How to connect when someone you love is struggling

Have you noticed a friend, partner or colleague who might be struggling? Check in with them and connect by encouraging meaningful conversation to let them know you care. Check in with yourself, too. Stop undervaluing the vital role you play in your family and workplace and take proactive steps to move from surviving to thriving.

This parenting gig is hard. Way harder than most of us imagined. And we can be reluctant to talk about the challenges of parenthood for fear of sounding ungrateful that we are parents, sending out a message that we don’t love our kids as much as we should, or coming across as incapable or weak.

From the loneliness of parental leave when you’d give your right arm to chat to an adult about last night’s reality TV, to the self-doubt that perhaps yelling was not the ideal way to handle that situation with your threenager—the reality is that every parent struggles through difficult days.

For some parents it’s more serious: perinatal depression and anxiety affects one in five new mums and one in ten new dads in Australia who struggle with the adjustment to parenthood.

But exhaustion, confusion, isolation and guilt are all commonly felt by parents, even if they don’t identify with a more serious mental health condition. Often, an open chat with a good listener, or innocent laugh with a friend or colleague might be enough to put a smile on a struggling parent’s face and turn their day around. Not to mention yours. So, it’s important we look out for ourselves and others. 

Prioritise your happiness

It is not selfish; it is self-preservation. It means that you can have more energy for your family, friends and work; and who benefits the most from that? Do what brings you joy more often. Fit your emergency mask before helping others. Stop putting it off. Take some small steps to make this happen for you. You know what you need; it’s time to make it a priority.

Be kind

In those moments when there is a chasm between your ‘ideal self’ and reality, talk to yourself like you would your best friend. Parenting (and the juggle with work) can be so hard; so be compassionate.

Connect with people

We all know the struggle well. I haven’t met a parent who has it all together all of the time. We all have down days and anxious moments. Talk with others. Share your challenging days as well as your awesome days. Chances are, others have been there too.

Make an appointment with your GP

If you’ve been struggling for a while, speak with your GP about how you’ve been feeling. Ask for help. Get a referral to a psychologist. In Australia you can access up to six Medicare-subsidised (or free) sessions, and a professional can guide you through what to do.

Check in with friends and colleagues

You may not have heard from someone in a while, or you noticed they didn’t seem themselves when you last caught up. Ask if they’re okay and spend time talking together. Be present. Listen without judgement and without solving their problems. Ask how they can take action and offer your support. Then follow up.

Be honest with friends about your struggles

Your vulnerability and transparency normalises things for others and opens the door for people to share their own concerns.

Do random acts of kindness

See a friend crying at drop-off? Put a ‘You’re awesome!’ card in their letterbox. Pay for a coffee in advance at your local café and ask that it be gifted to a mum with a newborn. Leave a meal on the doorstep of a friend you know is having a rough time. As the giver, you will feel the benefits as much as the receiver!

If you or someone you know is struggling, there are some wonderful organisations that can help. Don’t be afraid to ask.

Written by the team at Circle In in conjunction with Belinda Haan. Belinda Haan is an advocate for mums taking care of themselves first. Self-care is ultimately a commitment to peak performance and it involves far more than a yoga class.

If you or someone you know needs crisis support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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