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Episode 20: Parenting Through Your Own Mental Health Issues


[00:00:00] Good morning! This morning is a listener request. When I reached out on Instagram stories and asked what would people like to hear from me, this request really resonated with me. The topic is how to parent through your own mental health issues. There are a lot of people who talk about this online . . . a lot of therapists and mental health professionals that talk about this.

[00:00:29] And I think my perspective is that of someone who has been there, because at the end of the day, I am a parent and I don't try to hide the fact that I have anxiety . . . and that I've also been through a lot of, well, two major traumatic situations that have led me to have some post-traumatic stress disorder. So parenting through those issues can be really difficult.

[00:01:04] And I think one of the main things that is on my heart to tell you is that when my daughter was 18 months old and I divorced, part of the reason why I did that is because she was showing signs of anxiety, and I really did not want her to grow up experiencing the same sorts of things that I did, which were stomachaches and just really not wanting to put myself out there.

[00:01:34] I remember going skiing when I was a kid and my stomach was so upset at just the thought of doing this - I didn't want to go. And I worried that my daughter was going to grow up and not want to try things, not have any confidence, and I didn't want that for her. So that's part of the reason why I separated from my ex-husband. And I think eight years later, he and I will both agree that that was a good decision.

[00:02:05] But I went to a therapist to try and get some help for my daughter and . . . she was excellent, this therapist, and she gave me a lot of really great parenting tips and a lot of them were based on attachment theory, which is a lot of like, responding to your child and listening to what they're trying to tell you and trying to make sure that they understand that they are safe and secure and that you will always be there to meet their needs.

[00:02:38] The problem comes when the child needs so much from you and you are not able to give it. And the reason why you're not able to give it is because you have your own mental health issues and your own mental health concerns and you aren't able to show up for your child in all of the ways that they need. Because some kids need more than their parents are able to give. My mom has always said to me that my daughter and I were a good match for one another because I was able to show up for her mostly in the ways that she needed me to. And of course, no parent is perfect, but I just remember how anxious she was when she was three and I was exhausted and just completely overwhelmed. And what she was telling me she needed was to never be alone. And I couldn't go to sleep without her because she was terrified to be alone.

[00:03:46] And so I would just constantly give and give and give from an empty cup. And it wasn't good for me, it wasn't good for my health, and it wasn't good for her either, because at the end of the day, I wasn't able to show up for her the way that I would want to. I wasn't able to show up for myself because I was so busy showing up for her. And I really do believe that, especially for older kids, when we are able to give boundaries to our families, our kids learn from that.

[00:04:20] We don't want them to grow up and constantly be giving of themselves to the point that there's nothing left. That's not what we want for our kids, and it shouldn't be what we want for ourselves . . . If for no other reason than the fact that our kids are watching us. And when we when we give to the point of exhaustion, they learn that that's what they should do, too.

[00:04:44] So parenting through mental health issues. It's difficult. I'm not going to lie. And it's a lot easier when you have a partner. And given that I was a single mom for six years, it was really hard to parent through exhaustion, to parent through anxiety, depression, all of the things that come especially after a major trauma like divorce.

[00:05:18] How do you show up for your kids when you're having a difficult time yourself? And I'll tell you now that I have 20/20 hindsight, the answer is you ask for help. And you don't feel bad about it, because I learned through cancer that giving and receiving is a beautiful circle, and when you allow yourself to receive, you give people the gift of being able to give — and people like to give. When you say no, you rob them of that opportunity. The big thing to do is to say, "I need help." And you don't take advantage of people by any means. Instead, you find ways that you can give to them that are easy for you and ask them for help with things that are easy for them.

[00:06:19] So let me give you an example of what I would have done when I was a single parent. If I had known then what I know now. I would have allowed people to have my daughter over for play dates and I wouldn't have felt guilty about it, and I would not have felt like I needed to reciprocate. Now that my daughter is older, pre-covid, I had kids over to our house all the time. It made my life easier because my daughter was entertained with her friend and it's joyous to hear their laughter and their giggles and all the things that they would do together.

[00:07:00] And it wasn't difficult for me at all. It would have been difficult for me as a single parent. So I would have taken people up on their offers to have my daughter over for a playdate. And maybe I would have provided a snack, maybe I wouldn't have. I never expect that from people when they bring their kids over to our house. So that's number one.

[00:07:27] I would have accepted the help that was offered to me and I wouldn't have felt guilty about it because people don't offer if they don't actually want to do it.

[00:07:37] Second thing I would have done is I would have allowed for carpools. So in the mornings, I had people offer to take my daughter to school. And because she didn't want to be away from me, I just automatically said no. I also didn't want people to go out of their way to pick her up when I could "easily" take her. Instead, I would basically get ready an hour and a half before I needed to so that I had the time to take her to school and make it to work on time or early every day. And I could have given that up for a couple of days a week and then picked up their kid on the other days of the week. And then I would have had two days where I was a freakin stressed out in the morning. Again, I would have asked for help.

