Parents with challenges

Becoming and being parents is sometimes hard work. I think most mothers, and parents in general, can agree on that. Some parents even have some personal challenges to contend with on top of it all.

Something everyone else doesn't have. If you're a mum or dad with anxiety, depression, a disability or something else, you'll recognise the frustrating feelings that can bring. But also how small victories in everyday life can feel like you're on top of the world.

Read on to find out what motherhood can be like when there are challenges in parenting.

Virtually every parent will sooner or later encounter personal challenges in life that will affect the way they parent. These can be psychological challenges such as stress, anxiety, depression, but also physical things such as an accident, a disability or a close family member suffering from a serious illness and going through, for example, cancer.

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No matter what challenge you face as a parent, it will undeniably affect your children. It's part of being a child that you face harsh realities at times. The child needs to be included and supported throughout the process. Read also about how to deal with your children if you suddenly lose someone close in the family.

Your child reacts

If you don't talk about why mum or dad is suddenly not themselves, or the child is affected by everything being different right now, he or she may react in different ways. This is good to bear in mind, so you might be able to bear with the child a little more than you would otherwise.

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Typical signs of a child's reactions:

  • Complaint of stomach or head pain
  • Being afraid of things that the child is not normally afraid of
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Make a show they're fine
  • Start to pee in pants, even if the child is normally clean
  • Be more "clingy" - need close contact all the time, won't let go of mum and dad
  • The child becomes more introverted or conversely more unresponsive

Read also our article on Children and Griefand how you can support your child in coping with the loss of a loved one.

Talk together - but on the child's terms

If children are not told about what is going on, they will often start to concoct their own explanations. And unfortunately, the child will often end up taking the blame themselves.

That's why it's so important to talk to your child about the things you or you as parents are going through right now. However, always remember to talk about the big issue on the child's terms. Everything should be done at a level where the child can participate, according to his or her age.

It can be difficult to start such a serious conversation. So it's a good idea to keep it casual and informal. That way it's easier for both parties.

Ideas on how to explain the situation to your child:

  • Say dad is low on batteries at the moment because he's affected by mental illness
  • Mum is struggling with X or Y, so she may be more angry, worried, sad or scared at the moment.
  • It can be hard for Dad to listen at the moment and keep appointments as his illness teases him
  • There is another adult (doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist) who helps mum to be happy again
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Source: Psychiatry Fund

Talk to your child about cancer or other serious illness in the family

As with mental illness, it is extremely important to talk to your child about the fact that mum, dad or someone close to them is ill at the moment. Lying about it or hushing it up can ultimately put the child in a worse situation, as they end up blaming themselves for things being as they are.

But when is the right time to start this difficult conversation? The truth is, there is no perfect time. Children are not like adults. They can't put themselves in a state of mind where they're ready to take bad news, or where they're ready to open up about the hard stuff.

You must therefore seize the moments that are. It may be when you are walking home from nursery, or perhaps just before the child falls asleep, that the big questions come. And then you have to be ready to answer and talk to the child about it as best you can. If those situations don't come, you have to seek them out and create them.

Read on to find out how to start a difficult conversation yourself.

Maybe you're not the one your child needs to talk to

Because of guilt and responsibility towards you as a parent, it can be difficult for your child to tell you that he or she is not well. Usually, in difficult situations, children want to show that they are OK.

So don't be reluctant to let others talk to your child about the illness at home. Maybe an aunt, uncle or class teacher can help him or her open up.

How to start the hard talk

The Danish Cancer Society tells about a method that makes it easier to talk to the child about illness and death. First of all, you need to talk about your interpretations of the child's behaviour and mood. It is much easier for children to relate to your interpretations as right or wrong than it is for them to formulate them themselves in the first place.

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Tell the child what you see and think:

"I've noticed that you don't want to go to football anymore, and I think it's because you're sad dad is sick. What do you think about what I'm saying?"

Acknowledge the child's feelings:

Be aware that the child's feelings are not wrong. You don't have to try to get away from those feelings, just acknowledge that they are there. You can do this by saying:

"I can understand why you feel that way. It's perfectly normal for you to react."

Last but not least, try to open new possibilities for the child. Once you've comforted and listened, it's a good idea to focus on how things can get better again. Support the child to come up with concrete suggestions.

"What can you do to make yourself feel better?"

You might want to suggest what the child would like and ask if they think it sounds like a good idea.

See much more about the questionnaire here.