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“I’m burnt out and tired and sick of this shit,” a mom friend recently said to me. Just like me, she’s trying her absolute best to be a good parent in these strange, unorthodox times we’re living in.
Preach, mama, preach.
There are not many positives that have come from the relentless pandemic we’re living in, but if I had come up with a single silver lining, it would be this:
Our society is finally bringing attention to mental health for parents. And while it’s still a TINY bit of the attention this topic deserves, it’s better than nothing.
Mental Health for Parents Deserves More Attention
Raising children is a challenge. It is isolating, tiring, overwhelming, and stressful. While of course we love our children, the day-to-day of parenting can often want to make you pull your hair out.
These taxing moments of child-rearing can feel even more difficult for parents who already struggle with diagnosed mental health issues.
And that’s not to mention the mental health struggles that are common for new parents, such as
- Dealing with postpartum anxiety or postpartum depression
- Difficulties transitioning during the postpartum experience
- Struggling with postpartum body image.
It’s crucial to find ways of handling the emotions and mental health struggles that come hand-in-hand with parenting (instead of just chalking it up to us being “crazy moms“!).
Whether you’re dealing with minimal parenting anxiety or full-blown depression, here are our experience-based tips, tricks, and resources to make the experience more manageable.
If you feel extremely overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, or have thoughts of harming yourself, please call 911 or contact that following resources:
- Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service (SAMHSA)’s national hotline, which is open 24/7, 365 days a year.
- Or, for more specific help with a parenting crisis, you can text HOME to the Crisis Text Line for immediate support.
- Call or text Postpartum Support International. Call 1-800-944-4773 or text 503-894-9453.
One Mother’s Mental Health Journey: My Personal Story
Soon after weaning my second daughter, I felt the familiar nagging of anxiety, which I’ve suffered from since college.
Later on, I would find out that, when a mother stops breastfeeding, the fluctuations in hormones can cause post-weaning depression and anxiety.
Sadly, I’d never heard of this when I was in the thick of it.
I found myself lost in an endless cycle of worrying about my health and the health of my children.
While part of me understood that these feelings were my anxiety playing tricks on me, they felt so real that it became difficult to differentiate between reality and anxious thought.
For months, I tried to practice the self care for moms tricks I’d always turned to in the past. I eliminated caffeine, started getting more sleep, practiced meditation, and more.
Yet somehow, things weren’t getting better.
Asking for Help for Anxiety
Living with mental illness is hard.
I can’t tell you how many times I found myself sitting in the doctor’s office – convinced I was having a heart attack or that some sinister disease was creeping around beneath the surface of my skin.
It felt like I was falling deeper and deeper down a hole I couldn’t get out of, and I was exhausted from trying to fight this mental beast on my own.
So finally, I swallowed my pride, made an appointment with a counselor, and asked my doctor to put me on medication.
After just a few counseling appointments and weeks on medication, I suddenly realized it felt like I could breathe again. I didn’t feel fuzzy or lethargic – I simply felt awake.
Mental health struggles for parents are real and they are a challenging burden to bear.
Whether it’s the general stresses of everyday life or something that needs clinical assistance, it’s essential to understand the ways parenting anxiety can affect our mental health.
More importantly, it’s crucial to figure out what to do about it. Thankfully, there are plenty of options to help you overcome your parenting mental health troubles, including anxiety in motherhood.
Parenting and Mental Health Go Hand-in-Hand
While a lot of the time, raising children can be joyous and positive, no parent can be cool, calm, and collected 100% of the time. It can begin as early as pregnancy, when perinatal depression sometimes strikes expecting moms completely unaware.
For a parent struggling with mental illness, however, this is even more of a challenge.
Treating our mental health conditions is often a practice in self-care. More than just popping a daily pill, we have to take certain steps throughout the day to protect ourselves from spiraling down a thorny path. Also, it’s essential that we pair any necessary medication with counseling.
Let’s be honest; raising a child is not always conducive to time spent focusing on our own well-being.
When finding five minutes to take a shower uninterrupted is difficult, how is a mom or dad supposed to carve out actual time for self-care?
And to be clear, when people talk about self care for moms, taking a shower doesn’t count – bathing is a necessity, not a mental health break!
Not Taking Care of Ourselves Can Impact Our Children
No matter how hard self-care may seem, it is critical to successful parenting.
When we’re running on empty and not taking care of our mental health, we’re unable to provide our children with the guidance, attention, and opportunities for learning they need.
