If only life was rosy all the time, then wouldn’t we all be great parents? But the reality is that sometimes life is just so damn hard, it just keeps handing you lemons, and there is absolutely no lemonade to be made whichever way you spin it. The bottom line is that it takes everything you have to be a good parent when life is hard.
I know this only too well from the last few weeks of my life. On coming back from Easter break my business partner on my other online magazine 40 Now What told me she was leaving, my other half’s business partner quite literally about a week later.
I then had to meet with surgeons for a very emotional and gruelling hour and sign the consent form for the first of my preventative surgeries owing to the discovery of my BRCA1 gene mutation which puts me at high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. I left having signed my fallopian tubes away.
All this while trying to support my own mother who was struggling after having Covid and with her own mental health problems – and not really doing that very well at all. Oh and parenting too.
Suffice to say I just had way too much on my plate and then eventually my mood reached an all-time low.
When this happens, I know I usually need to stage an intervention on myself and start putting special measures in place to be a good parent when life is hard. I don’t pretend to know all the answers here, but I do have some things that usually work to help stop me from spiraling further down and to help me be a good parent when life is hard.
So here are the strategies I use to be a good parent when life is hard. I really hope they help you, and also give you the strength you need to make it through your own tough times.
You are probably in a vulnerable state at this juncture, which means you do not need to take on anyone else’s crap. Be wise about how you give your mental and emotional energy too, and if so, brutally honest and tell people that you don’t have the emotional capacity to deal with whatever they are trying to offload on your plate. That way you can save a little bit of bandwidth for being a good enough parent during those tough times.
The shit might be hitting the fan right now, and you may feel like you are spinning a thousand plates right now mentally and emotionally with no time for anything, but this is exactly when you need to up the ante on self-care.
Self-care during these times will look different for everyone. For me it’s about running or walking it off, doing yoga and meditation, going to bed early, not using or communicating with my phone too much, and literally babying myself – basically anything I know that will improve my mood.
I literally can’t handle anyone or anything and their drama or negativity when I get to this stage, and so for me, self-care is about putting down really firm boundaries and sticking to them/ If everyone thinks you have disappeared off the face of the earth for two months then so be it!
When everything feels like a big steaming pile of turd, believe it or not, there are always still some positives to be found, no matter how small. That could be the big hug your child gave you at school pick up, a much-needed listening ear or support when you least expected it and plenty of other moments and interactions throughout your day.
Even in the bleakest of times, if you look hard enough for them you will find small moments of joy – no matter how tiny they are. If you’re really struggling to find them then a small gratitude exercise where you name three things you were grateful for that day always helps unearth them.
I strongly believe that if we want our children to have empathy then it’s important that we are honest – in an age-appropriate way – with how we are feeling when life is hard for us. You don’t need to go into reams of explanation. Simply the recognition that mummy is feeling grumpy can go a long way toward our children understanding that we are only human and have a tough time sometimes too.
Children are incredibly resilient so if you are feeling like you are unable to function or feeling totally exhausted and can’t make good on x, y, z then you know what….they will get over it!
Kids are so used to having everything handed on a plate to them these days so if you are unable to make good on something because you are feeling totally rubbish then they will a) get over it and b) be taught that life doesn’t always work out how you want it. Self-kindness is bucket loads is the order of the day during these times so please don’t forget that and if you mess up or lose it, recognise and apoligse and then move on.
It can be so easy to catastrophise when life feels hard. We can feel that everything is spiraling out of control, and we are the worst person, and worst parent, with the worst luck in the world. Instead of thinking and feeling these negative things about yourself, try to flip the script and instead think of all the things the GOOD things about you and all the GOOD things you have done.
Let’s be honest, when life is hard and the weight of the world is on your shoulders, sometimes our kids can feel like a bit of a pain. But even if the grind feels relentless, just ten minutes of quality connection with your children can be enough to cement your relationship with them and give them the love and attention they crave from you. It will also help stop them from feeding off your mood and reduce their anxiety which may surface as a result.
When life gets really hard, I have a trusted few people I can speak to, and I have also in the past used a therapist to help me work through the tough times. If you don’t have anyone you feel you can talk to then I would highly recommend that you try using a therapist. I promise it is not as scary as you think it might be, and will help you be a better human and parent too. A great place to start looking for one is Harley Therapy which is how I found mine, and I still use her three years on.
Parenting on its own is hard. And then we go through really tough seasons in life and it makes it even harder. But the one thing I know is that like with every season, we move on to the next. We are stronger than we think and better parents than we give ourselves credit for.
Stay strong and know that this too shall pass….