I sat nervously in the doctor’s office, glancing between my rain soaked trainers and the posters reminding me to eat my 5 a day, dreading the first question: how can I help you? I wasn’t even sure that the doctor could help, I was just hoping that how I was feeling towards my motherhood and my daughter was normal and didn’t have to stay as it was. This was the day I felt relief for the first time in months. My wonderful family doctor gently explained that post-natal depression is normal, hormonal, and can be treated. She reassured me that I wasn’t a terrible mother and things could change, so when my daughter was 6 months I began being treated for post-natal depression.

Recently I have been thinking about how can we be our child’s ally when we are struggling with our mental health. It can be difficult to juggle their needs when they can oppose our own, particularly as our parenting can suffer when our needs aren’t met. For me, to remain in a good place with my mental health it is important for me to have some space each day just to myself whether it is to read a book or just sit in a quiet room to relax and pray. My daughter, in her early toddlerdom, likes to be with me all the time and plays best when I’m sat on the floor with her giving her my whole attention. Her very best thing is to climb onto my lap to chat her 14 month words into my face. Yet there are some days that this becomes too much for me – can’t I just drink a cup of coffee without anyone touching me? Can I go to the toilet without an audience?

When my needs oppose my daughter’s, it can be hard to feel like her ally. She needs me to reassure and comfort her with touch but I’m all touched out, so what do I do? Do I let my mental health suffer by denying my needs all the time or do I neglect my daughter’s very human requests?

I have realised that it is about living moment to moment whilst still seeing the big picture.

Each day is made up of moments and in any given my moment my daughter can express a need that she wants me to meet. So when I find I’m having a day when my patience is wearing thin and I need some space I have to take each moment and evaluate it. What will the consequences be of meeting my child’s needs right now? Will it cause me to struggle further which could lead to me making poorer choices later or will it just be a moment that I am able to place her needs above mine?

So here are a few ways we can be our children’s allies when their needs feel like they clash with our own.

  1. Make sure you are getting the help! Whatever that looks like for you, whether medication or counselling or homeopathy or something else, ensure that any mental health issues you are facing are being treated effectively. If you are know you’re on your way to full health, it helps in the moments that seem overwhelming.
  2. Call on your tribe. When my daughter is asking to be in my face chatting or wants to be held and hasn’t napped that day and I’m completely touched out, I call someone. We go to my sister’s house or I plan to meet with a friend, so I’m not alone and have an extra pair of hands with my daughter. Do you have a family member or friend that can take your child for an hour or so for you to have some space? Can you go to a local group or activity that can entertain your child for you to have a breather? Find a tribe and call on them, we were never meant to parent in isolation.
  3. Make mini peaceful moments. Try and have something you can do or call upon at a moment’s notice to calm you down. I am a person of faith, so for me, I pray or sing familiar comforting songs that calm my soul. Counting down from 10 whilst breathing deeply may be underrated but still very effective. Is there a quote or verse or saying that comforts you that you can repeat to yourself?

There have been moments in our daughter’s life where my husband has been pressured at work so I have done more of the share of the parenting (by agreement). These are seasons that I struggle with mentally and can find my daughter’s needs clashing with my own more than I would like. So in a moment where our needs clashed, I would pause and think to myself: what decision is going to make me a better parent for the rest of the day, week, month, year? I decided to momentarily deny my daughter’s needs to meet my own – I made a cup of coffee. I find the process of making hot drinks quite therapeutic but it was more than that. Even though she was asking for milk fairly frantically at my knees, I needed to give myself the space long enough to know that when I sat down to feed her again I would at least be doing it with a cup of coffee. After my brief moment to myself, denying her needs momentarily to meet my own, I could go to her with fresh perspective and was able to treat her as a fully human being with thoughts and needs of her own. My momentary refusal to acknowledge her need meant that I was actually a better ally to her in the long run because I had given myself the permission to meet my need.

For me this is how we can be effective allies to our children when our mental health can suffer. We must keep the bigger picture in mind that parenting isn’t something we ever stop doing, therefore sometimes we must make a choice that in the moment feels like we are refusing to acknowledge our child’s rights but in the long run allows us to parent from fullness rather than emptiness.

There is a space to say though that in a moment of crisis, when you are at the edge of your ‘safe zone’, ensure your child is safe and give yourself what you need to be able to parent well. We all experience times where we’ve run ourselves too thin and our emotions are boiling over but I do not believe that we are bad parents to experience this. All we can do is take each moment as it comes whilst remembering the bigger picture.

So in each clash of needs between ourselves and our children, in each moment where acknowledging our child’s rights feels like it infringes on our mental health and wellness, ask yourself in this moment what will make me the better parent in the long run? Is this a need that my child can wait to have met this time? Will this momentary refusal damage them? If they can wait and it won’t damage them, meet your need. Take that space. Do that thing that will give you the perspective and space to be a confident ally to your child. We cannot pour out of an empty vessel.

Photo by Jenna Norman on Unsplash

Leah Sherwood is a full-time mum to Edith Annabel and lives with her husband and daughter on the gorgeous Isle of Man. You can find her on Instagram as @leahjsherwood

No Comments

Leave a Comment