[00:08:28] Third, I would have gotten a group of friends earlier than I did and I would have arranged for shared meals and I would have really taken the idea of having a crappy potluck and and done something with it. And the idea of a crappy potluck is basically . . . If you are exhausted and all you're going to do is put spaghetti in a pot and put like Prego over it, invite your friends over to do that, too, and then they can bring the lettuce that they were going to make a crappy salad out of. And then you eat it together.

[00:09:10] And that makes for community it makes it easier for your kids to make friends and it makes it easier on you. And I would have done that. I would have done that.

[00:09:22] I did a little bit with my married friends and I felt guilty for not giving the, you know, super great meals or whatever that they were able to cook, but I was putting all of that on myself. I was putting that anxiety and that shame on myself. They thought I was doing fine. You know, like if I bring cut up fruit from Safeway instead of something that I made myself, everybody's getting fed. Everybody's getting a fruit. We are all good. I would have dropped the guilt. I would have dropped the guilt and I would have dropped the shame.

[00:10:08] I also think I would have taken time for myself if I weren't a single parent, I would have taken time for myself, that is one of the benefits I think of being divorced was forced time away from my daughter and let me clarify what that means. So I didn't share overnight custody with my ex-husband until I don't remember how old my daughter was, but she was too little to spend the night with him.

[00:10:43] When she went with him, it was like eight hours that I had to myself that I never would have allowed for had I still been married. I would have felt guilty, I would have felt like my ex-husband couldn't handle it, I would have made a thousand excuses why I didn't deserve to spend this time away from my daughter.

[00:11:07] And that time served me so well. It was awful and uncomfortable at first, and I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't been forced to share custody, I'm not going to lie to you. But it helped my mental health so much to just have time where my brain was off. That I didn't need to be responsible for someone other than myself. And as much as I missed my daughter, which oh my God, did I ever miss her, it was horrible. It also was exactly what I needed in order to get myself in order.

[00:11:46] So I would also recommend figuring out a way where you can take time for yourself. Now that I am partnered and my boyfriend and I live together, I still take time for myself now. Even though I have my daughter all the time, I take time for myself because I 100% need it to stay sane.

[00:12:12] And I alluded to this in an earlier episode when I talked about taking time for yourself and how I sit in the closet every morning and that is legit. I sit in the closet every morning and I don't apologize for it, because if I don't take that time to myself, I am not the kind of mother that I need to be for my daughter. I am not the kind of partner I aim to be to my boyfriend. Because my anxiety gets too high.

[00:12:43] I need that time to calm down, to center myself, to get into the right mindset, to be able to take on my day. And when I talk about mindset, I think this probably needs to be its own episode at some point. But a brief overview is basically that you can either choose to see things in a positive light or you can choose to see all of the things that aren't going right. And whichever way you choose to see it, is the way that it will go. And that is because what you give attention to multiplies. And that's not some kind of woo woo spiritual stuff.

[00:13:33] It's like . . . that is how it feels to be anxious. If a situation presents itself and like let's use the skiing example from when I was a little kid, OK? I'm going skiing. I can choose to focus on everything that will go wrong. I could fall down the hill. I could run into a tree, I could break my leg. I could get stuck up on a hill and have to go to the bathroom and not know where to go. I could not know what I'm doing. I could get stuck on the hill and have to have somebody come rescue me. There's any number of horrible things. Oh, here's a big one: I could fall off the ski lift, which is legitimately one of my biggest fears. I could choose to focus on all of those things. And that doesn't mean that those things are going to happen, but it means that my experience is going to be negative.

[00:14:30] The other option is to think about it as possibilities. So what if it turns out that I really enjoy skiing and I had no idea? What if it turns out that I'm a natural? What if it turns out that being out in nature and listening to the trees with the snow is totally magical? And I never would have had that opportunity had I not gone? What if I meet really amazing people? What if I decide not to ski at all but find a fireplace and a hot chocolate, because it turned out I actually didn't like skiing?

[00:15:07] What if the best case scenario is what happens? It doesn't mean that that's what's going to happen, but it does mean that I'm approaching that situation with a different mindset. And this is practice. And this is why I have to go into the closet every day. It's because I can choose to think about the worst case scenario or I can choose to write the worst case scenario down, get it out of my head, and choose to focus on the possibilities instead.

[00:15:37] That is how I parent through my mental health issues. I take time for myself and I focus on trying to do the best that I can and I let everything else go. Because I can't do it all. I am not perfect. No one expects me to be perfect and all I can do as best I can do, and that's enough.

[00:16:04] I hope this has helped you if you have any more questions, I'm so happy to hear your feedback and your questions and your things you'd like me to talk about things you think suck...Any feedback! I want to hear it. Follow me on Instagram @mightyandbrightco and let me know what you think. Thanks again for spending your 16 minutes and twenty six seconds with me. Bye bye!