By: Joanne Gale
You don’t need a diagnosed disorder to seek—and benefit from—a therapist’s experience and expertise.
Think back to before you were a parent. Remember those final few months before parenthood became a reality? We all pictured happiness, joy, and love—cuddling up with our babies, reading them bedtime stories, cheering them on from the sidelines, or seeing their happy, flushed faces during a summertime vacation. Aren’t those the romantic visions we see on TV?
Then reality takes hold. Parenting will include happy memories and idealistic moments alongside stresses and hardships. Sure, being a parent may be the most rewarding job there is. But it’s also the most challenging. Especially when a parent struggles with their own mental or emotional health, a job is exactly what parenting can feel like.
A parent doesn’t need a clinically diagnosed disorder to seek professional help when struggling with parenting—and these struggles can come up at any stage of parenthood. Maybe your difficulties start with an infant who won’t sleep well. This subsequent sleep deprivation on your end will affect all aspects of your ability to function. Maybe the infant stage was a breeze, but you’re now dealing with a toddler’s independent and tenacious streak—another thing to juggle along with you career and household obligations. Maybe your parenting challenges didn’t start until your child became a teenager who started pushing the boundaries because, after all, that is the job of a teenager.
Fatigue, burnout, tension, insecurities in decision making—believe it or not, these are challenges almost every parent faces. A therapist can help us manage the many overwhelming emotions we feel in response to a child’s behavior and bring new perspectives to the table.
As parenting challenges arise, it’s only natural for us to turn to those close to us for advice. And even when we don’t actively seek that guidance, there’s no shortage of people, whether family, friends, or strangers, willing to give unsolicited advice on parenting. Even when well intentioned, this might only increase a parent’s stress and insecurities.
While friends might have some helpful advice or good listening skills, they won’t have the education, training, and experience a therapist has. We also need to respect our friends’ limited capacity for providing us with advice, comfort, or a listening ear. When you find a therapist that you connect with, it’s fundamentally different than talking with a friend—a therapist can challenge your thinking without having the personal investment that a friend or family member would have.
A parent may face countless other stressors, besides their children’s behavior, that warrant talking with a professional. Perhaps you’re experiencing financial difficulties after a job loss, or caring for a sick loved one. Simply turn on the TV to see how the COVID-19 pandemic has single-handedly increased these stressors for many people to the point where getting your stress under control feels like scaling Mount Everest. A therapist can help us learn coping mechanisms to deal with the stress and anxiety that these life events bring.
The stress of a parent can affect the entire family. When we, as parents, don’t care for our own mental and emotional health, we put our children at risk of developing social, emotional, or behavioral issues. Along with seeking a therapist’s help, show yourself kindness and care through simple activities like exercise, meditation, and eating right. Spend quality time (or Facetime) with close friends and family.
There’s a reason the airplane safety demonstrations teach us to put our own oxygen masks on first. We can only care for our families when we first care for ourselves.