May, spring, a time for reflection and growth, the world around us is coming alive after the winter months and the beauty is cause for wonder and joy; it’s also Maternal Mental Health Month and the month we celebrate Mothers’ Day.
I chose to take this opportunity to write about maternal mental health and motherhood and although it is a task I assigned myself and these are topics that are important to me; I have really struggled with it. I think I struggled because despite the fact that I have been invited to write for this parenting blog and I’ve spent much time learning so I could facilitate parent education programs and I’ve been a parent for more than 18 years with more than ten years of that time as a single parent, I doubt myself ALL the time.
Am I Good Enough?
I’m constantly second guessing my choices as a mom; re-thinking interactions I have with my children and think I’m not doing nearly enough. I often feel like I’m drowning in all of the things that need to be done, dropping a million balls and missing opportunities to enrich my children’s lives, in short, I often feel like I’m falling short of the mark.
The pressures felt by parents (and perhaps especially by moms) are numerous and they come from many external and internal sources. While working our way through the day to day grind of juggling all of the things that need to be juggled it’s so easy to forget that we are individuals outside of our role as parents, we can so easily lose our sense of self. When we lose that sense of self it can be hard to see all of the things that we are doing very right and it can seem so very overwhelming.
Feeling overwhelmed is a common occurrence noted by moms and it can mean something different for each person but at the root of that statement is a common theme; the pressure of juggling too many things and not feeling like we are enough. We expect ourselves to be able to work, parent, perhaps be a partner or perhaps go it alone, and we are supposed to be true to ourselves but put the needs of our families first.
We judge ourselves harshly and it isn’t surprising that maternal mental health is an area of concern and that there is an increasing need for mental health supports that are flexible, accessible and meaningful.
Mental Health Support
Mental health support can mean many different things to different people, for some a mom group is the answer, for others formal therapy, some may need medication and some may need dedicated time for physical activity, or possibly a combination of all or some of the above. The ways to provide mental health support is as varied as the weather in May.
The trick is giving ourselves permission to acknowledge the need, ask for help and seek out the support we deserve. I have no trouble at all reaching out to different services and advocating for the needs of my children but it took me years of tearful school meetings, broken moments in the car and feeling like the world was spinning out of control to be able to prioritize my own mental health. For me the first step was medication and it took some trial and error to find the right one but once that piece was in place I was able to start the long process of righting my ship and finding myself within my role as single mom.
I forgive myself when chores remain unfinished, I’m more comfortable setting healthy boundaries and insisting on a work life balance. My ability to advocate for my children has only grown as my mental health stabilized and I’m ok with the fact that I simply can’t juggle all of those balls all of the time. It’s ok to drop the balls some times because the good thing about balls is that they aren’t all glass, some of them bounce.
I recently had the opportunity to see myself through the eyes of my youngest child when he was looking at a chart about parenting styles that I use in a parent education workshop and he said “I think you’re a nurturing parent mom, you’re so kind and nice but you also set limits and teach us things.”
This little snapshot in time reminded me that my worth as a human and a mother isn’t measured by how much I can endure without breaking, it is measured by the grace with which I navigate the circumstances in my life and the love I see reflected back from my children.
Where Can You Go For Help?
If you are struggling, feeling overwhelmed or just need to talk, reach out. Call your health care practitioner, contact your local Canadian Mental Health Association, reach out to friends, family or spiritual leaders. If you see someone struggling and have the capacity within yourself, offer support, drop off a meal, maybe take a walk with them. We’re all in this together and together we are stronger.