6 Easy, Frugal Self-Care Strategies for Busy Parents

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

When tiny people suck up all of your available time, energy, and mental headspace or when your teenager butts heads with you and you’re just exhausted afterwards, then that is the time for self-care.

Every parent should know the importance of self-care, defined as, “the practice of taking action to improve one’s health.” Without filling your own tanks, there’s no way you can be a present parent and fill the tanks of your children. If you allow your kids to drain your batteries day after day, you’ll end up collapsing. You’ll be burnt out, unable to meet even the most basic needs of your children—or yourself.

I know that you might not think that you have time for self-care. But you need to make time, if not for yourself, then for the sake of your children. I know that when I don’t prioritize taking care of myself, I end up snapping at my kids and damaging their emotional health. I don’t want to be that parent, so I put my own oxygen on mask first, to use the metaphor.

Here are a few self-care ideas specifically tailored to parents with busy lives.

1. Go on a Nature Walk

Spending time in nature has been proven to reduce anxiety and improve your well-being. Take a walk around a forest, go to a park and step barefoot on the grass, or visit the coast, if you can. The best part is that you can bring your kids with you. They’ll benefit from a walk around greenery as much as you, which will mean they’ll be a lot calmer in the afternoons if you go in the morning. I know an outing requires a bit of advanced planning, but you can handle this.

I like taking to my 4-year-old daughter to the park as often as I can, both so she can run around with other kids and I can soak up some sunshine. We go in the mornings and return home before lunch. Spending time in nature is easier when your kids are in the sweet spot between infant (when going out is difficult) and pre-teen (when they’re not interested). But even if your kids aren’t 4-6, when they like parks the best, try to go out anyways. Your kids deserve a happier parent and walking around in nature is one of the best ways to buoy your mood.

2. Play Your Favorite Song

One way to improve your mental state almost immediately is to play your favorite song. If you have a bumpin’ playlist, even better. Crank up the speakers and have a dance party with your kids. They’ll enjoy wiggling around with you and you’ll all get some exercise in, which means naptime may be easier.

My husband gifted me a pair of Bluetooth headphones, on which I listen to music all day long. I keep one ear uncovered so I can play pretend games with my preschooler and discuss more advanced topics with my preteen son. I listen to Pandora radio, a streaming service, on my phone, and I have stations I’ve curated to match my mood and activities—fast, electronica music for cleaning, classic rock for everyday listening, and soft acoustic guitar when I’m anxious and need to calm down.

3. Engage Your Sense of Smell

Your sense of smell is tied to mood; if you smell rotten eggs or cat urine, that can ruin your day, whereas smelling sandalwood, the favored scent of your beloved aunt, can help improve your outlook. To engage your sense of smell, light a scented candle (after the kids have gone to bed), rub some perfume on your wrists, or open a bottle of vanilla extract and take a whiff. Smelling something good can help you recenter yourself during or after a busy day of child-rearing.

I love smells. My sniffer is super, so I love inhaling good scents as much as I can. When my son bakes bread, I love spending time in the kitchen with him just to get a blast of the aroma of yeasty goodness. I absolutely crack open a vanilla bottle on occasion.

4. Grab Some ZZZs

If you can, try to get some extra sleep. Studies have shown that the benefits of sleep are legion. Every parent understands the importance of sleep, especially parents of newborns and small children. Researchers recommend sleeping at least seven hours a night so your body and brain have time to reset themselves.

If your kids still take naps, nap with them. And even though it’s tempting to burn the midnight oil to get some alone time, try to snuggle under the covers before 11pm, as according to studies sleep before 12am is the most restorative. If you have a trusted family friend, ask them to watch your children for you for a couple of hours so you can grab some ZZZs.

I was actually falling asleep at the breakfast table today, and my husband happened to be home to take care of the kids. He told me to go take a nap, which I did, and I felt loads better afterwards.

As a woman with bipolar disorder, sleep hygiene is key to my mental health. Without sleep, I trip into mania, after which there’s always a crash, and that’s no good for anyone, especially me. I guard my sleep with the fierceness of Cerberus. If I’m too busy to sleep before 12am one night, I absolutely try to crash at 9-10pm the next few days. And when my daughter did nap, I slept with her.

Good sleep is essential.

5. Practice Good Hygiene

Most parents understand the appeal of a hot shower. (Those who don’t, you don’t know what you’re missing!) There’s just something relaxing about standing under the spray and letting your cares wash down the drain along with any grime you’ve gathered during a hard day of childcare. But what if you don’t have time to take a shower? What if your “shift” isn’t over for a few hours?

Well, the answer, my friend, is sponge baths. Rinse a washcloth in the sink and wipe down your face and arms. Scrub your kiddos’ face while you’re at it, and you’ll both feel better. If you find yourself with an abundance of time, brush your teeth. A clean mouth will help you feel like you can take on the world.

In the heat of the summer, nothing feels better than a bit of cool water on my face. I love dragging a cold, wet rag over my cheeks and forearms and even applying some extra deodorant, all of which takes less than five minutes. Even in fall and winter, when temperatures plummet, a warm, damp washcloth can heat up my face and make me feel great.

6. Eat a Snack

Snacking benefits more than just your kids; eating a small amount of food between lunch and dinner can sustain your energy levels. A snack can keep you from the 3 o’clock grogginess that’s so common in afternoons of child wrangling. A snack can provide more nutrients in your diet. And a snack can even help prevent binge eating. If you don’t have allergies, try eating some nuts, a piece of fruit, a piece of cheese, some sugar snap peas, or even a 1oz piece of dark chocolate.

Earlier today, I was feeling lower than low. I was tired and snappish and mindlessly scrolling through my phone while my daughter ate her daily snack after lunch, yogurt with graham crackers. She chattered with me, perky as ever, and I realized that my energy had dipped because I’d had a light lunch and I needed a snack, too. So I pulled a yogurt of my own out from the fridge and ate with her. That bit of food was enough to perk me up and help me take on the rest of the day.

