Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ten ways to parent when you're having a rough time

Parenting is hard work on the best of days. But when you add in something like depression, for some people it becomes nigh on unbearable. I'm not a doctor (nor do I play one on TV), but I do have bipolar disorder myself, and after having fought with the ups and downs of that for the last 10 years, I've put together my own little list of things that have helped me be the best parent possible when I've just want to crawl under a rock and hide instead of dealing with those darling monsters I helped create.

1. Take care of yourself! Being sleep deprived, not eating, forgetting to shower can and will make those long days with your kids even longer and put everyone on edge. Adults need at least 7-9 hours of sleep every night. If you don't eat, you will be grumpier and more prone to mood swings and bouts of irritability or crying spells. Showering every day will improve your mood and will give you one thing that you can check off your list of things you've accomplished that day.

2. Exercise as much as is feasible. This is a hard one for me. When I'm depressed, getting up and walking to the fridge is too much exercise. Rolling over on the couch is too much exercise. But research has proven that a little bit of movement, eve just a 15 minute walk can help lift the mood. Load your kids up in the stroller and take them to the park. It'll feel like an impossible task, but the benefits are worth it. You're creating memories with your kids, and helping your mood at the same time. Win-win, right?  If you've got a friend or family member who can help encourage you to go out, take their advice and walk with them. I promise you, it's worth it.

3. Stick to a simple routine, don't let chaos ensue. Even if you're depressed, or maybe especially if you're depressed, having a simple routine can help keep the overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and feelings of worthlessness at bay. It can be as simple as 'wake up, playtime, lunch time, quiet time, snack, playtime, dinner, movie time, bedtime'. Don't make things harder on yourself than they need to be.

4. Let your kids be as independent as age appropriate will allow. If they want to have PBJs 3 nights in a row, and can fix them themselves, have at it. Fish sticks in the microwave? It's AOK. A summer dress with snow boots? No problem. As long as your child is safe, and supervised to the level they need to be supervised at, it's okay that you're not being Suzy Homemaker with them right now.

5. Concentrate on the absolute 'have to's' not 'want to's'. You need to change the baby's diaper in the morning. You want to clean and organize her room some. That can wait until you've got more energy or have some help.

6. Ask for outside help! Let your support system take the kids to the park, or over to their house for a few hours while you get a break. Go get a break at the bookstore with a friend while the kids stay with another caregiver. It's important that you take care of you when you're feeling depleted.

7. Find a supportive person to lean on while you're struggling. It could be a trusted friend, a therapist, a family member, a clergyman, anyone who you feel safe talking to that can help keep you making it through each day. This support person can be the one that really helps encourage you to keep trying each day, even when things look super hard. A good support person will be an empathetic ear, is good at validating your emotions, and respects your privacy.

8. Think 'good enough' instead of 'never enough'. If you need to get paper plates and cups so you're doing less dishes, there's no shame in that. If you've ordered take out twice this week, so what? The kids have been fed. Don't let your perceptions of what others may think get you even more down. That's a negative spiral that doesn't help you at all.  Anything to simplify your life right now is a good idea. If you do laundry and the kids have clean clothes, who cares if they're folded or not? It okay to practice this idea of 'good enough'. We live in an age of 'never enough', where we are never a good enough mother, or we never spend enough time with our kids, or never volunteer enough at our kids' school. And it's not right. We are enough just as we are, right now.

9. Practice self-compassion for when you slip up and are hard on your kids. It's going to happen. You're going to yell at your kid. Or not feel like doing something they want to do. Or not put jammies on them and they sleep in the same clothes they wore the day before. And then wear those same clothes all day the next day. It's okay. You don't make a habit out of this. If you were feeling well, this would be a non-issue. If you had a friend who was going through a depression, what would you say to her right now? Would you judge and condemn her for losing her cool, or would you give her a hug and say, "Hey, we all have rough days. You'll get through this. I love you. I'm here for you."? Why can't you tell yourself that? Practice loving yourself.

10. Get regular physicals. If things continue to look bleak and dark, consider getting checked out by your doctor to make sure there's nothing more serious going on. Low vitamin D levels or thyroid issues can cause depression, and just the stress of having children can be hard on many women as well. As always, seek immediate treatment if you have thoughts of harming yourself or anyone else.

In conclusion, getting past a depressive episode is NOT easy! Especially when you've got little ones counting on you for their survival! I beg you to not run faster than you have strength. Things might seem bleak and discouraging now, but like Harvey Dent said in The Dark Knight 'The night is always darkest before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.". I know that's probably the lamest thing ever, holding onto a promise from a fictional character, coming from an internet blogger, but that promise has gotten me through some of the darkest days of my life. So although your kids may drive you up a wall, and you may feel overwhelmed, or hopeless, or thoroughly discouraged that you're not living fully in the moment with your children, know that this feeling will pass, and joy and light will come again.


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