I think for many young parents there is a lot of pressure to hold it all together – to be kind and capable nurturers, to run tidy and efficient households, to continue in full time paid careers whilst simultaneously maintaining a happy and full lives away from work, and to manage all this with relative ease and with little help. In mothers groups I was surprised by how reticent other mothers were to say they were finding things tough. It seemed to me that these women truly thought that admitting it was tough going some days meant that as a parent you were a failure.
Parenting is a tough gig, whether you have neurotypical kids or not. It’s exhausting, it’s relentless and it requires a lot of emotional energy. Because we love our children so much, we are enormously invested in the parenting process and oftentimes we can have unfair and unrealistic expectations of ourselves in our pursuit of parenting perfection.
It’s OK to need a break from your children. I’ve hidden in the pantry once or twice just to enjoy a few moments of being in my own space! It’s OK to admit you are so sleep deprived that you feel sick to the stomach. It’s OK to admit that you are so emotionally exhausted that you simply have nothing left to give. It’s OK to not know the answers to every problem your family faces. It’s even OK not to know the question! It’s OK to not be perfect or normal – nobody actually knows what either of those terms mean anyway! It’s OK to be afraid and it’s OK to be fierce in protecting your family. It’s OK to admit you are so anxious that you wake up every night with your heart beating out of your chest. It’s OK to admit that your children are going to school in clothing recycled from the laundry hamper because you completely forgot to turn the washing machine on last night. It’s OK to admit you’ve entertained getting in your car and driving far, far away on your own and never returning! It’s normal to experience really tough and confusing moments along the parenting road and it’s important to reach out and ask for help when you need some back up.
Sharing your challenges often gives voice to the experiences of others as well, and somehow sharing this with somebody who ‘gets it’ normalises not only your feelings but theirs as well. It’s the old “a problem shared, is a problem halved” story. It’s healthy to discuss the challenges that life presents us all with, and it’s equally healthy to ask for help when you need it. As parents, don’t we hope and pray that if our children have worries or burdens that are heavy, that they will always come to us and share these concerns with us so that we can help? If this is so, then we had best “walk the talk” and model these behaviours for them so that admitting you’re not OK and asking for help are part of their toolkit for life.