Conclusion

When you find your energy flagging, your brain slowing down, and your patience thinning, it’s time for some self-care. Self-care is not an indulgence; it’s a necessity. Without self-care, you’ll end up drained and likely not the parent you want to be.

Going on a nature walk, playing your favorite song, engaging your sense of smell, grabbing some ZZZs, practicing good hygiene, and/or eating a snack can help you feel better.

So try some of these strategies today! You don’t have anything to lose!

Related Posts:

How to Handle This Thanksgiving with Bipolar Disorder by Setting Healthy Boundaries

Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

When my father pressured me at the last minute to host a family Thanksgiving two days before I was slated to drive 1500 miles last year, I refused.

At first I agreed. Why not cook a feast for my extended family, at least seven people in addition to my own husband and two children (11 people total)? I would have loved to have my family over and fete them with all the trappings of the Thanksgiving holiday, all of which I would be cooking by myself because my husband was finishing up tasks at work in order to prepare for our road trip.

This made sense to me at the time. I could do laundry and pack for the massive, month-long road trip after the Thanksgiving holiday was done, right?

But I realized that as a woman with bipolar I, that much stress would immediately spin me out into a dangerous manic episode. Because of my very serious psychiatric condition, I wouldn’t have been able to even enjoy the holiday or the road trip because I would be too busy preparing for both. If I had hosted Thanksgiving like my father wanted, I may have even ended up in a mental hospital.

Once I recognized that hosting a holiday was not only overwhelming but unhealthy, I then had to set a boundary, something that has been very difficult for me in the past. Girding up my strength, I texted my father back and told him my immediate family would be skipping the Thanksgiving holiday entirely that year in order to preserve my mental health.

His disappointment rang clear to me through his emoji-filled text, but he thankfully understood my reasoning, and ended up enjoying Thanksgiving with my sister. My immediate family ended up baking a small turkey breast we bought at Costco and making mashed potatoes, a very low-key holiday of our own for just the four of us.

Thanksgiving, an American feast holiday including traditional dishes like turkey and pumpkin pie typically eaten with friends and family, can be tricky when bipolar disorder is an uninvited guest.

The stress of the holiday, especially when taking on tasks like all the cooking for a large group, may tip a person you over into mania or hypomania, after which there is almost always a depressive crash.

I am here to tell you that your holidays do not have to be unhealthy.

You can stick to your guns and set healthy boundaries with your friends and family.

If you are an adult, your family absolutely cannot force you into any uncomfortable position unless you let them. Will there be consequences for asserting yourself? Yes, definitely. But those consequences may not be as awful for your and those surrounding you as damaging yourself with a manic episode.

Why Setting Boundaries is Important

When you first start to set boundaries, you will be uncomfortable, especially if you’ve never set them before. But doing so is incredibly important. If you do not express your preferences and stick to your guns about them, you invite people to ignore your needs and set them up to fail.

Set them up to fail? What? How does that make sense? It’s simple, really.

People aren’t mind readers. But how can they be good to you if you don’t tell them what your preferences are? If you don’t tell people if you’re angry or even annoyed, they can’t respond in a proper way and they’ll continue responding in the way they feel is right based on limited information, possibly angering you or annoying you further.

If you don’t tell people the truth about what you like or what your preferences are, and if you just go along with what they say or don’t say no to them about something that feels violating to you, you are setting them up to fail.

That doesn’t lead to a productive conversation or to someone knowing the real you. This is not your fault, but it doesn’t have to be this way. You can express your needs and get them met.

Here’s how.

How to Set Boundaries This Holiday Season

Telling my father that my family wasn’t going to enjoy Thanksgiving with him was extremely difficult for me, someone who doesn’t set boundaries often, and especially not with him.

But having done my own research on how to set boundaries and having talked with my therapist about techniques, I was prepared.

Here are my steps to setting boundaries:

1. Find a supportive friend or partner to vent your feelings to before and after setting your boundary.

When I set boundaries with my father, I expressed my feelings of being overwhelmed to my husband, who helped me realize I could not take on the task of hosting Thanksgiving that year. My husband gave me the perspective and the courage I needed to stand up to my dad.

If you cannot find a friend or partner in your personal life offline to vent to, you may have more success online. You can also use a therapist for this. (For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.)

2. Use clear, easy-to-understand language.

When expressing your needs, you do not want to be misunderstood or give anyone any leeway or wiggle room to interpret your words differently. Write down what you want to say ahead of time and read from your notes if necessary.

One of the best ways to express your feelings to others is to use “I” statements. When you say, “you made me feel…” that shifts blame onto the other person and puts them on the defensive. Plus, framing the sentence that way doesn’t allow you to take responsibility for your own feelings. Try “I feel,” instead.

Last Thanksgiving, I communicated with my own father via phone text, the medium he chose, so I was fortunate that I could tweak my words before sending him the message until they were the most effective I could come up with.

3. Modulate your tone.

Setting boundaries with an angry tone doesn’t work. People dismiss other angry people, and may end up getting defensive themselves. Try to speak as neutrally as possible. This will be difficult, but having your needs listened to and respected is worth it.

I always try to remain calm when setting boundaries. If I find myself getting worked up, I tell the person that I’m setting the boundary with that I need to walk away momentarily and will be back when I’m calm.

4. Do not over-explain yourself, or explain yourself at all if you so choose.

When you set a boundary, expect to be listened to. If you find that people are unable or unwilling to understand what you’ve said, repeat your clear, easy-to-understand statement until they get it. There is no need to over-explain your reasonings.

When I’ve over-explained in the past, I’ve found that people do not believe that I the boundary I am trying to set is firm. Having solid reasons–which I do not have to explain at all if I so choose, and neither do you–requires me to think about them ahead of time to determine if I’m comfortable with those reasons. In the Thanksgiving example, my mental health and the health of my immediate family had to come first.

