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Let’s be real: some days are a dream, the kids get up, dressed, eat, and play nicely without clawing each other’s eyes out or fighting over who breathed the most air but, some days you feel like running and not in the get fit and healthy way, just leave, just walk/run away and never return. Move to some tropical island and drink your days away with a margarita in your hand at all times. No noise, noone calling Mum 28,000 times in a row, no endless laundry, no no-thank-you for literally living your whole life to “serve” them. Just you and your thoughts, a good book, warm weather, and a gorgeous view – sounds bloody good, doesn’t it?
But it’s a pipedream and, to be clear, I’m certainly at no risk of running away from my family, it’s just that some days are beyond hard, relentless, and just feel like a battle you can never win. Then, these days turn into weeks of the same “battles”, and this can leave me (you) feeling like the person you were before children is gone, she’s decided to head somewhere else and your identity as a person seems forever changed.
I look in the mirror some days and wonder whose reflection that is? Surely, it can’t be me; I look exhausted, sad, and so serious. I wasn’t like this always, or was I? For me, and many of us, parenting is like a metronome, it swings to and fro between the very best of me and the absolute worst version of myself, and this is normal, I think, as most parents I’ve spoken to would agree. These tiny (or not so tiny) people know EVERY.SINGLE.ONE of our buttons and they push them, and push them, and push them until we can’t take it anymore – maybe it’s a game they play subconsciously, either way it’s hard when you’re in the trenches and trying to find a way to calm the situation down, and yourself if I’m honest.
It's the outbursts that drive me crazy. The ones where your gorgeous little one becomes possessed with this crazy demon and they literally can not get out of their own way. You know the ones, where you keep telling yourself that they’re only little and don’t have the emotional regulation skills that we, as adults, have. Which, in itself, is laughable as inside me my brain is exploding as I stand there and try to pacify this demon in front of me – my emotional regulation is not perfect BY ANY MEANS. LOL
Our mental health, particularly as parents, is important. After all, you have to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others but it’s not that easy or we would all be doing this, right? Mental health and mental illness in parents are an increasing challenge in Australia. Estimates of the prevalence of parental mental illness vary, but Australian research has found that up to one in four children are being raised by a parent with mental illness1. I know for me, that I certainly have more mental health issues now that I have children.
I suppose what I’m trying to say, is that our mental health matters, not just for us but also for our kids as analyses using data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children showed that parental mental health early in a child’s life was related to children’s long-term mental health outcomes and children whose parents had experienced moderate or high levels of psychological distress were more likely to experience social-emotional difficulties over time1. But this is not about feeling guilty or trying to scare us, research like this hopefully encourages us to find strategies or support or help us ensure that we are in the best possible place to parent our kids productively.
I was recently talking to one of my kid’s teachers and she said to me “the fact that you are here and asking me questions about how your daughter is going, means you are a great parent” and she then followed up to say “because, not all parents take this time to seek support and help with raising their children, so give yourself a break”. I have thought about this numerous times time since we met and, you know what, she’s right! I am here, trying to do my best, even trying to do better! Why? Because I love those little snot faced monsters more than anything in this world and all I want for them is that they are happy and grow up knowing how much we love them and that we will always be there for them.
Having said all of this, how can we support ourselves better so that we, as parents and people, can ensure that our mental health is a good as it possibly can be. Now, like all things that include our health, if you are worried about anything, we should always seek medical advice from a health care professional and definitely not from this overworked, rather jaded, Mum who is having a few rough days back-to-back and wanted to get it off her chest (i.e. me).
If you suffer with some mental health challenges, it can be isolating (trust me I know), and it still remains a taboo topic in most social situations and particularly in families. But we aren’t alone, 45 per cent of Australians will experience mental health challenges at some point in their life – yes that says 45%! You’d think something that affects almost half of us would be much easier to talk about- but it’s not. I know from personal experience that talking about my mental health was really bloody hard. Actually, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. However, there’s safety in numbers and once I opened up about my mental health, it opened up loads of conversations with people I knew about their mental health struggles. So, my first suggestion would be talk to people to build a support network around you that is positive, understanding, and willing to help you! I have been fortunate to find an excellent psychologist to help me unpack some of my issues, so you could always start there too!
Easy right? Ummm, yeah not so much. The first step for anything that’s challenging is always the hardest but once it’s done the path ahead may look a little less daunting and could even be a little clearer. I found that I was really proud of myself for acknowledging I was suffering and needed some help/support and even more proud when I actually went looking for that help and support. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health, I think it’s about finding something that works for you, and you might need to adopt a trial-and-error strategy to help you move forward. I certainly found that once I was moving forward the positive momentum inspired me to keep going.
I have found that Mental Health journeys are a marathon not a sprint, with a need to commit to a long-term approach. It’s not a quick band aid fix, we need to get to core of what is affecting our mental health and address that. Without this, all our hard work will likely be for nothing, and the chance of relapse would be high, I think. One really good thing about being proactive and open with your mental health issues is that your children see you addressing and doing something to help ourselves in a productive and positive way. Hopefully, this will reduce the risk that mental health will be a taboo topic for them as they move into adulthood later. We all know that we, parents, are our children’s most important teachers. We teach our kids how they we “sit” in this world. The behaviour we model is likely to be the behaviour they replicate. I for one, hope that my kids are comfortable to be honest and open about anything that worries them, including their mental health. I have also noticed that my kids are becoming more empathetic with me, but also with other people. They often check in of friends and even kids in a park to see if they’re ok, especially if someone is upset. This has to be a parenting win, right? Well at least that might be one! 😊
It feels like a lot, I know. That’s because it is. But our mental health is important, it’s equally as important as our physical health and we all need to start thinking more like this. It’s my non-healthcare professional opinion, is that we, as parents, need to model positive behaviour, proactively address our challenges and be transparent about this, with our family, our friends and most importantly, ourselves. It would be nice to be more chilled and relaxed at home and with our kids, don’t you think? But if it was easy, we’d all be fine and doing this, but we aren’t and mental health issues will continue to be part of our societies, and families, for as long as we keep our heads in the sand.
I’m not embarrassed that I struggle with my mental health, and neither should you be! I’m medicated and have very regular psych appointment and it’s taken me a long time to be completely OK with this. The simple fact was that I needed help, help I didn’t seem to be able to give myself.
At the end of the day, we love our kids like no one else ever will, and I truly believe we are all trying to do our best and that has to be enough! Even if they are one of the only things in our lives that simultaneously drive us to the brink of frustration and provide purpose and a love, I never knew was possible. Toughest gig in the world, that’s for sure.
Please note that this article us wholly my (uneducated) opinion and it’s a culmination of my experience, as a mum and as a person. If this article relates to you, then my hope would be that it provides some context and support for you and your family. I’m sure we’ve all got this! xxx