What’s the best parenting advice you ever heard?
Was it an inspirational quote from a book? Or an old wives’ tale that actually worked?
One of the hardest parts of being a parent is the constant influx of information. From the second you announce your pregnancy, you are bombarded by advice from people who have been there, done that. It can be very overwhelming!
It’s especially overwhelming for parents that live with depression and anxiety. Even if their child was very much wanted, it’s hard to hear parenting spoken about like it’s so simple.
- Just do this.
- Just enroll them in this program.
- Make sure you sleep when the baby sleeps.
The lives of people with mental health issues are complicated enough to begin with. Throw parenting into the mix? And some days can feel impossible to navigate.
In this post, I’m going to talk about what it’s like to be a parent living with depression and anxiety, and some great parenting tips you can use to find some confidence in your own skills. Because you have so many of them!
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Also, I am not a doctor or mental health professional. Just someone who has lived with depression and anxiety for many years who is passionate about sharing her experiences and tips for success. If you are in crisis call your doctor, then click here for some good mental health resources.
Trigger warning: brief mention of pregnancy loss
Parenting with depression or anxiety
I’ve lived with depression and anxiety for decades. I had a solid 9 years of childhood before my symptoms presented, but those days are fuzzy to me. Like chapters in a book that I’ve been told was written about me.
Because of that, I’ve never known what it’s like to parent without a mental illness. In a way, that’s a good thing because I’m able to pull from my own experiences to help others.
But it’s really hard. The days are LONG, despite the years being short, and good sleep is hard to come by. My thoughts are constantly swirling with worry, and it’s hard not to compare myself to others.
Honestly, all of that sounds like what I’ve heard about parenting without depression or anxiety. The difference here is those feelings affect you daily, and cause your quality of life to suffer. They make you feel utterly hopeless. Like maybe you aren’t such a great parent after all.
Can you relate to that at all? If so, hang in there. I’m going to share some parenting tips that have helped me, and can really help you too.
Why parenting tips are so helpful
If you have ever felt bad about yourself after getting parenting tips from someone, I totally understand. Depression and anxiety are sneaky little imps, and they love to mess with your self esteem. They’re like that toxic friend you can never seem to get rid of, but you know is bad for you.
I’ve definitely felt that way before. Someone gives me some parenting advice, and instead of feeling helpful, it makes me feel worse.
Here is an example of one of the worst: Enjoy this, because it doesn’t last forever.
This is one of those parenting tips that is said with the best of intentions. And I’m not saying I’ve never ever said it to anyone. But for people who live with depression and anxiety, all it does is remind how unenjoyable your life feels on a daily basis. That can make you feel like you are failing at parenting, and at life in general.
I get why getting parenting advice can temporarily make you feel worse. But ultimately, it is meant to help boost your self confidence, and clear away some of the limiting beliefs that hold you back from living your best life.
Good parenting tips help you:
- Feel better about yourself
- Find practical solutions to your problems
- Empower you to help others
Those are definitely all things that people who live with mental health issues need. Keep reading to find out some good sources of parenting advice, and 10 of my best parenting tips!
Great places to find parenting advice
Here are some parenting books I have really loved or have come highly recommended to me by others. Click the images below for more info.
The 10 best parenting tips for people afraid to raise kids with mental illness
If you have a journal, go grab it so you can take notes. I know a lot of people who have a mental illness have this worry. It’s been on my mind to some degree for the past 5 years of being a mom!
Before I share my tips, I want to make something clear: If you are reading this, it’s because you’re worried about it. That means you are a good parent. Bad parents don’t worry about doing things wrong and don’t worry about the affects their actions have on their children. So, the fact that you’re reading this means you are not a bad parent AT ALL.
This post comes from a place of support, not judgment. And sometimes, we can do everything right, and our kids still end up with emotional issues. That doesn’t mean you did something wrong. Genetics are just a bitch sometimes, as is life itself.
Hopefully that clears the air a bit! Now, here are the 10 parenting tips I promised.
Tip #1: Be open about your own feelings
This can be hard, and feel like a really scary first step, especially for adults who weren’t raised in emotionally expressive households. But I’ll share an example of how I put this into practice.
In March, I had a pregnancy end unexpectedly. It was (and still is) a very tough season emotionally. There are still days when I cry about it, and my kids happen to notice I’m not myself.
Some people might find things like that embarrassing, and that’s okay. It’s like a muscle you have to exercise to build strength. The more you can use your own emotions as teachable moments, the more your kids will learn to be open about theirs.
When they ask why I’m crying, I just tell them why I’m feeling sad in an age appropriate way. (They’re only 5.5 and almost 4). It’s important for kids to not feel a sense of shame about their own emotions, and that starts with us.
Tip #2: Do regular emotional check-ins with your kids
Sometimes I’ve started doing now that we’re out of the toddler stage is asking: What are you feeling right now?
My kids are at an age where they are very emotional and they sure let me know! And I know that likely won’t get any easier as they grow into teens, it might just present itself differently.