5. Set consequences if your boundaries are crossed.

The most effective boundaries have consequences. You can always, always stop speaking to your family. It’s uncomfortable, but you might find that it’s freeing as well. If they’re not going to treat you in the way you deserve, with respect and kindness, then they do not in turn deserve your attention.

When setting boundaries with my father during Thanksgiving, I was fully prepared to stop speaking to him. Thankfully he understood my set boundary and I didn’t have to, but if he hadn’t and I’d stopped speaking to him, then he wouldn’t have seen us for Thanksgiving anyway, and possibly longer, depending on how long I was willing to stick to my guns. It was a win-win for me.

Specific Examples of Boundaries You can Set

Here are some specific examples of boundaries you can set and the language you can use to set them:

  • To set a boundary with an angry family member, say something like, “You will not treat me [in the specific way they’re treating you]. If you continue, I will leave the room (or hang up the phone call).”
  • To set a boundary with someone who criticizes you, say something like, “It is not okay with me that you comment on my [specific example, like eating patterns]. Please stop.”
  • To set a boundary with someone who asks too much of you, say something like, “Although you are important to me, I must say no to your [specific request] to take care of myself and my family.”
  • To back out of a commitment, say something like, “I know I agreed to [specific task], but after looking over my schedule, I recognize that I will not be able to give [the task] my all. I want to help you find a replacement by [specific date].”

Conclusion

Setting boundaries with your family will be difficult, but the personal power you gain will be worth it. Get some perspective from a trusted friend, use clear, easy-to-understand language, modulate your tone, do not over-explain yourself, and set consequences.

When I set my own boundary, I was fortunate that my father respected me enough to understand why I set it. But I was fully prepared to stop speaking to him. I set my boundary and stuck to it, and I had a peaceful holiday with my immediate family that I wouldn’t have traded for anything.

You can handle this Thanksgiving. Remember, you get to decide what your holiday season looks like. You family cannot force you into anything you do not choose to do. Your mental health is paramount, and if you do not protect yourself, no one else will.

I wish you well.

Related Posts:

4 Times You Should Call Your Doctor to Save Yourself from a Bipolar Depressive Episode

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

Trigger Warning: This post contains a discussions of suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please:

  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255
  • Text TALK to 741741
  • Or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources. 

For a post with a list of domestic crisis lines, click here

For a post with a list of international crisis lines, click here.

Trigger Warning: This post has brief mentions of the 2020 covid pandemic.

4 Times You Should Call Your Doctor to Save Yourself from a Depressive Episode

People all over the world face mental health struggles, and with the 2020 covid pandemic isolating people and causing physical illness and death, the challenges have never been greater. But some people are still confused about what problems need professional help, especially when suffering a depressive illness.

Depression is a serious illness that can lead to people taking drastic actions such as committing self-harm or dying by suicide. Even when the depression “isn’t that bad,” you may still be sad, apathetic, or just tired all the time.

Your mental health might still be in the toilet, and that’s no way to live. 

If you’re living with a depressive illness, you deserve medical attention. The earlier you get treatment, the more effective it’ll be, but even if you’ve been living in the black, viscous pit of depression for years, you still have hope that therapy and/or medication can help.

But when should you, you personally, call your doctor? I’ll give you a few reasons below, as well as examples about when I’ve personally brought in my own treatment team.

A Note Before We Get Started

If you already have a psychiatrist and/or a therapist, awesome. That makes getting adequate treatment easier. But if you don’t have one available, ask for a consultation by a primary care physician (preferably yours, if you have one) to refer you to mental health services.

(For a more detailed post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here. For a more detailed post on how to get a psychiatric evaluation, click here.)

1. Call Your Doctor When… You’ve Lost Interest in Well, Everything

Anhedonia is the loss of interest in things you used to find pleasurable. It’s a deep well of apathy that’s one of the classic signs of depression. Food, hobbies, even sex don’t appeal to you anymore, and you have no desire to do anything except curl up in a blanket fort and hide for the rest of your life. 

This is no way to live. Call your doctor. They can help you.

As a person with bipolar disorder, one of the first signs of a depressive episode for me is when I’ve lost interest in writing. Writing is my lifeblood; I adore putting words to paper and either trying to inform my readers about something that can help them, or tugging at their heartstrings, or both. 

So when I find writing starting to be a chore to me, that’s a sign that I need to call my therapist and let her know that I’m sinking into a depressive episode.

2. Call Your Doctor When… Your Sleep Patterns Have Changed

Sleeping all day is not normal. Being tired constantly seemingly without reason can be a symptom of depression. Insomnia or difficulty falling asleep are also possible symptoms. If your sleep patterns have changed and you can’t pinpoint why, it’s time to call your doctor.

When I first put my daughter in preschool, I was suffering a massive depressive episode without realizing it. I would drop her off at 9am and then go home and collapse in bed, sleeping until 12pm, even after having slept 9 hours the night before. I was sleeping up to 12 hours a day and I was still exhausted. 

When I pulled my daughter out of preschool due to the covid pandemic, I realized I needed to wake up. She needed me to be a present parent; I couldn’t afford to sleep all day. 

So I called my doctor. He adjusted my medication, and I recovered from the depressive episode, which enabled me to be a better parent.

3. Call Your Doctor When… You Can’t Stop Crying

Crying releases endorphins and can be a release for some people. But crying during a depression isn’t usually a healthy release; it’s constant and exhausting and tends to rile people up, not help them. If you find yourself shedding tears and can’t stop, call your doctor.

I sobbed my way through my time committed to a mental hospital. I absolutely could not stop crying; everything was awful and my face was constantly wet. The sobfest may have been due to postpartum hormones; I had just given birth to my first child, but my tears never stopped for a solid week.

After starting medication, I stabilized and stopped crying. Now I’m a happy, present spouse and parent who only cries for release.

4. Call Your Doctor When… You Have Thoughts of Self-Harm or Suicide

Thoughts of self-harm and suicide are serious enough that you need to call your doctor immediately. If you have more than a fleeting, intrusive thought of driving your car into oncoming traffic and it starts to become a plan you could see yourself acting on, then please absolutely seek medical attention.

