Co-parenting isn’t always smooth for everyone. Each co-parenting dynamic is different for each set of parents, meaning some situations are more challenging to navigate than others. Although disagreements over scheduling or subtle tension between yourself and your ex-partner may not seem like a big deal at first, constantly dealing with that underlying stress can take a significant toll on your mental health.
As June is Men’s Health Month, it’s essential to bring awareness to all aspects of men’s health, including mental well-being. Keep reading to learn more about how dads can stay mentally strong when co-parenting. But first, let’s take a look at the connection between men and mental well-being.
Although society is making more ground in the mental health space, there is still a lot of work to be done. Stigmas surrounding mental health, especially for men, are still very prevalent. A lot of it stems from the assumption that “masculine” men shouldn’t ask for help and handle things independently. To ask for help is perceived as “weak.” Due to this stereotype, amongst many others, men are less likely to schedule doctor’s appointments. According to a survey done by Cleveland Clinic, 72 percent of men would rather do household chores, like cleaning the bathroom or mowing the lawn, than go to the doctor.
This is a problem as you cannot always deal with specific physical or mental health issues on your own. Consulting a trusted medical professional to help you develop a plan of action can help you address and sort out whatever is ailing you. Taking care of your mental health is extremely important if you have children seeing as it can affect everything from their development to their own mental health.
It’s a common saying that kids are like sponges, and that isn’t necessarily wrong. Kids, especially young ones, soak up a lot of what their parents say and do, as well as how they feel. If you’re struggling mentally, whether you mean to or not, you may be passing your struggles off unknowingly on to your child. While mental disorders are not contagious, that doesn’t mean your child’s mood may not take a hit. Being around a parent who isn’t functioning at full capacity because of mental health struggles isn’t easy on anyone, let alone the child. Being with someone through the ups and downs of their health can be very taxing and affect their own mental health as long-term stress is usually a catalyst.
A CDC article states that at least 1 in 4 children have a caregiver with mental health difficulties, meaning kids are more exposed to mental health issues than people may realize. If your child is acting out, it may be a result of your poor mental health. The helplessness children feel when they cannot help their parents, who are struggling mentally, can sometimes feel consuming and make them wonder what they’re doing wrong. Constantly feeling like things are out of their control or believing that they are the cause of your mental distress can result in them acting in ways that they normally would not.
Mental health and self-esteem sometimes go hand in hand. When you’re dealing with bipolar disorder, anxiety, or depression, it’s common for negative thoughts to take over. As a dad, you may feel like you aren’t being a good enough parent or feel like you’re not good enough in general. Thoughts and feelings like this only serve to make your mental well-being worse, creating a cycle of negativity. Not only does stress affect the emotional side of things, but it can also affect more minor things that impact your self-esteem, like your hair, skin, and overall body image. For many, their appearance is their primary source of confidence, and when things are off, it can really affect you. Self-esteem and confidence issues can cause eating disorders, unhealthy lifestyle choices, and more.
Mental illness is also usually a result of long periods of stress without reprieve during that time. This can put you at a higher risk of developing diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease since excessive stress is linked to a variety of health problems. If these problems are left unchecked, they can severely impact your quality of life causing you not to be able to function on the level that you’d like. Additionally, those who struggle with mental health may have a higher likelihood of turning to unhealthy outlets such as drugs and alcohol. This only serves to make matters worse as vices like alcohol worsen mood and health over time and only provide monetary satisfaction. This also won’t help your co-parenting situation, as excessive alcohol use is not conducive to a healthy home environment for your child.
Mental health symptoms in men don’t always look like what is deemed “common” symptoms. For example, men who experience conditions like depression are often aggressive, angry, and/or irritable. While your mental health battles may cause your mood to fluctuate, your ex-partner may not know that. To them, you may seem like you’re in a never-ending bad mood, which can cause tension between the two of you. Tension often leads to a disagreement which isn’t ideal for people in a co-parenting relationship since you want to provide a healthy environment for your child or children. With that being said, while you don’t need to tell your ex-partner what you’re going through specifically, you still need to hold yourself accountable. If you are acting unlike yourself or feeling more irate than normal and it’s affecting your ability to co-parent, it’s your job to take the steps necessary to get the help you need.