I’ve tried to step away from assuming what they’re feeling and “punishing” accordingly, and asking them “What are you feeling right now?” and loving them accordingly instead.
Giving them the chance to try to put their feelings into words is a really great skill for them to practice!
Tip #3: Teach your kids to journal at a young age
Journaling is one of the best things you can do for your heart and mind. It’s an inexpensive practice, and doesn’t really take much time. And when you’re a parent, the simpler- and cheaper- the better!
Here are several journal prompts for kiddos that they can try (You may just have to help them spell and write!)
- How was your day today?
- What was your favorite part of your day?
- What could have gone better today?
- How are you feeling? (Happy, sad, angry, worried, etc)
- What are you grateful for today?
Click the image above to search for a journal that suits your child’s needs!
Tip #4: Get some self care- kids need to see that!
I’ve also been doing this lately, and it’s really important. Kids learn habits by watching us. If all they see if you not taking care of your emotional health, unfortunately, they will think that is what grown-ups do.
Last night, I was desperate for some rest after a long day. I’m about 24 weeks pregnant, massively sinus-y thanks to the weather here, and just bone tired. I sent the kids to their playroom for a little bit, and said just get me if something is the matter.
But of course, they kept coming in “just to say hi,” and I had to remind them that mommy was tired and trying to rest. I said, “I’ll be there in a little bit, I just need to rest for a bit because it’s been a long day.” Luckily, they take things like that pretty well. I think it is a good lesson for them!
Tip #5: Get help yourself
If you are struggling, you need to get help. I know that can be complicated due to costs of therapy and medication, and many people live without health insurance. But it is important to get help in whatever way you can. Even if it’s joining a local moms’ group, or meeting with your pastor from time to time… There is help out there.
If you get help, and are open about that with your kids, they are more likely to grow up thinking that is normal and not something to be ashamed. My kids know I have a weekly therapy appointment, and I treat it as something not scary, and something commonplace.Whatever help you are able to get, GET IT. And talk about it. Share on Twitter
Tip #6: Create a safe space for them emotionally
This is one of the best parenting tips out there. It’s vital for you as a parent to create an environment where kids are safe to express their feelings. They may not always know how to do this themselves, so it’s up to you to be their guide.
When you see your kids struggling, instead of being reactive, try to engage in active listening. The CDC gives the following advice on this:
- Give your full attention to your child
- Make eye contact and stop other things you are doing
- Get down on your child’s level
- And reflect or repeat back what she is saying and what she may be feeling to make sure you understand
Let them know that you are listening. And please, don’t invalidate their feelings. I see this especially with male children. All feelings are valid at the time that someone is feeling them. It’s not up to you to dictate the things your children feel. They aren’t your possessions. They’re human beings learning how to express themselves.
Tip #7: Keep an eye on their friends- and friends’ parents
This parenting advice might be easier said than done, as so much of it is. But in today’s day and age, we need to be more vigilant than ever.
One thing that terrifies me about my kids getting bigger is that I will begin to have less control over who they spend time with. I can’t control who they spend time with at school, and what friendships they develop.
What you can do though is take the time to get to know them. If you notice they are wanting to hang out with a particular friend a lot, make it a priority to invite that family over to dinner, or over for game night.
You can check out other parenting tips here, in this article by Psychology Today.
Tip #8: Be on the same page as your partner
It’s really important to be on the same page as your partner about emotional health (unless you’re in a situation where that parent is not a part of the child’s life.) This parenting tip has been really helpful for me as my husband and I navigate raising children in a complicated world.
If you both disagree about how to support your kids emotionally, it sends a lot of mixed signals to your child about mental health.
For example, if you have a more modern, nurturing parenting style, and your partner is more old school (“Just rub some dirt on it,” “Crying’s for babies,” etc), you need to have a discussion about that. You need to come to a general consensus about how you want your children to be raised.
Tip #9: Ask for help
If parenting feels overwhelming, it is okay to ask for help. Sometimes we struggle, and need to call Grandma to come over for a few hours so you can catch a break. That’s perfectly okay!
Plus, when you do this, you are once again modeling a positive self care practice for your children. The more they see things like this, the more likely they are to carry them into adulthood.
Tip #10: Don’t give up
The most important of all the parenting tips above is: Don’t give up. Plain and simple.
Sometimes, life doesn’t go according to plan. You could do everything right, and you can still find your child struggling with depression or anxiety. Life is unpredictable, and that happens.
Hang in there, and don’t give up on them!
You can raise happy kids, no matter your circumstances!
The bottom line is… we all want our kids to be happy, and there are things we can do to facilitate that.
But sometimes, life does not go according to plan. Whatever the case, you are doing a great job just by caring about your child’s emotional health. Many kids do not have that, sadly, so you are already one step ahead.
Which of these tips resonated with you the most? I would love to hear about it in the comments below. And as always, make sure to share this with anyone in a similar situation.