During my pregnancy with my son, when I was suffering thoughts of self-harm, I did not call my doctor. I was isolated and lonely from a recent move across the country, and while I told my obstetrician I felt sad, I didn’t let her know about my thoughts. 

I ended up making a suicide attempt five days after my son was born. Committing myself to a mental hospital and earning a diagnosis of bipolar disorder saved my life. I was given a referral to a psychiatrist, who gave me stabilizing medication. Now, 13 years later, I am a happy and stable parent and writer. 

Don’t be like me. Don’t prolong your suffering from these debilitating thoughts. Call your doctor.

Conclusion

Sunday, October 10th, 2021 is World Mental Health Day, an initiative by the World Federation by Mental Health intended to bring awareness to mental health issues faced by people globally. 

What better way to celebrate World Mental Health Day than to take charge of your own psychological well-being?

From losing interest in pleasurable activities, changing sleep patterns, constant crying, to thoughts of self-harm, depression has varied symptoms that add up to a debilitating condition. 

If you are facing any of these four challenges, don’t wait. Call your doctor today.

Related Posts:

Child Abuse Prevention: 4 Crucial Tips for Parenting With Depression

Child abuse comes in many forms: physical abuse, emotional abuse, medical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. When we’re suffering from depression and dealing with the inability to take care of ourselves, we are at risk of neglecting our children. This risk must be mitigated in order to prevent seriously harming our kids.

4 Crucial Tips for Parenting with Depression - CassandraStout.com

It’s all well and good to say so, but how does one prevent child abuse when they have depression? Here are 4 crucial tips to parenting with depression.

Tip #1: Practice Self-care

You’ve heard the analogy of the oxygen mask on the airplane. Before you tend to your children, you must put your oxygen mask on first.

Self-care is that oxygen mask.

Self-care may seem like just another item on the to-do list. But it’s actually crucial for you to function. Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. If you don’t perform some self-care on a daily basis, you’ll not only neglect yourself, you may start to neglect your kids as well because you’re burnt out.

Some people think self-care is limited to bubble baths and painting your nails. That’s not true. Taking your medications and attending therapy are forms of self-care. So is getting enough sleep, eating well, and drinking enough water. Spending time outside and with other people also falls under that umbrella.

If you put your oxygen mask on and practice self-care on a daily basis, then over time you’ll be in a much better position to care for your children. Avoid burn out. Prioritize self-care.

Tip #2: Seek Professional Help for You and Your Child

When you’re a parent suffering from depression, the bond with your child may suffer. You might neglect your duties at home and spend a lot of time in bed, ignoring your babies. This is frightening and confusing to a kid, who needs you to be a consistent presence in their lives.

Before the situation gets that bad, seek professional help. Find a therapist you can trust for yourself, and talk about your feelings with him or her.

But don’t forget to find a therapist for your child as well. He or she may need help understanding why your depression affects you the way it does. Your kid needs a trusted adult to be a comforting presence. A therapist can teach your whole family coping skills.

For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.

Tip #3: Communicate with Your Child

As I’ve said before, parental depression can cause unusual behaviors in you which are scary to your child. Nip that in the bud and communicate with him or her as much as possible about your depression.

Let your kid know that your mental illness, while not going away, is not his or her fault. Explain that you have a chemical imbalance in your brain, and you’re doing your best to cope with it. If you are taking medication, tell your child that you are taking steps to circumvent the depression and its effect on him or her.

Don’t be afraid to let your kid know how you’re feeling that day, be it tired, sad, or even and especially happy. Don’t make him or her responsible for your emotions, but do share them with your child.

For a post on how to communicate with your children about your mental illness, click here.

Tip #4: Forgive Yourself for Mistakes

You cannot be the super parent every day of the week when dealing with depression. Setting too high of expectations for yourself and your children can be dangerous, because if you fail, it can trigger overwhelming feelings of despair.

Recognizing that you deserve forgiveness for mistakes, especially while suffering from depression, can be one of the hardest things you’ll do. But you must forgive yourself if you mess up, because you’re setting an example to your child to forgive you and others.

Know that “good enough” parenting is really good enough. Allow your kid some leeway when it comes to screen time. Offer them a cheese and celery and tomato plate instead of a full dinner, but only occasionally, when you really can’t cook. (For a post on 22 easy meals to make while depressed, click here.) And don’t cut back on your kid’s activities; get him or her out of the house as much as possible, so he or she can be around other people.

Final Thoughts

Parenting while suffering from depression is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. Neglecting yourself comes easily; neglecting your children is just the next logical step. Don’t get there. Practice self-care, seek professional help for you and your child, communicate with him or her, and forgive yourself for your mistakes.

These practical tips will help you foster a more positive environment for you and your kid. Eventually, if you continue taking care of yourself, your depression will lift, and you’ll be able to say that you did a good job parenting while suffering depression.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related:

4 Crucial Tips for Parenting with Depression - CassandraStout.com

Hiatus Announcement for the Bipolar Parent

Hello!

It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing a two-month hiatus for The Bipolar Parent. For the past eleven weeks, I have been working on personal projects, and have lost all motivation to work on the blog.

I have high hopes that a two-month hiatus–one month to rest and take the pressure off, another to get back into the swing of things–will help me recharge my batteries.

I appreciate all of you as readers. Thanks in advance for your understanding. Please stay safe in quarantine, and tend to your families.

Stay healthy, stay hydrated, stay sane.

Cassandra Stout

Father’s Day: Why the Mental Health of New Fathers Matters

Do you have a new father in your life? Read how to support him and his family on this post by the Bipolar Parent!

Most everyone has heard of postpartum depression, the devastating mental health condition that affects many mothers after giving birth. But did you know that some researchers estimate that up to 25% of new fathers suffer depression in the first year after their child’s birth? And the number jumps to 50% if mom is also depressed.

