Parenthood, children, and mental health: four experiences

5 Feb 2021

As Children's Mental Health Week draws to a close, we talk to four parents here at Unmind, who share their perspectives on parenthood, children, and mental health.

We often say that we're shaped by our experiences. From those moments and memories in our childhoods as we grow into adulthood, all of these experiences – good and bad – are a formative part of who we are, what we value, and who we become. One key part of these experiences can be found in our relationships with our parents – the people that nurture us from wobbling toddlers into fully-fledged adults. They instil us with ideas, connect with us, and empower us to thrive emotionally, physically, and mentally.

But how can our past experiences shape who we are as parents? And how can we build connections with our children around the topic of mental health?

In this post, we talk to four parents here at Unmind for their perspectives on mental health, parenthood, and what we can stand to learn from our children.

I don’t want to be the parent who hides my emotions in order to shield my son from the world.

Aaina, Head of Design, London

“Knowing that my son understands how I’m feeling keeps me motivated to keep my mental health in check.”

- Frankie, Sales Development Representative, New York


“Growing up, mental health wasn’t openly discussed in our house,” Frankie, a Sales Development Representative in our New York office, begins. “We didn’t have that openness – and my dad in particular didn’t know how to have those conversations in a healthy way with us.

“When my parents got a divorce when I was older, my mom had a conversation with my siblings and I, but there had been so much leading up to that point that never got discussed. My parents just didn’t have the tools to have that conversation about the emotional element of the divorce for us – how we felt about what was happening.

“Now I’m a parent myself, I’m thankful that I’ve been drawn to growing in a healthy way, and I surround myself with influences that enable me to be that person. I’m a single parent, and I exercise having grace for myself each day, but I’m still learning – and that’s what I want my son to learn, too.

“I feel like we spend a lot of time as parents telling our kids that ‘it’s okay’ when they stub their toe or hit their head. We don’t always teach them to acknowledge their emotions in the moment. I want my son to be able to talk about his feelings, and to be able to identify them, and talk about them. I want to help him be in an empowering position for his mental health. 

“The thing I’ve learned about children is that they can feel our emotions, and knowing that my son understands how I’m feeling keeps me motivated to keep my mental health in check. In those moments, when I get frustrated or my patience wears thin, I’ve learned the power of taking a deep breath. Breathing through those moments with him, and being real about how I’m feeling creates an environment where emotions are openly talked about, rather than a smokescreen of who I feel I’m supposed to be as a parent. That helps me nurture myself.”

“We’re teaching our children that there’s nothing wrong with feeling sad or upset about something.”

- Kenny, Strategic Sales Manager, London

“I didn’t learn how to talk about mental health growing up,” reflects Kenny, Strategic Sales Manager at Unmind’s London office. “We had a very hectic household, but there was certainly no pausing to check in on how we were feeling.

“But when my mum passed away, and a close family member was diagnosed with Bipolar, it was a conversation that we had to have – we couldn’t ignore it any longer. As we began to talk about it, it became clear that we needed to share more, and start having more open conversations.

“I wanted to make sure my children grew up with the knowledge that I didn’t have. When you’re bringing up a child, your role is to give them the best chance of success in the future – that’s all part of being a parent. 

“Part of that involves making sure they hit their milestones, do their homework, and stay physically healthy – but staying healthy mentally is such an important part of that. It’s as normal as teaching them to read, in my mind.

“I have three young children, and one of the key things I want them to understand is that there’s nothing wrong with feeling sad or upset – and that we don’t always have to feel positive.

“But it’s not always easy to talk to them about their mental health - sometimes when you ask children how their day has gone, they’ll just say they don’t know.  So instead, we’ve learned to ask them different questions to understand how they’re feeling. We’ll ask them about the most exciting thing that happened at school, or what made them happy or sad. By asking questions, we can start to piece together their emotional state and get a window into their world.”

“I don’t want to be the parent who hides my emotions in order to shield my son from the world.”

- Aaina, Head of Design, London

“I was always taught to be perceived as a happy person, and not to make people uncomfortable,” says Aaina, Unmind’s Head of Design. “I was born in India, but I moved to California when I was young – and it was there that I found out how differently people understood mental health to what I’d learned growing up.

“I initially found it quite difficult to understand why people were so honest about their mental health, but I admired them a lot. I’m not always able to share my own mental health experiences, but I’m learning how to do it.

“When it comes to parenting, I wanted to take a completely opposite approach to the one my parents did. Children live in such a confusing world to begin with, and adding this layer that they always need to be happy, and not share how they’re feeling – that’s a huge burden to put on a kid.

“My son isn’t even two years old right now. For him, emotions are still very new. He gets frustrated at the smallest of things, and in those moments, I often have to catch myself telling him ‘it’s okay’.

“For us, the reason he’s frustrated might be insignificant; he might have dropped his toy or lost his ball. But for him, it’s not okay – it’s the end of the world. We’re teaching ourselves how to understand his emotions in those moments, and really help him to work through them. The reality is that it’d always be easier for us to soothe him and tell him it’s okay – but I don’t want to be that parent who hides everything in order to shield him from the world. So instead, I say, “I understand you lost your toy. Now, what can we do about that?”

“As parents, we’re here to protect our children, but we also have to be honest with them about how we’re feeling.”

- Danny, Commercial Director, London

“Parenthood is such a life-changing event for anyone,” begins Danny, our Commercial Director based in Unmind’s London office. “But when our son came into the world and spent his first five months in intensive care, it truly opened our eyes to the world of mental health.

“At the time, we were really lucky to have incredible support. A mental health specialist would do the rounds each day – and we had multiple opportunities to talk about the impact Finn’s stay was having on us as parents.

“But now, as he’s growing up and growing in understanding of his health challenges, we wanted to make sure that we were being as honest and transparent with him as possible. Finn still spends a lot of time in hospital, and he has to undergo lots of treatment and surgeries. 

“As parents, we’re here to protect our children, but we also have to be honest with them about how we’re feeling. Kids are incredibly observant with that kind of thing, so we don’t try to hide what’s going on and share with him what we feel is appropriate. We encourage him as much as we can to do the same with us.

“One thing I’ve learned from Finn is that adults can have a tendency to be a bit ‘woe is me’ about the world sometimes. But Finn, and many other children, just seem to be quite accepting of the hand they’ve been dealt. Despite being in hospital, and having so many surgeries and being quite ill, Finn can still see the bright side in potentially dark situations – and we can stand to learn a lot from him.”

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