Parenting is one of life’s greatest joys.
It can also present big challenges, particularly for women.
Beyond the daily chaos of a busy schedule and tending to a child’s needs, deeper troubles may linger: low moods, anxiety or trauma-related difficulties around the time of childbearing.
The Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan offers programs that provide consultation and care for parents and their children. These programs bring together specialists from many disciplines to provide a range of services.
Parents also can do simple things each day to stay mindful and in the moment — habits that harbor short- and long-term benefits.
“Practicing self-care can help make you a better parent by acting as a model for your kids,” says Kate Rosenblum, Ph.D., a U-M clinical professor of psychiatry. “You’re also ensuring that you have the energy for the marathon of parenting.”
She recently shared some helpful strategies:
5 tips for purposeful parenting
Take care of yourself: Every mom and dad wants to put their child first, but it’s important to remember that self-care is just as important. This might include making time for exercise, reading or a stress-relieving hobby.
“Think of it like the oxygen masks on an airplane where they tell you to put your own mask on before helping others,” Rosenblum says. “This same concept applies to the stresses and challenges of parenting. You are better able to help your children feel calm if you are feeling calm yourself.”
Maintain balance (and perspective): Parenting is a central part of your life, of course, but it’s only one part. Jobs, romantic and social relationships and other things matter as well. Keeping a balanced schedule is important. Find time for yourself, important relationships such as close friends and a spouse or partner, and your career.
It’s also important to be able to laugh. Laughing is a great way to shake off the unavoidable mishaps and chaos that parents face every day.
Don’t chase perfection: Every parent wants to be perfect for their child. But there is no such thing as the perfect parent.
“You will end up feeling miserable and like a failure if you hold yourself to unachievable standards,” says Rosenblum. “Our kids are not perfect, either. It is up to you to show them that life is about trying your best, making repairs when things do not go well and showing your kids that they matter to you.”
This, she says, helps children know a parent has their back but doesn’t expect perfection.
Find a support system: Connecting with other parents is a great way to find additional support. And it can be a way to help not only yourself but others, too.
“A lot of our parenting programs focus on bringing families together because other parents are commonly the best source of perspective and ideas. You might really be struggling with your teen, but you may have some great ideas about what worked with your toddler to share with someone else.”
Ask for help: Parenting challenges are normal, but sometimes the demands can be overwhelming. The good news: There is always help. Talking to trusted sources, such as other parents, supporters, teachers or your pediatrician, can be helpful for both you and your child.
A therapist can be the parenting coach you might be looking for. He or she could be a good option for your child as well, or help find ways to address your family’s needs together. Early investments in parenting and positive, healthy family relationships lay a strong foundation for later development and life.
The Women and Infants Mental Health Program at the University of Michigan also supports many child and adolescent psychiatry programs. Learn more about them here.