We hear quite a bit about women’s transition to new motherhood, but very little about men’s transition to fatherhood. While supporting maternal mental health is a worthy goal and should continue, we need to support paternal mental health as well.

Immediately following Father’s Day on June 21st, 2020, is International Father’s Mental Health Day. Founded by Postpartum Support International’s Dr. Daniel Singley as well as paternal postpartum depression survivor Mark Williams, the awareness day aims to create social media buzz about the mental health of dads.

Father's Day: Why the Mental Health of New Fathers Matters - Cassandrastout.com

New Fatherhood Has Its Own Changes and Challenges

Having a new baby doesn’t just change the biology of women. Men undergo massive hormonal and biological changes as well. Testosterone goes down, prolactin goes up, and entire areas of a man’s brain grow. This equips the father to care for his newborn.

And aside from biological and hormonal changes, fatherhood brings its own unique stresses.

First, the partnership between the parents have changed. Sex is off the table, at least for a while, and sleep deprivation makes handling conflicts over parenting, finances, and other issues more difficult to handle–right when the conflicts ramp up.

The lack of emotional and physical intimacy, especially for men who depend entirely on their partner for emotional closeness, is a bitter pill to swallow for many new fathers.

Speaking of finances, a mother who has just given birth needs at least six weeks to recover, maybe more if she’s had a C-section. She will be out of work for at least that time. Since parental leave in the US is so abysmal, and new parents have very little support on a state and federal level, the stress for keeping the family afloat while the mother is recovering falls to the other parent.

The father may also feel that his bond with the new baby is not as strong as the mother’s bond, so he may feel left out of building a relationship with his newborn.

In addition, there are psychological stresses to parenting. The new dad must resolve conflicts about his own childhood and his own father, looking for a model for his own parenthood. If the new dad has a bad relationship with his own father, he may have to seek role models elsewhere–something few people do before impending fatherhood.

All of these stresses and conflicts impact a new dad’s mental health. As I said in the first paragraph, up to 25% of new fathers suffer depression in the first year of their baby’s life.

How to Support Our Fathers

The mental health of our fathers matters, and not just for the father himself.

If the father of the household is emotionally healthy, he can better respond to a newborn’s cries and model emotional resilience to his children. When a father is emotionally supported, he can be a better partner, and maternal mental health improves.

But a dad, especially a new dad, should not be supported just because his mental health impacts others. The father is a human being with his own unique struggles who needs help from not only the people around him, but state and federal governments.

If you have a new dad in your life, offer him and his parenting partner a meal. Check in with the parents on a regular basis, especially after the first two months, when most support around them has usually dried up. Offer an ear to the new father (and mother) if your relationship is close–and even if it isn’t.

Join organizations such as Postpartum Support International, and see what you can do to advocate for new parents, especially fathers, who are often left out of mental health conversations. Include new dads in these conversations as much as possible.

As for the governmental level, write your senator or representative to insist on paternal leave policies in your state. There are many benefits to paternity leave:

  • Fathers who stay home with their newborns develop a greater bond with their babies, which lasts long into the child’s life.
  • Children whose dads stayed home with them have better mental health and cognitive test scores than those children whose fathers stayed away.
  • And the mental and physical health of mothers whose parenting partners stayed with them–and set up an equal parenting relationship–was greatly improved.

Paid parental leave policies are crucial for the mental health of both parents and their children.

Washington state has just passed a state-wide policy requiring three months of paid leave for fathers who work at large companies, occurring any time within the first year of infancy.

My brother-in-law, a new dad himself, is taking two months off of work in June and July to spend time with his wife and baby. (He took one off earlier, when the policy was less robust.)

My sister told me that having her husband work at home during the coronavirus outbreak was wonderful for their little family. He helped her cook and clean, bonded with their baby, and supported her mental health by opening up communication on tough issues they’d been facing in their relationship.

Paid paternity leave is a wonderful way to support our new fathers.

Final Thoughts

Our dads, especially new dads, need our help. Society has neglected them and told them that in order to remain strong, they must stuff their anxiety and depression. This does a disservice to the men in our lives.

The benefits to emotionally supporting a father are numerous. Fathers need support not only on a personal level, but also governmental. We need to advocate for them and include them in mental health conversations.

With a concentrated effort, we may be able to lower the incidence rate of depression among new fathers.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related:

Father's Day: Why the Mental Health of New Fathers Matters - Cassandrastout.com

What Does Mother’s Day Mean for Your Mental Health?

What does a complicated holiday like Mother’s Day mean for your mental health? Find out on CassandraStout.com!

What Does Mother's Day Mean for Your Mental Health? - CassandraStout.com

Mother’s Day.

For some of us, it is a day to celebrate the women who raised us–with flowers, chocolate, or homemade crafts. For others, it is a day of intense guilt and shame, reminding them of an abusive or neglectful parent. For those whose mothers left them or passed away, the day is a poignant reminder of what they do not have.

But what does Mother’s Day mean for your mental health?

In addition to featuring Mother’s Day, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. During May, mental health organizations strive to combat stigma about mental health conditions and educate communities and families about coping tools for mental illnesses. One thing that professionals want people to be aware of is the effect holidays, especially holidays centered around togetherness and emotions, can affect different people mentally.

Your Mother’s Effect on Your Mental Health

Your mother shaped your mental health, first as a child, and then as an adult. When you are little, your mother taught you how to handle stress, mostly by example, but also, hopefully by actively teaching you. Your mother also modeled how to manage relationships, including friendships, romance, and parenting, teaching you what to do and what not to. The types of behaviors learned, and whether they are healthy or not, can depend entirely on your relationship with your mother.

Even those whose mothers abandoned them as children or passed away taught them something by their absence.

And people with mothers who suffer from mental illness, especially if it is untreated, have another entire layer–and sometimes multiple layers–of complexity to their parental relationships.

What if You’re a Mother?

