27th of January is the first Parent Mental Health Day, which encourages understanding and awareness of the importance of parent mental health and its potential impact on the whole family. The theme is ‘Balance’, the aim being to encourage parents and carers to take a moment to reflect on the balance they have in their lives, as well as how they balance looking after their family’s mental health, and to take steps to make positive change.
Looking after ourselves as parents or carers can feel impossible sometimes. With so many demands on us, taking a moment to relax or do something we want to do can feel like a step too far. However, recognising our own needs and taking steps to meet them is not indulgent or selfish, it is essential if we are to have the physical and emotional energy to look after others. If we neglect our own needs, we may become exhausted, stressed and resentful. Imagine yourself as a jug of water, starting the day reasonably full, but by the time you have given part of yourself to everyone else at home or at work, your jug is empty. Someone asks for one more thing and you lose it - you can’t keep pouring from an empty jug.
We all have needs – being a parent or carer doesn’t mean that they disappear, but it might mean that we have to find different ways to meet them. At Family Links – the Centre for Emotional Health we think of our needs as Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, Creative, Emotional and Social and it can help to think about the small ways in which we can try to meet these needs on a regular basis.
Sometimes it’s just a case of doing something we already do more mindfully, recognising how it’s nurturing us, whether that’s going for a run, watching a favourite programme, or talking with a friend. Sharing our thoughts and feelings with others, finding someone to talk to, can help us to be the best versions of ourselves for our children. The more we can top ourselves up with small things during the day the less likely it is that we will be running on empty. It’s important to remember that our children and partners can help to fill our jug, as well as emptying it sometimes: having a hug, enjoying a game together, taking exercise or having a good chat.
Looking after our emotional health provides the foundation for good mental health. However, it’s also important to recognise that we can’t always keep ourselves mentally well and we may need help from others, professional or otherwise. Just as eating our 5-a-day won’t necessarily stop us from becoming physically unwell, so trying to meet our needs and keep a balance can’t always prevent us from being mentally unwell. There is a well-known saying that it takes a village to raise a child, and this is never more true than when we’re unwell or feeling under pressure.
So, on this first Parent Mental Health Day, we’d like to encourage all parents and carers to remember how special you are to your children, how looking after yourselves is not selfish but essential, and that asking for help when you need it is a sign of strength not weakness.
Sarah Darton, CEO