The fact that Mother’s Day is here just as Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week comes to a close has my head spinning. In my world, as a mental health advocate and founder of The Youth Mental Health Project, every day is children’s mental health awareness day! And if every day is children’s mental health awareness day, shouldn’t every day also be Mother’s Day?!
Parenting is hard under the best of circumstances. But when a child’s behaviors don’t live up to expectations or “norms,” the typical challenges are compounded by criticism and blame, leaving parents, particularly mothers, with deep feelings of guilt, shame, and loneliness.
Is it just me, or does it feel like the world does not have a clue about the courage, strength, and resilience it takes to be the mother of a child who is struggling with an emotional, mental, or behavioral health problem?
At my favorite Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week event, a community screening of No Letting Go organized by a 14 year old boy for his Eagle Scout Project, I was particularly struck and inspired by the mothers. Some mothers choked back tears as they shared how much they related to the film. Many were desperately searching for answers and spoke of the struggle to find support and services. And yet others expressed their desire to use their experiences to help other families and change the narrative around children’s mental health.
I was in awe of their strength and it occurred to me that celebrating those mothers was as important, if not more important, than the event itself!
To be frank, when my children were younger and my middle son was struggling, Mother’s Day usually left me feeling conflicted. There certainly were many times that I didn’t feel like a good enough mother to deserve a celebration. There were other times when my greatest wish for Mother’s Day was simply to have time alone; just a couple hours of peace and quiet, without any responsibility to take care of anyone. But my little guys wanted to spend the day with me. They would bring me breakfast in bed and shower me with flowers, cards, homemade gifts, and kisses. And I’d be overwhelmed with feelings of guilt as I secretly plotted ways to spend some time alone.
What kind of mother doesn’t want to spend Mother’s Day with her children?!
Looking back, the isolation and overwhelming stress of navigating motherhood with a child with serious mental health disorders left me emotionally and physically exhausted. Now that my kids are adults and doing well, I have plenty of quiet, alone time.
As I spoke to those mothers last week, I thought a lot about my own years of despair and wish I had been easier on myself, particularly on Mother’s Day. And so my head spins as I reflect on what I wish I knew. Perhaps there are other mothers out there who feel conflicted, as I did, about Mother’s Day?
For those mothers, perhaps embracing some of the tips below might allow you to enjoy Mother’s Day without guilt or anguish:
- TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF. Stop feeling guilty about needing time to recharge. Take time for yourself anytime you can get it, because self-care is a priority. If there is one day a year that you should be able to do this without feeling like a bad mother, it’s Mother’s Day! You’ve heard this before, but it’s worth repeating: You can’t take care of your kids if you’re a hot mess!
- BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. Really. You are doing the best you can with what you know at any given moment in time. You know your children better than anyone. Trust your gut and don’t let the noise interfere with what you know is right.
- HAVE FAITH. Things will get better. Remember that sometimes it takes 5 steps backwards to go forward.
- USE YOUR ENERGY WISELY. Don’t waste your energy being angry or being a victim. Pick your battles. Sometimes all you can do is breathe and live in one moment at a time. And that’s okay.
- FIND SUPPORT. Spend time with people who feed your soul, people who are not judgmental, and other parents who “get it.” Sometimes that means narrowing or adjusting your circle. You will, painfully, discover who your true friends are and you will be surprised by the new friends you find. It’s part of the journey.
Above all else, know that you are not alone. There are mothers out there who have walked in your shoes and who know you deserve to be celebrated everyday!
Have a Happy Mother’s Day. Really!
With love from Randi