As a parent who has grappled with anxiety issues and has always been on edge, one of my constant worries is I will pass on this to my kids.
While I wish that my children should never have the kind of anxiety and panic attacks that I have had, thinking about it has already made me anxious.
While genetics and learned behavior do play a part in how the children turn out, it is not everything. Just like all the others, our offspring are truly their own people.
By being aware of our mental health struggle empowers us to be alert and effective in recognizing, acknowledging and responding to any issues that might arise in our children.
I am sharing some guidelines that have helped me, a person with mental health issues, sail through parenting:
- Be open about your situation
There is no shame in having a bout of depression, anxiety or any of the intense feelings that one experiences. Speaking openly about your experiences can be a powerful approach to help bring early acceptance.
Saying something like, “Mummy is feeling sad and it is something Mummy is working on,” offers children a powerful early memory to help them accept and feel assurance in successfully navigating difficulties that may raise – the awareness that it is normal to talk about these things will go a long way.
- Don’t punish yourself unnecessarily
Often stress emerging from the automatically reminding yourself of the responsibility of being a parent can trigger mental health issues. Some of us can experience really bad days. That is why it is all the more important, to be honest about your issues with your kids and always be gentle with yourself when your issues come up. Be someone who is willing to own up to their weaknesses and to apologize when things go out of control. Recognize what is stopping you from honestly sharing your feelings when things are difficult and then let go of any beliefs that stop you from being gentle with yourself.
- Genetic handover is not unavoidable
It is not totally unreasonable that those of us with mental health issues fear to pass them on to our kids. There tends to be a genetic side to many mental health disorders. But like all other disorders, just because they might inherit doesn’t mean they will. So many factors go into how our children turn out – some controllable and others uncontrollable. What we can do is create the most caring and nurturing support system that we possibly can.
- Exhibit good coping techniques
Let children know that you are under treatment. My children know that my exercising and prayer sessions are my ways of practicing wellness. If they wish, let them join your sessions (there are no side-effects to exercising and meditation). Let kids know that keeping up with mental health self-care routines are as important as eating, sleeping, or going for a check-up.
- Convert your experience to an advantage
Your own experience, as well as the knowledge that there is a chance of your mental health issue being passed over to your child, are things you can use to your advantage. Recognize this awareness as one one of your most potent tools that can protect your child from mental health disorders. Your awareness and experience serve as a sort of radar to help recognize the potential symptoms of mental health issues in your child, letting you get them the help they need swiftly.
- Worrying is natural
I get anxious at times about my children inheriting my mental health disorders. But you can’t be living in fear all the time. I don’t regret bringing my children into the world. I am confident that as the years pass more solutions and support will become available to them should they need. Nature and nurture play complex parts in molding our children’s personalities. But let us keep reminding ourselves that as tricky as mental health issues are to live with, they don’t define a person. Remember that each child is unique – and more than your genetics and that each of them is special and have more determination and spirit than we give them credit for.