If a parent’s poor mental health goes untreated for long periods of time, it can lead to possible consequences in our children’s choices, experiences, and behavior, such as:
- Poor performance in school
- Isolation from their peers, due to shame and the stigmas of mental health
- Increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse
- Physical health problems that stem from the lack of attention from parents
Talk to your child about your mental health struggles if they’re at an age where you feel like they can understand. Mental health problems are common, and destigmatizing them early can really benefit our children and their future world.
If you’re concerned about the likelihood your child will be affected by your mental illness, we’ve done lots of research to help you understand how best to help yourself and your family.
How Are Parental Mental Illness and Child Development Related?
There is a chance children of parents with mental illness could face biological, psychosocial, or environmental risk factors, but it’s only a chance, and can be managed with mental health care.
The precise likelihood of how and why this occurs is unknown.
Every child is different. Every parent is different. Every situation is different.
Some kids, for example, won’t be affected by a parent’s mental illness at all, while others might experience developmental challenges.
It’s also worth noting that many of the risks facing children aren’t specifically caused by their parents’ mental health. They’re primarily related to whether their mom or dad can still practice positive parenting while enduring these struggles.
If you’re concerned about whether your child is being affected by your condition, it’s essential for all parents and caregivers to keep a close eye on them.
If you don’t feel capable of managing this task on your own, speak to a partner, grandparent, or other trusted official to help you identify possible problems.
Studies have shown that young people affected by their parents’ mental health will sometimes display certain emotions, such as:
Parents should also be on the lookout for the other signs previously mentioned, such as poor academic performance or a disinterest in being with their peers.
If you think there’s a possible mental health struggle at play, be sure to contact your child’s doctor, a counselor, or school officials to find out what resources are available to help you get them the assistance they need.
Will Your Child “Catch” Your Mental Illness?
As someone who’s well acquainted with the challenges of anxiety, I sometimes feel like my days are full of fear.
Fear of getting sick, making the wrong decision, and fear of having to interact with people I’m not comfortable with. All these concerns rear their ugly heads repeatedly.
As of late, however, I’ve found one worry running through my mind more than others – will my daughters end up just like me?
Mental health issues are not contagious.
Just because you’re feeling anxiety does not mean you’re going to pass it on to your child.
With that in mind, some scientists believe there can be genetic links between a parent and child that might lead to sharing the same mental health concerns.
If you and other members of your family suffer from similar conditions, it’s possible your child could inherit the same proclivity toward mental health issues.
If you’re concerned that your child may be suffering from a mental illness, getting them help as soon as possible is critical. Be on the lookout for indicators of mental health difficulties, such as:
- Continually sad for two weeks, or more
- Lack of interest in social interactions
- Troublesome outbursts or intense irritability
- Harming themselves or talking about trying to hurt themself
- Significant fluctuations in mood or behavior
- Weight loss
- Trouble sleeping
- Frequent stomach aches or headaches
- Differences in academic performance or interest in going to school
- Conversations about death or suicide
6 Important Mental Health Tips for Parents
When it comes to managing mental health for parents, progress is not always about taking giant leaps and bounds.
Sometimes, handling parenting and mental health means making simple adjustments to your everyday life.
If you’re looking for ways to get started, these six mental health tips for parents are great options:
1. Ensure Your Basic Needs are Being Met
I can’t be the only person who finds themself rushing about their day and suddenly realizing they haven’t taken a sip of water in hours (let alone peed!).
We get so busy taking care of our little ones that we forget about all of the things we need to be doing for ourselves. Try to add ways of prioritizing yourself into your routine.
We all know that moms can’t exactly put themselves first often, so we’re not asking you for much.
Every little bit helps.
Try and do things like carrying around a water bottle with markers to show how much to drink throughout the day.
Take your child for walks, feed yourself three square meals, and try to nap when the baby naps if you have very young children(easier said than done, we know). These are actually still examples of self-care!
Small steps can make a big difference in a mother’s mental health.
2. Find Activities for Preschoolers at Home (or Whatever Age Your Children Are) that Make You Feel Good
Doesn’t it sometimes feel like our role as parents is nothing more than being a full-time entertainer for our kids? Especially now that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic?
Well, if we’re looking for ways to keep them busy, why not choose activities that work for you, too?
Here are some examples:
- If you like coloring, make it a family affair. Download our printable coloring book for young children here.
- Put on your favorite Disney movie from when you were a kid
- Read your little ones your favorite books childhood books
- Read your little ones children’s books about diversity or another topic you are passionate about
- Expose them to the music you enjoy listening to
- If you enjoy hiking and nature, find ways to safely get outside near your home
If there’s something that makes you feel good, find a way to combine that with the time you’re spending with your kids.
