Being a parent or carer can be the best job in the world but pressures often leave many feeling overwhelmed, and increasingly lonely, isolated and disconnected from friends and family.1
This week’s Parent Mental Health Day is an opportunity to acknowledge the daily struggles of parents and carers and share ways for families to connect better, as well as improve mental health and wellbeing.
We know from our public survey2 that a third of parents and carers said they ‘are very worried’ about their child’s mental health, and a fifth of children had asked their parents about seeing a counsellor.
Here our members share their advice and tips on connecting with your family and creating strong, positive relationships.
Counsellor and parenting expert Jenny Warwick says it’s important for families to make time to strengthen their connections by focusing on being present together.
“You may be sitting next to each other,” Jenny says, “but if you're scrolling through your phone, thinking about what to make for dinner or a difficult conversation at work, you're not really with them emotionally. Being present shows them you care, so demonstrate an interest in them and their actions.”
Counsellor Georgina Sturmer recommends actively listening to family members, rather than jumping to conclusions about what we think they’ll say:
“Sometimes we listen with our ears shut, pre-empting their words, and planning our response.
“The more actively we listen to each other, the more engaged and connected we feel. And if our loved ones feel as if they are being ‘listened to’ then they are more likely to open up when they need our support.”
Relationship counsellor and psychotherapist Armele Philpotts adds: “It’s hard to step back from the endless list of things to do and just be present with your kids. Often younger kids demand it while teenagers may seem ok in their rooms, but making time to do things together creates opportunities to share experiences and talk.”
There’s a reason why shared, family meals feature at the centre of festivities and cultural celebrations, says Georgina.
“When we are sat around a table, we’re making eye contact, we’re relaxing, and we are sharing a simple, human pleasure.
“And the shared experience shouldn’t begin and end when we sit down and when we leave the table. Cooking together and clearing up together might seem boring and mundane. But these shared experiences are all a part of family life, and they set the tone for what we expect from each other in our family unit.”
Quality over quantity
The quality of the time that we spend together far outweighs the amount of time we spend in each other’s company, says Georgina.:
“So, when we do have time with our loved ones, find ways to actively enjoy each other’s company,” she adds.. “Turn off your devices and distractions. Find activities that everyone can enjoy. And remember that family time doesn’t have to always be spent as a group. One-to-one time is incredibly valuable for us to build our individual bonds with each member of our family.”
Jenny agrees: “Small gestures add up, so focus on the quality of time with them rather than quantity. This creates a safe space where young people feel comfortable discussing their thoughts and concerns.”
It’s not about being perfect
Here’s the good news - perfection really isn’t the goal in our family relationships, says Georgina.
“If we try to be the perfect mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, son, then we are setting ourselves up for failure. Cut yourself some slack. Good relationships are about consistency, communication, and owning up to our mistakes.
“Families are a great opportunity for us to learn about ‘rupture and repair’, about healing relationships when we get things wrong.”
Leave stress at the door
“This one isn’t always easy,” admits Georgina, “but when we return home after a hard day, it’s easy to let our stresses spill over into family life.
“Sometimes, to displace our anger or worry, we metaphorically ‘kick the cat’ and take out our frustrations on those closest to us.”
If you’ve had a bad day Georgina says its best to try to put this to one side and focus on enjoying family time.
Armele adds: “We all know what’s it’s like to walk into a room where someone is obviously stressed and immediately feel our own stress levels rising in sympathy, so it's useful to know that children take their emotional cues from their parents/carers in the same way.
“Looking after our own emotional health and wellbeing is a powerful way of balancing the whole family's stress for this reason, as well as giving us adults the space to make calmer decisions about our kids.”
1 2023 stem4 survey
2. 2023 BACP Public Perceptions Survey
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