For those of us who are mothers ourselves, we’re walking a tightrope of societal expectations. Many of us suffer from postnatal depression, and a few of us have more severe cases of postpartum psychosis–including delusions, irritability, and hallucinations–all while facing a lack of resources and support from the community at large.

Facing down Mother’s Day as a mother can dredge up complicated feelings, ranging from happiness at the relationship you have with your children, to exhaustion from facing another day, bowing under the pressure of being a mother.

How to Handle Such a Complicated Holiday

All of this makes Mother’s Day a complicated, and at times, triggering day on the calendar. We may feel joy celebrating our mothers, but we may also feel pressure to do so in spite of our feelings. And we also can feel intense guilt or shame at our perceived failings as mothers and as daughters.

So how can you handle Mother’s Day, which is so fraught with emotion?

First, practice self-care. A lot of women think self-care is limited to having bubble baths and painting their nails. But that’s just not true.

Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it.

Try to get enough sleep during the week, eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of water, exercise, and spend some time outside and with other people, as much as social distancing would allow. Tap into your social network and ask for support during a time when you might be feeling vulnerable.

Secondly, give yourself space to experience your feelings. Mother’s Day is a complicated holiday, but you yourself are a complicated human being, capable of feeling all manner of emotions at any given time. Letting yourself experience your feasr or sorrows privately can help you get through the public times more easily.

Write down your impressions of Mother’s Day. If you are angry with your mother, write a letter expressing yourself. (Then burn it. This is only for you.) Keep a journal just for you about your complex feelings surrounding motherhood.

If you have a wonderful relationship with your mother and want to celebrate her, then by all means do so, and also celebrate your friendship! If you have a neglectful or abusive parent, then do what you can to take care of yourself in this time–if that means skipping the holiday, then don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for doing so.

If you have a daughter this Mother’s Day, try to be patient with her during this complicated holiday. She is likely struggling with some of the same issues you have with your own mother. Give her the grace you would want your own mother–or your daughter yourself–to give you.

Final Thoughts

Mothers shape our mental health. They teach us how to take care of ourselves, and how to prioritize our own well-being. Or, as is so often the case, how not to do that.

Our mothers taught us so many things, good and bad, and Mother’s Day is a way to acknowledge our mothers’ effects on us–without drowning. Motherhood is a complex and difficult challenge, and as long as we try our best, we are good parents.

You can handle this complicated holiday. You are stronger than we know.

My mother–and my own motherhood–taught me that.

Related:

What Does Mother's Day Mean for Your Mental Health? - CassandraStout.com

National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day: 5 Ways to Support Your Child with Bipolar Disorder

Get practical tips to help you support your child with bipolar disorder on The Bipolar Parent!

5 Ways to Support Your Child With Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

Parenting a child with bipolar disorder is a unique challenge. There are medications to manage, mood swings to endure, and the many times your child will surprise you with their capacity for rage–or empathy.

National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is observed annual on the first Thursday of May. Thursday, May 7th, 2020, is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day in the United States.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) created the day over a decade ago to better support families who struggle with mental health challenges in their children. The purpose of the awareness day is to shine a spotlight on the needs of children with serious mental illness and to encourage communities to get these children the help they need.

If your child suffers from bipolar disorder, don’t lose hope. You can rise to the challenge of parenting a child with mental illness.

Here are 5 ways to support a child with bipolar disorder.

1. Accept Your Child’s Limits

People with bipolar disorder often have mood swings that they cannot control. Your child will sometimes have terrible depression or manic energy that they won’t be able to rein in. They might laugh inappropriately, get into trouble at school, or be completely incapable of taking care of themselves, especially while depressed.

Accept your child’s limits. Be patient with your kid, letting them know that you will always be there for them and that your house is a no-judgment zone.

That doesn’t mean to not hold them accountable for putting in the effort to do chores or homework, but it does mean to give them a little leeway when they’re dealing with depression especially. If they are making inappropriate jokes due to a manic episode, call them on it, and ask them if they really feel those things are appropriate.

2. Validate Your Child’s Feelings

Validate your child’s feelings. Let them know that whatever they’re feeling, be it euphoria, frustration, rage, or the deepest pit of despair, is real. Tell them that you’re not judging them for having these feelings, and guide your child in ways that are appropriate to express their emotions.

Above all, don’t tell them to “stop acting crazy” if they get riled up. If they’re manic, they might be excessively goofy or silly, or have delusions of grandeur (including claims of superpowers). They can’t help themselves.

3. Communicate Honestly and Openly with Your Child

Communication is key to supporting your child with bipolar disorder. When your child approaches you, turn off your electronic devices and really listen. Even if you don’t understand how they feel, take in all that they say.

When your kid is struggling with their mood swings, or guilt, or other strong feelings, offer your child emotional support. Be patient, and validate what they feel (tip #2).

If you, too, have bipolar disorder, tell your child that you suffer the same kinds of mood swings that they do. Be honest with your children in an age-appropriate way.

(For a post on the differences between bipolar disorder in children and bipolar disorder in adults, click here.)

4. Set up a Routine

Children thrive on routine. You want to plan out your child’s days and weeks, and be consistent from day to day and week to week. Make sure your kid takes their medication at the same time everyday.

Center their routine around the “big six” tenants of self-care: eating a healthy diet, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, playing outside, exercising, and socializing with other human beings.

Set up a consistent schedule of activities for your child, but don’t forget to plan in downtime, too.

5. Help Your Child with Treatment

Help your child with their treatment plan. Find both a psychiatrist and a therapist for them. Keep a detailed journal of the changes in your kid’s moods and behaviors when starting a new medication. Follow the medication schedule, and gently but firmly let your child know that taking their meds is not an option. Don’t run out.

If necessary, talk to the guidance counselors and principal at your child’s school to set up an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. This plan will enable accommodations to be made for your kid, including breaks from homework during difficult times, time outs during the school day, and longer times to take tests.

Final Thoughts

Parenting a child with a mental illness is a difficult, but doable challenge. If your child has bipolar disorder, there will be times when they feel utterly depressed or riled up with delusions of grandeur.

