Stigma can be detrimental, so don’t let it stick: Part 2
If you are the parent of a child with mental health difficulties and you have found yourself thinking pretty unhelpful things like “I’m to blame for my child’s problems” or “I’m not a good enough parent”, then Part 2 of our stigma blog post is for you. Below are some ideas for how to unstick from sticky self-stigma.
1. Other people cannot possibly know what your day to day is like. Their judgement, then, is ill-informed for they have not seen what the last hour was like for you or what you do every day to support your child.
2. It is the micro-moments you are having with your child that make you a very good parent. The moments where you smile at them, ask them how they are, play with them, laugh with them, revel in something with them. The beauty is in the detail. And quite frankly, it does not matter who else sees that. You just need to recognise these moments for yourself and hold onto this as knowledge, deeply known, that you are trying your best.
3. Be like Teflon. Because others are ill-informed, let their stigma fall right off you. You have no use for it.
4. You are in a unique position – every parent is. Your child is not the same as his/her siblings, just as they are not the same as other children. You cannot compare one against the other. Therefore, you cannot compare yourself against other parents. And others have no right to compare you against another parent or your child against another child. If you can reject the comparison making (for yourself and from others), you’re on the right track.
5. There is no one right way to parent. Start believing in yourself.
6. We are our own worst critics. And unfortunately, we tend not to be particularly fair and constructive. If you are denigrating yourself, then this only keeps the self-stigma going.
7. Spend a moment to think of all the things you do in a day to support your child. It is in these details that you will find the gold you are looking for. You are doing an incredible job, in an often very trying situation. Remind yourself of this. Often.
8. Don’t blame yourself. The leading model explaining mental illness leads us to understand that there is no one cause of such difficulties. It is often the result of many things coming together – sometimes things completely out of parents’ control.
9. Parents and families are not to blame – but they are the answer. We know that children improve with the love and support of parents. Period.
10. Get involved. Get upskilled. Learn about what is going on for your child and what can help them. Parents who feel better informed, feel more in control and therefore more empowered. That nasty little internal critic then has to pipe down as they have nothing valid to say. The same will apply to the well-meaning other who has LOTS of advice for you. You have your advice and it came from a reputable source – advice that doesn’t undermine you, but builds on your strengths.
11. Develop a personally meaningful narrative about your child’s difficulties. Discover your (and their) strengths and incorporate that into your story. If you need to tell others about what’s going on for your child, then what you tell them should reflect an empowered position. Sure, your child has their struggles, but they also have some superpowers too!
12. Support. Support. Support. Get together with people you trust. Talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of parenting. People who understand, or who are in a similar situation to you can be incredibly validating and can help debunk some of these nasty little myths you hold about yourself and you’ve heard from other people along the way.
13. Talk it out. If your child is seeing a clinician and you are having thoughts like this, please tell the clinician. There are a number of things we can do to support you. You are not alone.
Parenting is incredibly rewarding, but it is also hard work. It gets harder when parents start saying unhelpful things to themselves about the quality of their parenting and start listening to the naysayers who have decreed themselves self-appointed experts on your child. You care about your kids and have their best interests at the centre of everything you do… this makes you an incredible parent. This is something to remind yourself every day. Every single day.
Written by Dr Kim Eaton, Clinical Psychologist
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