Your teen's mental health starts with yours
Being a parent is hard, and it doesn’t get any easier when your kids hit adolescence. There’s a saying that you’re only ever as happy as your unhappiest child and sayings are often true. It certainly causes a lot of distress to parents when their child is distressed. It's easy to feel shame, hopelessness and a lack of control, as well as feeling that you are being judged.
Try not to compare yourself with other parents! There’s always someone who’s got it easier than you but there’s always someone who’s got it harder than you, too.
We can’t always ensure our teenagers' happiness
When our kids are little it’s easier to problem solve, but this gets harder the older they get. Accept that you can’t solve or fix their difficulties, but you can support them – try and step away from a problem-solving stance. It's important to recognise that no one is happy all the time – it’s not realistic to expect our kids to always be happy.
Look after yourself first
As a parent, you’re looking after other people and, as a result, parents' mental health can often get neglected. Focusing on your own well-being is essential – you must look after yourself first. If you don’t look after yourself, and you feel like no one is looking out or caring for you, it’s hard to give the people who need you what they need.
Counsellors often use the analogy of self-care being like an oxygen mask – you need to put it on yourself before you put it on other people, otherwise, you’ll be no good to anyone!
Plus, if you’re running on empty, you’ll end up feeling rejected, angry and resentful which is also no good for anyone involved. The aim is to thrive not just survive! And this goes for you as well as your kids!
Looking after yourself shows those around you that you are also important and you need to be cared for, too. As a bonus, you’ll be a role model of self-care for your tweens and teens. If they see you relax and recharge your batteries, they’re much more likely to do it for themselves. They'll see you feel better about yourself and be more able to cope.
You don’t have to be available to them 24/7. You don’t have to be up all hours with them or be immediately available to them for every little thing – this protects you as the parent but also helps your child. Remember that you do not hold all responsibility for everything your tween or teenager is doing, your child is a separate entity from you.
Adolescence is the time when your teen is absolutely supposed to be becoming more independent. Let them be responsible for getting to school on time, and getting their homework done, for example. You help them by providing a space for them to do their work and in a routine. They need to learn to take responsibility and to know that you trust them to make good decisions.
There are no quick fixes
It’s a long process. Try not to catastrophise – the worst-case scenario does not always happen. And, take it from a school counsellor, young people are brilliant at bouncing back. Get them to work with you and be part of finding solutions together. It’s much more effective to look for solutions together than just focusing on the problem and remind them (and yourself) that, if you can’t change the situation, you can always change how you react to the situation.
Fill up your cup
It’s OK for you to find the small things and little pleasures that make you feel a bit better. Work out the things that are in your life which make you feel good. Think of the people that make you feel better and hang out with them. Be aware of the people that push your buttons (the ones on social media who make their parenting look easy, for example).
Set aside time in your day/week/routine to fill your cup. Some ideas you could do regularly could be:
- An adults’ night in once a month – send them off for a sleepover and get yourself a takeaway and a film of your choice.
- An adult's night out once a month – go for a meal, go to the pictures or for a drink with your friends (or on your own!).
- 15 minutes to yourself when you get in from work to unwind – this is good for young people getting home from school too.
- Some ‘do not disturb time’ – when you’re in the bath, for example.
If these ideas sound hard, think about what gets in the way – if it’s practical, like time or money, then talk to your family or people around you to find a solution.
Do you feel like you don’t have the time because you’re doing every little thing in your home? Are you taking on responsibilities that aren’t actually yours, such as doing their homework, for example? Emotional barriers can also be hard to break down – feeling like you don’t deserve to have time out, or that putting importance on your own needs is selfish.
Talking to a counsellor can help with this. I'll help you see the parenting wood for the trees; give you a different perspective as well as practical coping strategies.