You can rise to this challenge. Use these five practical tips to help you.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related:

5 Ways to Support Your Child With Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

Self-Care Ideas for Parents Stuck at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Are you a parent stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic looking for self-care ideas? Look no further! Read this post from the Bipolar Parent for over 50 ideas!

As I’ve said in my last two posts–How to Manage Being Stuck at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic as a Parent with Bipolar Disorder, and How to Make Time for Self-Care as a Parent During the Coronavirus Pandemic–self-care is crucial for you to continue functioning as a parent.

This is true always, but is especially true as a parent stuck at home during self-quarantine for the coronavirus pandemic.

But what is self-care? A lot of people think self-care ideas are limited to bubble baths and painting their nails. But that’s just not true.

Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it.

There are 7 types of self-care: physical, emotional, relational, social, intellectual, spiritual, and safety and security self-care.

Read on for self-care ideas you can do while stuck at home that cover all 7 of these areas.

Make notes of the ideas that apply to your life or that you want to try, and see which ones you can incorporate your children into. Put a C by those ideas. Next, put an I by those ideas that you need independent me-time for. We’ll come back to this later.

Some of these ideas are taken from a sheet given to me by the teachers at Lake Washington Toddler Group.

Self-care ideas for parents stuck at home during coronavirus - CassandraStout.com

Physical Self-Care Ideas

Physical needs are usually the most insistent. When we’re hungry, we feel it in our bellies and throats. Here are some ideas on how to meet our physical needs. Some of these are done alone, and some are best done with others:

  • Exercise, on your own and as a family.
  • Sleep as much as you can and nap when your child naps. For a post on how to get forty winks despite the sleep disturbances and insomnia of bipolar disorder, click here.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Take a hot shower.
  • Drink tea or hot chocolate.
  • Go on a long walk outside with your child in the stroller or sling.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • If you do get sick, call your medical providers and let them know, to see if you need to come in to their offices.

Emotional Self-Care Ideas

Emotional self-care is ensuring that you are emotionally and mentally healthy. You need to express a range of feelings in order to take care of yourself emotionally. Here are some ideas to meet your emotional needs:

  • Prioritize the activities that make you happy.
  • Spend time alone each day.
  • Check in with your therapist if they offer virtual visits.
  • Indulge in a good, cleansing cry.
  • Listen to a comedy show.
  • Watch a movie that you love.
  • Say no to extra responsibilities.

Relational Self-Care Ideas

Relational self-care is ensuring your relationships with your family members are strong. Familial relationships are critical for good mental health, as without them you may feel alone and unsupported. And with all the time you’re spending with your family during the coronavirus crisis, you can deepen your relationships with them. Relational self-care ideas include:

  • Cuddle, kiss, and hug your children.
  • Make love to your partner, if you have one and you have a sexual relationship.
  • Play a game with your family.
  • Play a game specifically with your partner, after your kids have gone to bed.
  • Establish healthy boundaries around alone time for everyone, and respect those boundaries.
  • Foster honest communication about your needs, and those of your partner and children.
  • Encourage respect for each other and others.

Social Self-Care Ideas

Social self-care is strengthening relationships with those outside your immediate family. Socialization is so important to your mental health, even if you’re an introvert. It’s part of the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid. Ideas for social self-care include:

  • Check in with family and friends via Facetime, Skype, phone calls, or texts.
  • Ask friends and family to remind you that things will be okay, and that what you’re feeling is temporary.
  • Cuddle with your immediate family or a pet.
  • Schedule time each day to talk to another adult.
  • Intentionally reconnect with someone you’ve lost touch with or have unresolved conflict with.
  • Leave a funny voicemail for someone you care about.
  • Join an online support group or forum.

Intellectual Self-Care Ideas

Intellectual self-care is looking after your intellectual pursuits and critical thinking skills. One of the best ways to develop your intellectual self-care repertoire is to engage in creative pursuits. Here are some intellectual self-care ideas while you’re stuck at home:

  • Check your library’s website for their online catalog, and check out some books to read on your phone or ereader.
  • Read books slightly above your child’s grade level to them.
  • Listen to podcasts or audio books while you work.
  • If your child is doing an art project, sit down with them and create your own art.
  • Write something, be it a blog, stories, or a personal journal.
  • Watch documentaries on TV, from the library, or on a streaming service.
  • Identify a project that would be challenging and rewarding, and then plan to do it.
  • Return to old hobbies that you may not have pursued since the birth of your children.

Spiritual Self-Care Ideas

Spiritual self-care is not synonymous with religion, though it can take the form of attending church services and praying to a higher power. It’s a search for purpose and understanding in the universe, and expressing values that are important to us. Spiritual self-care ideas include:

  • Pray or meditate, especially in front of your children.
  • Volunteer to pick up groceries for an elderly friend or neighbor.
  • Write in a journal to reflect upon your new life.
  • Be open to inspiration and awe.
  • Contribute to causes you believe in.
  • Spend time outside in your front yard or on your balcony.
  • Attend religious services online.

Safety and Security Self-Care Ideas

Safety and security self-care involves having health insurance and being smart about your personal safety. Understanding the financial sphere falls under this type of self-care. Many people wait to evaluate their safety or finances until they’re in trouble. Don’t do that. Make sure you have contingency plans. Here are some ideas for safety and security self-care that you can do while stuck at home:

  • Check out an ebook from the library on investing, and read it.
  • Read backlogs of articles on personal finance sites.
  • Double-check your locks. Change them if someone might have a key that you don’t want to.
  • Order a locking mailbox on Amazon and install it when it arrives.
  •  Change your internet passwords.
  • Call your insurance company and find out if they cover virtual medical appointments.
  • Go through your credit card statements line by line and see if there are any charges that you don’t recognize.
  • Examine your bills (utilities, cell phone, internet, streaming services). Find out if there are any fees you don’t want, and call the companies to see if those fees can be waived.

