As an older millennial, I didn’t grow up learning about what it means to care for my mental health. I saw my immigrant mother work incessantly to help provide for our family. Rest wasn’t the norm and certainly wasn’t celebrated. We went to church on Sundays, but my parents worked before or after church. I was in college when I first learned about therapy and caring for my mental health. In the last decade, there has been a positive shift in prioritizing women’s mental health and I’m grateful for it. I’m even loving the more recent conversation on men’s mental health.
I’m a mother of four children ranging from a six-year-old to a teenager. Times have changed, and unlike our parents before us, I know better. There are things I have learned along the way to help my children prioritize their own mental health. Although my mother and the women in her generation didn’t have the to prioritize their well-being, I can’t use that as an excuse for my children. These are three things I do consistently to emulate prioritizing mental health in my life, for my children to have a better example than I had.
I Talk to My Children About Mental Health
First, I honor my mental health needs and talk to my children about it. They see me participate in joyful movement and eat foods that make my body strong and happy. My children know that I have a therapist. Due to my schedule, my sessions are all virtual. If they are home, they know the rules. Unless it’s an emergency, do not interrupt Mommy’s session. They see me read books and educate myself on how to be a whole person. They see me and my husband take time away from them to spend quality time as a couple. They see me do things that I enjoy like going on solo dates, enjoying my skin care routine – sometimes I let them join me in an at-home spa day.
This is important for several reasons. It’s important for me that my children know that I was a whole person before I became a mother and that even after they move out of the house, I will still have a life. This is hard for parents without support but when sick, I allow myself to rest. They will survive on fast food, unlimited screen time and a messy house – it’s temporary.
I Don’t Shame My Children For Their Big Feelings
The second thing that I do, is that I honor their need for mental health support, and I give them words to speak up for themselves. This looks like not shaming my children when they have big feelings, whether positive or negative. They are free to express themselves in healthy ways. Emotions like anger are welcomed. I provide outlets like the famous Nugget to punch or hit when mad. My kids are free to tell me that I made them angry and more importantly, they can tell me what they need. They can tell me they need a break from me, and I honor their request for respite. They can ask for hugs, kisses or help to regulate their emotions.
My children are taught at an early age how to listen to their bodies to tell them what they need and what resources are required to meet that need. Although this is controversial, I let them quit things if they really don’t want to do it. In the 10+ years of being a mother, I have never regretted letting my child quit an activity they were adamant about no longer doing. How can a child learn to trust their inner thoughts if we negate them or think we know better than they do?
We Take Mental Health Breaks
Lastly, we do not celebrate perfect attendance in our home. Sure, the school celebrates it and I understand that it affects the dollars, but we don’t give it much attention at home. My children love school, their teachers, and friends. So, if they say they want to miss a day for physical or emotional health concerns, then they miss school. I am quite aware that this comes from a place of privilege because I work from home. If I didn’t work from home, this would be harder to do. While we don’t have to call off work each time our child doesn’t want to go to school, it’s important that they know the importance of taking a break when it is needed.
Times have changed since I was a little girl watching my mom struggle and not even knowing that her mental health was something to prioritize. I was in the tenth grade when I got my first tardy and I was distraught. I didn’t care that my mother, a nurse, had an emergency at the hospital which made her late, I just cared about having perfect attendance by any means necessary. Being prompt is a good trait to have but at what cost? I love that our society is encouraging women and providing resources to support our mental health needs. My hope is that some of the practices I take today will help my children prioritize their mental health.
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