There is much appropriate concern about mental health problems in children and adolescents since the pandemic began. The increased number and the seriousness of their illnesses are extremely concerning. Making it worse is the lack of mental health workers and the indifference to fund them and solutions. It is not really understood why there is such a tremendous increase in the number of young people having such difficulties.
Much less in the news is what is happening with parents' mental health problems. Every parent has to say to themselves at some point in time, “I need a break from my children”. Being a parent is hard. Period! Parents give their energy to love their children, ensure they are safe, and help them thrive. The pandemic has complicated parenting and continues to make things difficult.
The pandemic has made many of the ongoing stressors of being a parent more difficult. There has been a dramatic decrease in adequate childcare, and more parents have had to stay home to provide that care with or without a job. Those who had to stay home may have lost income, adding stress to maintaining housing, food, and health care. Not to mention the loss of self-esteem.
Stress can cause the human body to react in ways that might be helpful when running from a tiger, but long term can lead to physical and mental issues. The daily pressures of juggling work, kids, and everything else can feel like too much. It can make any parent feel tired and stressed out. It is essential that parents take care of themselves.
It is much easier to support children during a stressful time if the parent takes a little mental and physical break from their children. This is one of those things that is easy to say but not simple to do. Children need to be in a safe place which requires some adult supervision. Several simple things can be done to give a parent a break, such as talking to a friend on the phone, taking a walk, meditation or breathing exercises, going out for a favorite treat or doing an activity with someone you enjoy. Some of these activities would require a babysitter.
Finding an appropriate babysitter can be difficult and expensive. It may be that family, friends or neighbors with children could take turns caring for each other’s children giving each other a break. It is important that the parent feels comfortable with the babysitter or the “break” will not be stress free. These breaks don’t have to be long, even 15 minutes of calm in a hot shower can help.
It is OK for parents to take a break from their children. In fact it is good for children to have their parents take care of their physical and mental health. It is OK if you are feeling that being a parent is too much, to ask for help. The crisis hotline is 988.
by Sally Robinson, MD Clinical Professor
Keeping Kids Healthy
UTMB Pediatrics - Pediatric Primary Care
UTMB After Hours Urgent Care