It won’t hurt to take some time for yourself every now and then. Many parents feel guilty when they’re spending time on or with their children, but they shouldn’t. Self-care is an integral part of overall wellness, including mental health. Sometimes your everyday life stressors like co-parenting can feel overwhelming, and you may need a break from it. On one of your off days away from your child, schedule some “me” time. Me time can mean a range of things and can be anything that you want. Men tend to shy away from self-care because of the notion that it’s all facials and bath bombs, however, it is not. While that may be self-care to some, it’s not what it has to look like for you. Your self-care day may look like taking a scenic drive or picking yourself up some of your favorite restaurant food. No matter what it is, take joy in doing something that is stress-free. This will give you much-needed time to rejuvenate before you see your child again.
Seeing as sometimes co-parenting may involve custody hearings, making sure your mental health is in optimal condition is essential. You need to show that you are mentally fit enough to take care of your child, so if co-parenting is the source of your mental distress, you should try and rectify the situation sooner rather than later.
A lot of the time, the tension between two parents comes from their previous relationship with each other. Depending on what happened, it can sometimes be hard to move on from situations despite having a child with that person. Every time you see them it can bring forward a bunch of emotions that you may not want to think about. However, sometimes releasing that anger or hurt is the best thing for you. Holding onto those negative feelings can lead to resentment building within the relationship, which doesn’t help you. It can be damaging to your mental well-being and it isn’t good for your child to see, hear or feel constant tension between you and your ex-partner. While it may be easier said than done to start things fresh, you should try to make an effort for your child. Because the most important thing is making sure your child has the best upbringing that they possibly can.
This can mean a lot of different things depending on your situation. If you currently have a strenuous relationship with your ex-partner, try talking things out with them and coming to a truce. Don’t underestimate the power of a respectful and level-headed conversation. If you think you’re going to struggle to have a decent conversation with your ex-partner, consider getting a third party involved. A mediator can help you to have a productive conversation, and get things on the right track. Alternatively, if you still don’t want to see your ex-partner, you may benefit from tools that help separated parents communicate without being in-person to help mitigate potential problems. Aside from that, talking to your co-parent may also mean divulging when you need help. If you’re having a difficult time and need some time to work things out, let your ex-partner know so you can both come up with a plan that works best for your child.
Regain confidence in yourself and your parenting skills. With a lot of aspects of self-esteem, you have to remind yourself that you’re trying your best and that you are enough. Whether this means thinking positively about your parenting abilities or your overall life, make sure you remember the good you’re doing. Also, don’t forget to gain confidence in other aspects of your life too, since it can increase overall happiness. Struggling with your physical appearance can have a toll on your confidence, which can affect your overall well-being, so don’t let your insecurities run the show. Take charge and reinvent yourself. That new suit you wanted? Buy it and walk around confidently. Are you tired of your hair or lack thereof? Go to a salon or use a hair loss treatment to help make you feel like a new person. Whatever it may be, make sure you’re doing things that make you happy and gaining that confidence back to be the best parent you can be.
Going to see a therapist is highly stigmatized. A lot of times people feel shameful if they seek out professional help as if there’s something wrong with it—there isn’t. Taking care of your mental health should never feel shameful or embarrassing. It will only serve to help improve your relationship with your ex-partner and better the upbringing for your child and that’s the most important thing. If you’ve never been to a therapist before, make sure you do your research. You want to make sure you’re going to someone who is professional and has your best interest at heart. Also, don’t feel as if you have to stay with one of your first, second, or even third therapist. You can switch as many times as you’d like until you find the right one.
Never be afraid to tell someone you trust about what you’re going through, no matter how big or small it may seem. Letting things out and letting someone know that you’re struggling is one of the best things you can do for your mental health. Sometimes all you need is a listening ear and someone to say that they understand. If you aren’t comfortable talking to a professional or a loved one, consider reaching out to an online support group to talk to people going
Create a parenting schedule