Parenting is a hard job. Raising a child is 24/7; there are no breaks or vacations from being a parent, and there’s no way to clock out when the going gets tough. Being a parent is amazingly rewarding and one of the most defining experiences in life, but that doesn’t mean it leads to a lifetime of bliss. The road is rough, from sleepless nights in infancy to boundary-pushing during teen years. Parenting and mental health should not be considered in isolation from each other.
Many parents feel that after they have children, their primary focus needs to be on childcare rather than personal needs. In many ways, this makes sense — young children, in particular, require support in virtually all aspects of life — but this can often mean neglecting things like mental health.
School provides a temporary reprieve, allowing parents to go to work or take care of household tasks while children are engaged in education for eight hours a day. However, in the era of COVID-19, that routine is ruined in most parts of the country. Most schools are now online, leaving parents — many of whom now work from home — to balance their own work with teaching children and maintaining a household.
In a national crisis, it’s harder than ever to make time for mental health. However, pandemic parenting tips can help you balance teaching and guiding children without neglecting your own medical needs. Parenting and mental health are both priorities, and this article aims to help you give both the attention they deserve.
The Overwhelming Nature of the Pandemic
There is nothing nice, normal or easy about life in the face of COVID-19. Millions are out of work, and countless jobs have switched formats in a way that brings new problems to light, like staying connected to coworkers and meeting deadlines. And for many parents, working remotely while parenting is a whole new world of challenges to navigate.
The upheaval of routines is arguably one of the most significant consequences of the pandemic. Taking your child to school now translates to setting them up at the dining room table with a laptop. For those still employed, going to work might mean heading to the office, but it could also mean heading to a desk in the bedroom. Even the little things, like picking up a favorite coffee drink on the way to work, are now unavailable. Virtually overnight, life changed in a very stressful way.
Furthermore, many of the things most people do for stress relief, like going to fitness classes, heading to the theater to watch a show or movie or even grabbing dinner with a friend, are no longer options. This leads to high levels of stress and anxiety, which only compounds the problems of parenting.
What Is Pandemic Parenting?
Parenting in a pandemic is a whole new experience for everyone with children. With all routines out the window and normal plans like sports teams, creative classes or even trips to museums or the zoo unavailable, parents are stuck entertaining children with limited time and limited resources. Parents who work from home are suddenly nannies and teachers on top of their normal work normal responsibilities, and that’s not easy for anyone.
It’s also hard to explain to children what’s going on. Discussing tough topics, like getting sick or dying, isn’t easy to navigate, especially when illness hits close to home. Children also struggle to understand things like why they need to wear a mask, why their youth sports leagues were canceled, or why they can’t see their friends. This puts added pressure on parenting, creating problems parents never saw coming.
When added to the other stressors brought on by the pandemic, it’s completely understandable that mental health may start to slide.
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Gauging Your Own Mental Well-Being
Mental wellness is a major problem in the US in the wake of COVID-19. By late June, research has shown that 40% of adults reported issues with mental health or substance abuse. As the pandemic draws on, this number is only likely to increase.
With parenting problems, work stressors and a lack of outlets for stress relief, trouble maintaining mental well-being is completely understandable. However, all of the pressures of the pandemic can put mental wellness on the back burner — and that’s not okay. Failing to recognize and address mental health needs early can lead to an overall decline that will be far more difficult to resolve.
How Can You Gauge Your Parenting and Mental Health When Juggling Both?
To gauge whether you may be experiencing significant issues in need of attention, ask yourself honestly if:
- Your temper seems shorter than usual
- You are unable to focus properly on tasks that once came easily, like routine work duties
- You dread getting out of bed or handling simple tasks
- You are falling behind on normal household chores, like doing the dishes
- You cry more than usual
- You and your spouse are fighting more than usual
- Normal activities with your child suddenly seem exhausting or unbearable
- Your tolerance for physical touch has decreased
- You are fatigued beyond a normal level
- Your hair is falling out
- You no longer care about things that previously mattered, like performing well at work
- Your favorite activities are no longer enjoyable
If your answer to more than one or two of these questions is yes, you may want to take steps to put more focus on your own health.
How Can You Balance Parenting and Mental Health?
As a parent, one of your primary roles is serving as a helper. You are there to answer questions, help with basic life tasks, assist with learning, make meals, and manage hygiene routines. However, when you’re not your best self, you can’t effectively serve others. If mental health is standing in the way of normal life, it’s time to take action.
First and foremost, parents with a mental disorder or those who are experiencing signs of one should consider speaking with a professional. Many counselors and therapists now offer video sessions, making it a little easier to find time for therapy. Make sure you take at least a little time to do things you enjoy, like reading a book in the bath or taking a walk around the neighborhood solo. As little as 15 minutes of peace and quiet can make a difference.
It’s also okay to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask a spouse or partner to take on more of the load, even temporarily, so you can improve your situation. Or, if it’s safe to do so in your area, consider hiring a babysitter to work with your child periodically during the week. Just a few hours away from parenting, like the hours you used to have when your child was in school, can do wonders for getting your stress under control.
As a parent, you love your child and want to do whatever it takes to make this tough period as easy as possible for them. But that doesn’t mean you need to neglect yourself. Make sure you’re doing what you need to do to stay healthy in these troubling times — your mental wellness and your child will thank you.
If your or a family member’s mental health problems are too severe to manage independently, FHE Health can help. Our mental health treatment programs are comprehensive, providing care for a wide range of conditions in a safe, secure environment. Contact us today to learn more about how our programs can make a difference for you in balancing parenting and mental health.