Everyday Strong: Parents need to protect their mental health
Picture this. You worked a 12-hour shift at work. You come home and, before you can rest, you must care for your partner, who has a debilitating and devastating disease. You’re relieved to be finally in bed after a long day. You’re exhausted emotionally, physically and mentally. Before you are able to sleep, your child comes into your room telling you they are struggling with intrusive thoughts and mental health. You feel defeated. You want to support your child, console them and offer your love and attention. You want to take away the pain they are enduring and protect them. How do you get through this?
This is the story of Lisa Clark, and she shared this with us in our newest podcast episode. She talks about having open conversations about mental health with her kids, the most complex parts of supporting your children through their challenges, and how she cared for herself during difficult times.
She shares her wisdom that — when you’re dealing with your trauma, grief and emotions, whatever that may look like — you know that your children are watching you. They are looking at you to see how you deal with your challenges, when you break down, and who you go to for support.
The responsibility and pressure of parents to model healthy emotional behavior can be overwhelming. Lisa says the most challenging part for her is being honest and authentic. She knew she needed to be open and vulnerable and show her kids that it is healthy to process and honor their emotions instead of rushing through their feelings and bouncing back.
So what do you do when you’re having a hard time and your kid desperately needs you? Sometimes it’s finding support groups, medication, or a combination of things, and sometimes it’s doing things that make you feel calm, such as praying, meditating, walking, etc. Sometimes it’s insisting your children go to a therapist.
This is what Lisa did. Every family member copes differently. She realized it is better to have an outside perspective; we all have blind spots and need assistance. She needed “an extra pair of eyes.” She wanted her children to have a safe place, and the whole purpose was to allow them to be emotionally healthy on their own.
Lisa says that the definition of a good parent or adult or teacher is being a friend. Everyone needs that support no matter what age they are. This says, I know who you are, I see you, and you’re going to be okay. What matters is our relationship with our kids; we help them thrive.
As mentioned, Lisa does improv comedy, and one of the first rules of improv is “yes and.” This means you take what life throws and add to it no matter what comes at you. You take what comes at you in life; you take it and say “yes and…”. Even if you’ve encountered the worst situation, take that and accept it with Lisa’s attitude of “yes and…”. It takes a lot of mental focus and is exhausting, but it pays off because watching your child struggle and overcome challenges is gratifying and fulfilling as a parent.
Life shows you that control isn’t an option. When life throws you unexpected barriers, it’s hard to stay calm. But redirecting thought patterns and behaviors in which we understand this is hard, but you have the power to decide can help provide a sense of peace and move forward.
United Way of Utah County is on a mission to help every child in our community feel safe, connected, and confident. You can listen to our latest podcast episode at anchor.fm/everydaystrong (or on Apple Podcast and Spotify). Learn more about us at everydaystrong.org.