my first child before I got proper help and was able or willing to try and understand what was happening to me. I felt a lot of shame about struggling which got in the way of asking for help. It’s also very hard to take a step back and deal with anything when you have babies in the house. There is just no time to heal or recover or even just catch a breath and get some mental space. 

 

I felt out of my depth from the birth onwards. I probably felt that way through the whole pregnancy but it was easier to ignore. I felt a huge amount of pressure to just know what to do and how to do it, how to be a dad. Some of that was internal and some was societal. I struggled to look after a baby and support my wife at the same time, let alone try and look after myself. 

 

There was all the physical stuff – lack of sleep, stress, worry – but also a lot of mental stuff that no one had warned me about.  A complete loss of identity and a new identity that was a mystery to me.  It’s almost like a kind of grief for the life that used to be mine.  And of course, it’s very difficult to vocalise any of this because I was worried that it would reflect badly on me as a parent.

  

If you’re a parent who is struggling with their mental health, ask for help. Your G.P is a great place to start but there will also be small, local charities in your community that you probably haven’t heard of.  If you are on a waiting list with the NHS you don’t just have to wait and if there are other services available use them too.

 

If you have people in your life who want to help, let them.  Even if they push the pram around the block while you grab a shower or they do the washing up while you’re feeding.  These sound like small things but they are huge on a bad day.


And don’t forget the old you, the person you were before you were a parent.  Doing 10 mins of an old hobby or a coffee with a friend can remind you about the parts of that that you gave up to be a parent.

 

Trust your instincts and don’t overthink what you should or shouldn’t be doing.  All babies are different, all families are different, and you need to do what works for you.”

 

Tom is a passionate mental health advocate and host of the award-winning podcast, Proper Mental. Listen to his latest podcast episodes here. 

 

Clare, 43, has two children and one step-child. She had her first child in 2013 at the age of 33.



"I think every person’s experience as a new parent is so different. As much as people try to prepare you for parenthood, actually all the advice and anecdotes of other people’s experiences - although sometimes useful - can be hugely unhelpful. Someone may have struggled where I wouldn’t but hearing their story triggered my own anxiety. Or someone saying they found something easy that I struggled with made me feel like a failure. It’s such a minefield.

 

I don’t think at the time I realised just how much the sleep deprivation was impacting me. When I first became a mum, I thought I was supposed to do it all. I think prioritising time for me was very much an issue. I wanted to be the perfect mother, stepmother, wife, friend etc but it was exhausting – having a baby is exhausting! I put a lot of pressure on myself to live up to the image of the perfect/ideal mum.

 

I wanted to take my son to all the baby groups that other friends were attending but I was worrying about money and felt guilty spending it. I also actually found going to new places and meeting new people terrifying. I had no idea why because I was outwardly/seemingly a very confident “together” person, but inside the thought of meeting new people was terrifying – I was worried about saying the wrong thing. I would go to a taster session and then not go back because I would convince myself I’d said the wrong thing and people were offended.

 

The social anxiety was unbelievably high. It’s taken me years to figure all this out. I finally admitted it to my husband who was incredible and I told some trusted friends (some were fabulous, some didn’t get it and that’s part of for the course I think) 

 

If you’re a parent who is struggling with their mental health right now, talk to someone – anyone. It helps to say it out loud in a way that I cannot explain. 


I have learned that exercise helps me a lot, moving and fresh air make me feel better. Self-care is so important, but in order to do it you need to ask for help which can feel unbelievably difficult. I told my friend in a text, she then came to me. It felt easier telling others after because I knew she understood. Even now she notices changes in me and checks in. 


Holly, 31, had her first child in 2017 - a little boy. She is a step parent to a 14-year-old boy too.



"My parenthood journey started 2 months after I lost my dad to cancer, so it was almost a blur. All the firsts for the baby were firsts without my dad. Those were some of the biggest challenges because my son was such a blessing in a difficult time and everything felt bittersweet.


I have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression and take medication for it.


When my son was 3, I was also diagnosed with cervical cancer and therefore had to have a hysterectomy. Through it all there have been other factors alongside parenthood and I feel like my son is the sweet part of it. But I also felt like I lost my identity. And I was living in a parallel universe from what I thought was my life before that.


Something I would say to new parents is, it's okay to be exhausted in every sense of the word. It's okay to need a break. It's okay to lose your identity and feel nervous about that. You aren't on your own and you're definitely not a bad parent. Seek help, talk about it and be kind to yourself."

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