Also remember the importance of independent play. Kids can play without you and it’s good for us to encourage them to do so!
3. Cut Yourself Some Slack
I love to cook, but when I’m having one of “those days,” I feel like I can barely pull myself up from the couch – let alone prepare a healthy dinner for my family.
That’s when a pizza gets ordered, or a frozen lasagna is popped into the oven.
We sometimes believe we have to be ON all the time by offering our children the very best version of ourselves at every turn. This is mom guilt at its peak…and it SUCKS.
Don’t be afraid to let yourself take it easy, and remember to control what you CAN control.
Mental health for parents is about creating boundaries in your life and accepting when you need a break.
If that break looks like taking a nap with your kids instead of vacuuming the floors – do it!
4. Create Your Own Bedtime Routine
We know, we know. You hear all sorts of talk about different bedtime routines in parenting communities. What’s not often talked about, though, is figuring out how to put yourself to bed, as well!
Ensure you have a good routine in place, and set rules for yourself to ensure you’re getting the sleep your body needs and deserves.
Can’t sleep due to anxiety? Establish a bedtime routine by:
- avoiding going to bed when you aren’t actually sleepy,
- setting a bedtime with a range of 1-2 hours or so,
- avoiding caffeine late in the day,
- creating a ritual of either drawing yourself a relaxing bath or having some sleepy time tea,
- and putting down your screens half an hour before you go to sleep.
Basically, do whatever it takes to ensure you’re going to get some good zzzzz’s, too!
5. Abide by Your Treatment Plan
Whether the treatment plan you create with your doctor involves medications, therapy, or both, the best thing you can do when managing parenting and mental health is stick to it.
It’s crucial to understand the importance of caring for yourself and making sure your body and mind have what they need to get through the day-to-day grind of raising kids.
Trust us! We understand that carving out time for self-care can feel like an impossible indulgence, like there’s simply no room for when you have kids.
Despite this, however, self-care is a critical part of mental health for parents.
If you’re having a hard time figuring out how to make this happen, why not start small?
Even if it means plopping your kids down in front of the tv with a snack for a few minutes, there are several things you can do throughout the day to take care of your mental health needs:
- Read a chapter of a good book
- Practice meditation
- Take a luxurious bubble bath
- Watch an episode of a show
- Drink a glass of wine (or 3 or 4!)
- Write in your journal
- Hop on a phone call with a friend (pro-tip: you can do this while you take the kids for a walk. Give them a book and some snacks in the stroller, and you’re good to go).
- Simply step outside and get a breath of fresh air.
Also, don’t forget that sometimes self care means leaning on your community for support.
If possible, ask your mom, a friend, or caregiver to come over for the afternoon so you can go for a walk alone. Tell your partner you need a date night and use a babysitter you trust. Pay a college student to clean your bathrooms–whatever it is, reach out to your community for help.
We can’t do this alone, mamas.
Vital Mental Health Resources for Parents
If you feel like your mental health issues have become unmanageable and are interfering with your ability to take care of yourself and your children, it’s vital to have the right mental health resources at your disposal.
If you’re unsure where to turn for help, consider asking local officials, such as doctors, schools, insurance agencies, or county offices.
You can also speak to friends and family members to see if they have any recommendations for therapists and doctors in your area.
Often, a recommendation from a friend goes a long way because you know this person trusts their provider.
Another option is to get in touch with a nationally recognized agency, such as:
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- Mental Health America
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
If you’re struggling with addiction, in addition to mental health concerns, please contact an organization like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
And please, if you’re having thoughts about suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Understanding the Importance of Mental Health for Parents
Our kids are important, precious, and worth every moment of chaos and stress they bring into our lives.
This does not mean that our entire world should revolve around them while we let ourselves fall to the wayside.
Mental health for parents is an under-discussed topic that demands more in-depth conversation and action.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the relationship between parenting and mental health, please don’t be afraid to seek the help and guidance you need.
Whether it’s practicing our mental health tips for parents or making an appointment with a counselor, parental mental health should always be a top priority.
Do you currently practice any of our mental health tips for parents or self-care methods? If so, which ones work best for you?
Kristen Bergeron is a freelance writer from Florida. In addition to writing, she is a wife, mother of two beautiful girls, Hadley and Scarlett, and a part-time photographer. After overcoming infertility and having two successful IVF cycles, she’s made it a personal goal to help educate men and women on the realities of fertility struggles. She is passionate about supporting fellow women who are trying to navigate the complicated world of conception, pregnancy, and learning to be the best mothers we can be.