You scroll down the pictures, your phone alight with happy, smiling faces. A day at the zoo, games in the park, happy days spent in the sun, oh and look your friend has posted the unicorn cupcakes she has made with her daughter. Your heart sinks, you can feel the tears stinging your eyes and you sniff them away. You look up at your living room. There are toys everywhere, brightly coloured plastic cups have left rings of orange and the remains of half eaten cheese sandwiches from lunch are strewn on the coffee table. There’s a few odd socks too crumpled on the floor. You feel like you have barely survived the day and there is bedtime to do yet. You start to wonder how everyone else is getting it so right, and you so wrong. You wonder what happened to the organised, happy confident YOU!
Ah parenthood, let’s be honest its hard, not only physically with the sleepless nights and a little human that needs you every second, or every day, but emotionally too. Navigating parenthood while making sure you are emotionally ok too is challenging to say the least. Taking care of you physically can be a major event, sometimes it can be half way through the day and you still haven’t managed to get dressed. So to also think about protecting your emotional wellbeing can feel impossible. Why is it important to do so?
Research tells us around 20% of women will develop a mental health issue either while they are pregnant or in the year after the birth of their baby and this doesn’t include those that already have a pre-existing mental health condition. Of course, it’s not just women but their partners too who can struggle. So, when it comes to perinatal mental health the family as a whole need support and also have information on how they can help themselves to keep emotionally well.
Sometimes pregnancy and birth has been a difficult time, leaving new parents struggling with feelings they don’t understand or it may be that they are finding it hard to adjust to life with a new baby. This can leave many feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed this is when emotional wellbeing can be knocked most and finding time to support it diminished.
So, what can we do to support our emotional wellbeing especially during pregnancy and as we journey into parenthood?
Firstly, we all need to acknowledge that emotional wellbeing is important to everyone. Anyone can suffer from it. It doesn’t matter where you live, what career you do or the type of person you are. It doesn’t mean you are weak, or a bad parent. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your children or that you simply can’t cope. We all need to maintain our emotional wellbeing, especially when becoming parents. Our mental health is never static but is a continuum of highs and lows that requires us to take notice of when we may need a little extra time to care for ourselves. With the responsibilities of parenting thrown into the mix we can forget that we matter too when all our time is taken up with caring for our new family. The truth is we all struggle, we struggle with our beautiful new-borns, our energetic toddlers, our questioning ‘want to be’ teenagers and of course our actual teenagers. We are all doing the best we can, often in very difficult circumstances. So, we have to acknowledge that supporting emotional wellbeing is a must for us all.
Providing parents in the antenatal period information on emotional wellbeing can give them tools to use to keep an eye on how they are feeling and what to do if they feel they support. Addressing emotional wellbeing in families must become as normal as any other part of caring for families, and by openly talking about the challenges we all face we can help make emotional wellbeing something that everyone is aware of.
Asking for Help
So, we acknowledge it, what can we do if we are struggling? Ask for help! Yes, it’s hard, but remember, asking and accepting help will give you the support you need. Don’t struggle on afraid that if you say you’re feeling low or anxious you will be judged or questioned as to whether you are a good parent. There are many people put in place to give you the help you need from midwives and health visitors, to baby groups and national organisations that can offer a listening ear or more tailored support. Remember too that your family and friends love you, and want to help in any way they can, so let them. A cup of tea, a sandwich, washing up those few plates or running the hoover over can be small ways they can help make a difference. Be honest too about what you can do and your expectations of yourself.
Our emotional wellbeing is like a bucket full of water. There are so many things that empty our bucket, tiredness, illness, caring for our family, work, money worries etc. Before long our bucket can be empty leaving us with no water left to nourish us. We need to find things to replenish our water. This can be rest, exercise, reading, relaxation or a cuddle with a loved one, chocolate cake works wonders too! When we have a full bucket, the water nourishes us emotionally and can even help us to grow. Sometimes our bucket can spring a leak, such as a perinatal mental health issue, and our precious water gushes away leaving us feeling empty. This is when we must ask for help to stem the flow and mend the hole. However, supporting emotional wellbeing needs regular maintenance!
No one is perfect !
So, protect your emotional wellbeing by acknowledging it is an important part of your parenting journey, accept the help of those that love you, and most importantly keep your emotional wellness bucket full.
Remember there are no perfect parents, there are no perfect ways to parent, everyone is just doing the best they can. We may look at other families and feel they are getting it ‘right’ that they are doing better than we are, but the truth is everyone struggles and we never see the whole story.
Parenthood is a journey that will takes us to many new destinations. We will face challenges and bumps along the way but there is help available to us and we are never alone. There will be days when you nearly leave the house in your slippers, or you find bits of toast in your hair, and the only thing you really want is a good nights sleep. Somedays you will cry because you will feel like everyone else is amazing at parenting but you, in reality you really are doing ok, so just hang in there and keep filling up your emotional wellbeing bucket.