by Amy Birdseye
edited by Lisa Rose
Mental health — possibly the most important aspect of our parenting. It took me a long time to realize just how important taking care of myself was for my kid and my family. But it’s true. When our mental health is off, as parents we can't be the caregiver we are meant to be. And not only do we deserve to be at our best as parents, but our family deserves us at our best as well. The problem is that much of American culture still clings to negative connotations of the words "mental health." Most of us avoid talking about, and many remain squeamish to admit that they may need some help.
But the truth of the matter is,
we all need to work on our mental health.
Just like we all need to improve our physical health by exercising and our nutritional health by eating well — we all need to speak to a therapist to work on our mental health even if we are in a pretty good place. And this should be completely normalized. Just like going to the gym is totally normal, going to your therapist should be the same.
Harsh Reality: It is very challenging to maintain your mental health while raising kids.
Easy Solution: Therapy
6 reasons why I think you should schedule an appointment today:
1) Postpartum hormones make life hard to manage.
We all have heard about postpartum depression and anxiety, but I for one didn’t think I would be affected and I didn’t realize how common it was. The truth of the matter is that every mom I know has dealt with it in some way. In fact, "An estimated one in seven women experiences depression during or after pregnancy," and "postpartum depression is actually the most common complication of childbirth," according to the experts. It is a spectrum of course. Some people feel mildly depressed for a few months, and some deal with it years later. I myself dealt with it for years and still struggle. Bringing a baby into the world screws up your hormones, and it can take a while to get them back on track. But even if hormones resolve themselves quickly, lack of sleep alone can get you feeling pretty bleak about life. I started seeing my therapist when my kid was just a few months old. I found a therapist that was comfortable with a baby in the room (because childcare was a challenge), and I started going once a month (because that’s all the time I had to spare). Now, years later, I am still seeing a therapist monthly to maintain my mental health.
Therapy is a space that you can to truly be honest about the real struggles of being a new parent without the fear of judgment.
It was there, in those first few months of therapy,
that I found my joy in parenting.
2) Your life has changed in every single possible facet.
Let's see here…how did my life change when I had a child?
Sleep: We went from constantly getting a solid 8 hours or more at night, to getting 4 hours of broken sleep with a newborn and continued sleep struggles until...well honestly, we still get woken up on occasion years later.
Body: From stretch marks, to engorged and cracked breasts smothered in lanolin, to an internal labor injury that required physical therapy to heal, my body was different inside and out.
Work: I went from working for a small local business that offered me adult interaction, creativity, and brain stimulation, to a job that involved barely leaving the house or talking to an adulting and doing things that are so incredibly hard yet not at all challenging for the adult brain. And on top of that, there is no boss around giving you tips or telling you that you are doing a good job...or paying you for that matter!
Home: We are very tidy people. So we went from an immaculate house that was easy to maintain to a mostly tidy house that was a huge struggle to maintain.
Relationships: From friends that don’t have children yet, to my partner and I experiencing parenting through different roles, to new friends that I was meeting in parenting groups — socially everything was different for me because my new social priority was now a tiny human.
Self-care: When it used to be easy to go to the gym, grab some me-time, and paint my nails, it was now a struggle to find 10 minutes for yoga on my bathroom floor.
Because literally, every
aspect of your life changes when you have a child, your mental health will be unstable for a while. Don't be afraid to ask for help from a therapist.
Talking to someone about these hard shifts can help you process your new life and see the positive parts of these new things.
3) Maintaining a marriage is harder now.
Marriage is hard…period.
Whether you have kids or not, it takes a lot of work to maintain a loving marriage. But throw lack of sleep and lack of time for intimacy into the mix of marriage and you go from hard to are we in the Hunger Games hard in a heartbeat.
I truly feel like I won the lottery with my husband. But that doesn't mean that our marriage is perfect or doesn't require work at all. In fact, because we both feel so lucky to have each other, it feels even more crucial to put in the hard work so that we don't somehow drift apart while wading through the trenches of parenting. Going to a therapist who has the time and energy to help you process the changes in your marriage and give you tips to maintain a healthy marriage is crucial so that you don’t become part of the scary divorce statistics. In the United States, about 50% of married couples divorce. FIFTY PERCENT! That number scares me. Especially as a parent.
Remember, you don’t have to wait to have a serious problem in your relationship before starting marriage concealing. Having maintenance therapy can be very helpful. And let's face it, having a child is a "serious problem" in your relationship.
4) Friendships are lost, and new ones are cultivated.
Not all friendships will be lost or struggle during this change in your life.
But the truth of the matter is, this change will affect ALL of your relationships. How could it not? You are becoming a new person.
A version of your old self, but now a parent. Suddenly, friendships that were maintained by happy hour gatherings struggle because you can’t make it often enough. And new friendships are built. It is hard not to bond with fellow parents going through the same struggles as you are. I for one found most of my current friends at a “Baby and Me” group held by the hospital I gave birth at. Losing friends and putting yourself out there to find new friends is such a mental challenge. Talking to someone to support your social choices and help you navigate the social changes can be very helpful.
5) Self-care is no longer easy to sneak in.
Going to the gym, taking some time to read or shower at a relaxing pace, going shopping for fun…what do these things all have in common? Oh, they are things parents can’t do very often. Self-care is hard to pull off as a parent. Before I had a child, I took all of my self-care for granted. I caught up on sleep every weekend, I worked out regularly in my free time, I went out to drinks with my friends, I spent time to feel good about my hairstyles and nails, I went on adventures with my husband and family, and I had a creative outlet with art. I didn't think twice about these things being special or something that I should cherish. They were just a part of my life, and I assumed they always would be there. But then I had a kid. Suddenly it was hard to find time to pee nevertheless do my hair or sleep in. And often when I did have time to do self-care, what I actually needed was just to sleep. So I rarely got to do the things that filled my soul with energy like art, writing, and exercise. This is why I feel like therapy is so important.
It is self-care that is (hopefully) paid for by your insurance
and provides you with a very attuned and
emotionally supportive friend-like figure.
It is self-care in its best form. And because you are working with a professional, they will encourage you to make time for it. Stick to it. And help you find ways to sneak in other self-care options. For more ideas on how to sneak in self-care as a parent check out this post!
6) An outside perspective is grounding.
Being a mother shook me to my very core. All of a sudden I went from a relatively well-functioning adult to someone who was just holding myself together by a thread. And honestly, just barely pulling that off. Because I had really high expectations for myself, I let myself down a lot the first year of parenting. It was really helpful for me to have a person in my life that was well-rested and fully focused on me for one hour to give me some perspective. I felt so much like a failure that first year.
I needed someone who could see that I wasn't failing
and not just to tell me that
but to teach me how to see it myself.
Parenting is a really funny job. It is quite possible the only job that has no real gauge on success. No boss is telling you what to do or how to improve. And the successes or "failures" you may have as parents don't reflect if you are doing well or not. For example, if your child has an accident while potty training, you didn't fail. But it sure can feel that way. Having someone outside the thick of it who can help you see the difference between failing as a parent and doing well at something really hard is incredibly valuable.
Parenting takes everything you've got. And I know that we have it in us to show up for the job and totally rock it. But we need a support system to do so.