Final Thoughts

Self-care isn’t complex. But it can be difficult to think of ideas to do, especially while you’re stuck at home with your kids due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Review your list to see which ideas you can incorporate your children into and which ideas you need me-time for.

If you’ve placed a C next to the ones you can do with your children and an I for ones you need independent time for, then pick out one or two that you can do tomorrow.

Start with the C ideas. Once you’ve performed some self-care alongside your children, find some time to work on the I ideas.

(For a post on how to find time for self-care as a parent stuck at home, click here.)

Self-care, especially independent self-care, can make you feel better. You may soon see the rewards–for yourself and for your family–of a little bit of me-time.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related:

How to Make Time for Self-Care as a Parent During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Are you a parent with bipolar disorder trapped inside with your kids due to the coronavirus pandemic? Read this post by the Bipolar Parent for practical tips on how to make time for self-care!

A lot of people think self-care ideas are limited to bubble baths and painting their nails. But that’s just not true.

Self-care is simpler than you might think. Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it.

As I said in my last post, How to Manage Being Stuck at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic as a Parent with Bipolar Disorder, self-care is crucial for your daily functioning as a parent with bipolar disorder. This is true always, but especially true during self-quarantining due to the coronavirus outbreak.

I also shared a daily schedule my toddler and I try to follow, which had room for eating, sleeping, outside time, and work, but not much else.

So how do you find the time to do self-care when you’re stuck at home with small children–and you need to work?

Here are some practical tips that you might want to try while in self-quarantine.

How to make time for self-care as a parent during the coronavirus - CassandraStout.com

Tip #1: Fill Your Child’s “Tanks”

Sometimes, your kids whine and glom onto you like limpets. That’s usually when they have a physical or emotional need.

Often, before you separate from your children to perform self-care for yourself, you need to fill their physical or emotional “tanks.”

Spend a little time with your children before jetting off, and you’re less likely to be interrupted when you do go take that bubble bath.

Set them up with a snack, give them some kisses and cuddles, and play racecar driver with them. Listen to your tween’s ramblings about Minecraft for a while. You’ll be glad you did.

Generally, the happier your kids are when you leave them (provided they can be left; toddlers can’t, which I’ll cover in the next tip), the more time you’ll be able to take for yourself.

Tip #2: Preplan STEAM Projects

This follows my tip #5 from yesterday: to keep your child entertained and busy on their own with independent play, prepare STEM/Art, or STEAM projects. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering. and Math. With Art, that’s STEAM.

Yesterday, I listed several activities my 3-year-old has done and the supplies we have on our crafting shelf. I won’t list them all again here, but if you’re looking for ideas for a toddler, check them out.

As I write this, she was sorting through buttons with a clothespin, placing them into a cup. She worked on fine motor skills and shape recognition, both parts of STEAM for a toddler. She also worked on counting, as she counted the buttons, and pattern recognition as she sorted them by color.

STEAM activities are as simple as that. The last time she did this activity, she entertained herself for an hour with minimal input from me.

This time, she lasted about 20 minutes, and then we made purple playdough. She’s currently kneading and rolling out the homemade dough, then cutting it into shapes with cookie cutters. So far, she’s been entertained for 45 minutes by the playdough alone, enabling me to write.

In preplanning activities, I printed a calendar for March, and spent a couple of hours listing one activity per day. We do this project at 1pm every afternoon. The calendar has taken a lot of the pressure off of me to think of something every day.

Take a couple of hours to preplan activities and write them down on a calendar for April. You can pick up supplies at any grocery store or order them on Amazon.

Two great resources for toddler STEAM projects are Little Bins for Little Hands and Busy Toddler. For older kids, try STEM Activities for Kids.

Preparing STEAM projects takes a little up front work, but the payoff of more time for work–or, preferably, self-care–is worth it.

Tip #3: Prepare Meals on the Weekends

This tip is similar to tip #2: prepare meals on the weekends, also known as meal prepping. If you do as much upfront work on your meals as possible, you don’t have to make dinner during the week.

This saves a huge amount of time, some of which can be used for self-care.

Slow cooker “dump meals” are meals where you place all the ingredients in a Ziploc bag and then dump them in the slow cooker on the morning you want to cook it. The food cooks all day and smells wonderful, tastes great at night, and takes minimal prep on the weekend.

Brown all your ground beef on Saturdays. Chop all your vegetables. Bake and shred that chicken. Soak and cook those beans.

Make cooking a family activity. All hands on deck means less work for you, and the kids get to learn something, too.

There are many websites on the internet devoted to meal prepping. Type that term into your preferred browser’s search bar, and you will find sites that list recipes, meal plans, and shopping lists for a week’s meals or more.

Tip #4: Get Support from Your Partner

If you’re lucky to have a partner isolating himself or herself with you, count your blessings.

If you’re burned out and need a little bit of me-time, ask your partner for some support. Ask them to watch the kids for an hour while you take a nap.

Most partners are supportive if you ask, but sometimes we don’t know how to ask or even what we need. Figure that out before you approach your partner.

Take some time after the kids are in bed to make a list of self-care ideas that appeal to you, and the time each will take. Then figure out what is reasonable to ask of your partner.

Don’t be afraid to ask; the worst thing they can say is no, and that opens up a chance for you two to have a conversation.

Be sure to reciprocate as well. If your partner offers you an hour to yourself, offer them the same in return.

Final Thoughts

These times are stressful for everyone, especially parents with bipolar disorder who also have to work at home. You’re wearing many hats: homeschooler, partner, parent, employee, and mental illness manager.

Self-care is critical for your survival. You have to eat, sleep, and spend time by yourself so you have a chance to breathe.

Take care of yourself. Stay healthy.

I wish you well in your journey.

Tune in next week for types of self-care, as well as several self-care ideas for parents with bipolar disorder isolated at home with their kids.

Related:

How to Make Time for Self-Care as a Parent Stuck at Home during Coronavirus - CassandraStout.com