You’ve probably heard that self-care is essential when it comes to parenting. How can you care for your child if you’re not caring for yourself? These words of wisdom are often easier said than done, but research does show that caring for mental health should be a priority for parents.
Poor mental health or untreated mental health conditions in parents or caregivers can significantly impact a child’s development. While it may seem impossible to choose to prioritize self-care as a parent, it’s never been more important to dedicate time and attention to your mental health.
Linking Parent and Child Mental Health
Studies show that poor mental health in parents is directly related to poor physical and mental health in children. It’s important to emphasize this fact so caregivers can truly understand how vital it is to prioritize themselves in this context. A child’s chances of becoming independent, resilient, healthy, and happy heavily depend on their parents’ ability to showcase these characteristics in themselves.
There is no doubt that self-care can be wildly difficult to achieve when you’re carrying the mental load of parenting. Constantly assessing risks, creating routines, problem-solving, making decisions, anticipating needs, and tracking the development of children is the ultimate level of responsibility. But if parents don’t make space for mental health care in their lives, it can have lasting effects on an entire family’s well-being.
How to Begin Putting Your Mental Health First
Caring for your mental health is a life-long journey. Knowing how to begin the journey can be one of the most challenging steps. Here are a few tips to help you start to put your mental health first:
Focus on Basic Needs First
To build the foundation of your self-care practice, focus on your primary needs first. Things like eating right, getting enough sleep, and good hygiene are critical priorities. Starting with basic needs helps us focus on the fundamentals of mental health while discovering other underlying issues that need attention (e.g., “I think I’m not sleeping well because…”).
Talk to Someone
Share with a trusted friend or family member that you’re stressed, frustrated, sad, angry, or whatever thought or emotion is stirring inside you. You might be surprised by how cathartic it can be to simply say the words out loud to someone who will listen. Acknowledging your own thoughts and emotions and sharing them with your support system is a critical step in self-care.
Ask for Help
Parents and caregivers should never hesitate to ask for help when they need it. Whether it’s asking a grandparent to babysit while you nap or reaching out to a therapist for counseling, there is no shame in support. The old “it takes a village to raise a child” proverb has been relevant for centuries for good reason!
Discover the Tools You Need
Over the last few decades, mental health experts have identified valuable tools for maintaining our well-being. Things like anger-management practices, anxiety-reducing breathing techniques, sleep education, and coping strategies are out there and proven to be effective. If you’re being challenged in a specific area, talk to your doctor about researched-based solutions you can try. If you haven’t already browsed the BabySparks online classes offerings, you can find affordable, expert support.
Do What Works for You
A mental health care regimen might work for a friend, but not for you, and that’s okay! If attempting to get to an afternoon yoga class is creating more stress and anxiety for you, change it up! Set realistic expectations for yourself and routinely assess each method by asking yourself, “Is this working for me?”
Remember that self-care and a focus on mental health is not selfish; it’s a necessary part of parenting. Click here if you’re interested in learning mindfulness tips for busy parents!