All of us have bad days. That’s inevitable. Hopefully they don’t last long or someone can step in to help or cheer us up at the end of it.
But some of us have bad weeks, months or even years. Which is a bit shit really. There are lots of things that can make life difficult for mums. The obvious culprits are things like post-natal depression, post-natal anxiety, sleep deprivation or loneliness. The less obvious ones could be things like body image problems, financial worries or stress about being a working mum. There are also serious life events like divorce or bereavement that can crop up when you least expect it. Life doesn’t always go smoothly and so there might be times when a mum just feels overwhelmed, depressed or unable to cope.
And that can be really tough on the people around them too. There’s often not a lot they can do to help or change things. They might not really know what to say or how to handle things. They say or do things which are well intentioned but make us feel worse. Or guilty for not being happier. Or that we’re at fault because we aren’t happy at the moment. Which doesn’t help.
The person closest to a mum is the one who can help the most if things are tough. And a happy mum means a happy baby so it’s essential that she gets any and all support she needs. But it isn’t always easy to give it. And mums can be their own worst enemy too. We don’t always ask for help and we won’t always want to own up to how we are feeling.
Whatever it is that a mum is struggling with though there are going to be common themes or things that she’s feeling that it would help you to know. So here are three things that dads (or anyone else supporting a mum) should know.
Getting through Day is a challenge
If you work then it might well be that when you get home the kids have been fed, bathed and put to bed. Which can make it seem like everything is under control. But that doesn’t mean that the day wasn’t a challenge. Sometimes doing the simplest things is really hard. You might not get to see the kids rowing, arguments over who’s eating what of their dinner or the 30 mins it took just to get one of them in the bath. All of which would wear any mum down. Let alone a mum who is already feeling low, stressed or overwhelmed.
Or maybe they haven’t. Maybe everything is a mess, kids are running riot and haven’t been fed yet. That’s normal too (at least in my house anyway). If a mum is struggling for whatever reason then putting the washing on might not have been a priority today. Or she just might not have felt able to tackle any housework. Perhaps the kids have been really difficult and haven’t given her a moment to herself.
Here’s the thing to do in either situation – ask her what she needs you to do and then do it. Without complaining. You wouldn’t judge her for not getting things done if she had a broken leg so don’t do it just because she’s in emotional pain or distress. You don’t know what the day has been like for her and you really don’t know whether you could have done it better because sometimes kids are just plain fucking hard work.
When things are tough sometimes it will be all someone can do to get through the day. So be aware of that and if you aren’t there to help practically, focus on supporting her emotionally instead. Call her to see how things are going. Help her work out what she can leave for you to do when you get in or at the weekend. Be understanding and compassionate. It’s the least you can do and will make a massive difference to how she feels.
Sometimes biggest help you can be is to give them alone time
The problem with going through tough times as a mum is that you aren’t ever able to think only of yourself. You can’t break down and curl up in the corner crying. You can’t just walk out of the house because you need a break. There are constant demands on you which mean that you can’t focus on yourself. Or practise self care. Or have a rest, nap, break…
Which adds so much pressure and stress onto someone who is already finding things hard. There is so much responsibility that comes with being a mum. You can’t just decide that your baby doesn’t need lunch, or clean clothes or entertainment. You have to prioritise someone else. Constantly. Which leaves no time for you to actually deal with what might be going on in your life.
One of the best things you can offer a stressed out struggling mum is time on her own. Time where she can do what ever she needs. Cry, sleep, get out of the house, see friends/family or even seek professional support. I do think that if you’re not the one at home looking after kids you don’t always appreciate just how draining it can be. Even things like a commute to work is time alone that mums just don’t get. My husband gets over an hour each day on the train to read or nap. I should be so lucky…
So make sure you help a struggling mum by helping her to have time to herself. If she’s having a really tough time then she might not know what to do with it or might not feel motivated to get out the house so be encouraging too. Help her to plan something if needed and make sure she knows you are fully capable of coping whilst she’s not there and are absolutely happy to do so.
No, they are not ok
All of us often answer the question “are you OK?” with yes. Or “How are you?” with fine. Sometimes it’s because we don’t want to talk about it. Sometimes it’s because it will open up the flood gates and we’ll break down. Maybe it’s because we don’t feel there’s enough time to talk about things so it’s not worth even bringing it up. Perhaps it’s because people around us are judgmental or thing we should be ‘over it’ by now. Or it’s because we don’t want to say out loud that no, we are not OK, because that means we have to admit it to ourselves when we’d quite like to pretend we are alright.
Whatever it is, if you ask a mum who you know is struggling if she is OK, then you need to know that however she answers, she really wants you to know that no, she’s not. She might not be able to say it. She might not want to burden you with her issues or make you feel bad because she knows you’d prefer her to be happy. But not only do you need to know it, you also need to show her that it’s OK for her to not be OK. Trust me on this. Being allowed to be miserable makes you feel, well, less miserable. It means that you have permission to let the feelings come and go rather than having to try and suppress them. No one cries forever. And most people feel much better if they have a good, snot inducing, weep fest.
So many people can’t handle someone else being upset and this is very damaging. It’s not always nice or comfortable to see someone you care about in emotional pain but don’t deal with this by trying to ‘persuade’ someone that they shouldn’t feel that way. It’s disrespectful and profoundly unhelpful. Instead, show that you are able to deal with her emotions. That you’ll be there and support her no matter how bad things are. That you’ll love her and help her through whatever it is. And trust me, if you do this it won’t be long before she does start to feel better.