Being honest with my daughter about mental health has always been a priority for me. Truthfully, I never had a choice, I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life, and even when I’m the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been, it’s still there haunting me. I always imagined that it would eventually just fade away but if anything motherhood just brought on an entirely new mental health journey to face. Being the incredibly emotional and sensitive person that I am the last thing I could do was avoid the topic of mental health.
“You don’t have to be positive all the time. It’s perfectly okay to feel sad, angry, annoyed, frustrated, scared and anxious. Having feelings doesn’t make you a negative person. It makes you human.” -Lori Deschene
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that I should cry behind closed doors or protect my daughter from my overwhelming emotions but I don’t believe hiding the truth protects her at all, I think that it does more harm than good. I think that concealing the facts allows an intuitive and emotional child to create their own understanding that more often than not is harmful to their fragile mind. I also believe that sweeping our overwhelming emotions under the rug fuels a harmful stigma and casts a dark shadow over those who need help. Even if my mental health didn’t suffer, I’d still keep the conversation going with my daughter because it’s my parental duty to give her the tools she needs to live a balanced and healthy life.
Mental health is just as important as physical health. Our psychological well-being needs to be a constant topic throughout every life stage, especially childhood. We all have brains, and we all have emotions, so it’s time we start making it a priority. It’s never too early nor is there ever a wrong time to talk to our children about the many ways mental health affects a family member, a friend, or the child. Yes, we want to protect our children, and we have this intense desire to shelter them from the things that could hurt them like depression and overwhelming emotions, but the truth is we need to give our children more credit where credit is due. Their intuitions will let them know somethings wrong and if we don’t help them understand they WILL create a damaging and false understanding.
I remember the first time I asked my daughter how she felt about the times when I was very sad and too tired to do fun things with her, her reply broke my heart. She told me that it made her sad and I let her know that that’s okay, it makes me sad to see someone I love hurt too. What made me realize though, that I needed to more honest about my mental health, was that she then said that she wanted to be a good girl and make me happy. It was absolutely heartbreaking to hear that reply.
“Together with open conversations and greater understanding, we can ensure that attitudes towards mental health change and children receive the support they deserve.” -Kate Middleton
If you’re suffering from mental health issues or you know a loved one who has a mental illness the best thing you can do for your child and to end the mental health stigma is to start a conversation. Don’t know where to start? You can always find a health professional like a therapist or a psychiatrist who can give you the tools and topics needed to be prepared and confident.
The last thing that I want for my daughter is for her to believe that she is the reason why I get overwhelmingly sad or so depressed that I can’t take care of myself or do the fun things we usually do. I can’t handle the thought of her looking at me and wondering why I’m not happy, and then her poor little conscious thinking that it’s because of her. The last thing I want is for her to believe it’s because I work so hard to care for her or it’s because she didn’t listen to me when I asked her to do her chores or finish her meals. So I make sure to explain my mental health in a way that’s age appropriate for her and in a way that she can understand.
Start the conversation whenever there’s an opportunity and as often as necessary. Whenever we’re watching a show together or come across someone in public that is being emotional I strike up a conversation then let it flow naturally. Using appropriate words for her age, I’ll ask her if there was ever a time she felt the same way (sad, angry, scared), and make sure that I listen without judgment far more than I talk. It’s vital that we refrain from telling our children how they feel or telling them that their feelings aren’t justified. Try to ask questions that can help them hone in on their feelings and let them ask questions as well so that they can guide the conversation and get all the information they need. Their questions and issues will evolve as they age, along with their understanding and you can delve into more in-depth discussions.
“People Start To Heal The Moment They Feel Heard.” – Cheryl Richardson
Knowing that my daughter has a better understanding of emotions and how they’re entirely natural it opens the door for me to discuss my mental health issues in ways that are easy for her to understand. When the time is right and I see an appropriate moment where I can bring up my mental health and feelings, I take the opportunity.
“You know that Mommy also feels incredibly sad and upset sometimes too, right baby?”
I then will ask her how that makes her feel, and usually, she replies with sad or upset and that’s perfectly normal and healthy feeling to have towards someone you love, and I let her know that it’s okay.
“Did you know when Mommy gets super sad or upset that it’s because I’m sick and need to take better care of myself? Just like when you’re sick, and we have to give you medicine. When Mommy’s brain is sick and I’m overwhelmed with work and things that I have to do, it can make me tired and upset. That’s why I make sure to talk about my feelings and do things that make me feel better. It’s not because of you Baby, you are such a good girl, and I love you.”
Letting her know that I love her and that I’m sick and it’s MY responsibility to care for myself always brings a smile right to her face, and she’ll give me a big hug. I always remind her that she always makes me feel better and not worse.
“Sometimes when my brain is tired and not feeling good I need rest. When you see me meditating or taking a bath with all my bubbles and candles, those are all things that help me feel better and relax and help me focus on what’s important, and that’s us. You always make me feel good, especially your cuddles. I always love it when you ask me to watch a movie with you or go for a walk outside because spending time with you makes me happy. I love you so much.”
Our children love us and want to be loved and know that they’re loved and heard. They also need to know that it’s normal for everyone to have strong feelings and that it’s important to talk about them then do what’s necessary to heal and get back to my balanced emotional well-being.
Leading by example and giving my daughter a powerful emotional platform will allow her to feel comfortable with her unique feelings. It’s important to instill the importance of balance at a young age so as she grows and develops stronger emotions she’ll recognize that they’re either affecting her in either a positive or negative way. She’ll then find someone to talk to about them because she knows that it’s NORMAL.
“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” -Plato
If we want our children to talk, whether it’s to us or someone they trust, we have to let them know that it’s important to focus on their mental health. It’s time that we instilled the knowledge that their mental health is just as important as their physical health. When we discuss emotions with them from the start in a healthy way, they’ll be able to work through them without worry or fear of being judged or getting into trouble.
When you think about it, we are our children’s most significant role models, when we’re vulnerable in front of them and teach them how we heal and feel better through conversation, a healthy lifestyle, counseling, treatment, and love they’ll be better prepared and more willing to do the same for themselves. My mental health struggles are not my daughters and I will be damned to let her grow up believing that she is somehow responsible for or any less important because of them. If anything my life experiences have given me the tools and expertise necessary to prepare my daughter for emotional turmoil and self-love better.
I want my daughter to understand that I am a fighter -not a mess.
Mental health is nothing to be ashamed of, and I will not hide away while I’m in pain nor will I let my daughter believe that that’s how you heal. What lesson would that teach her? It’s going to show her to try and quiet her pain in unhealthy ways or that she should be ashamed, and from experience, I’m telling you that it will only lead down a more painful path. It’s a painful path that leads to anxiety, depression, and other mental health illnesses; it leads to self-hate, resentment, anger, and unhealthy relationships; it’s a path that leads to drugs, alcohol, and even death, and we owe it to our children to start the conversation.
My daughter is my life, she’s the most important thing to me, and I love her; I want her to be happy, healthy and safe, and that’s why I am open and honest with her about mental health.