parentingburnout 407Parenting is hard work, and parenting a child with mental health issues is exponentially harder. You’re almost certainly putting in more effort than any other mom or dad you know, yet your kid may still be at risk, struggling, or making less progress than her peers. This raises a crucial question: How can you keep going without becoming exhausted?

Avoiding parent burnout requires real effort. Experts note it includes consistent self-care, establishing a strong support network for yourself, and having a trustworthy therapeutic team for your child. Another piece of the puzzle is learning to tap into one of the most powerful motivators on earth: your love for your child. Here are some ideas for how to do that.

Make a list of your child’s core strengths. Write down her good qualities, even if they haven’t been visible lately. Find ways to talk about these to your partner, your friends and your child. “This morning I ran across that poem you wrote about ______, and it reminded me how creative you are. I’ve always admired that about you.” (If your child mutters she is no longer like that, you can counter with a smile and something like, “Oh, deep down it’s still there. Right now you’re depressed, and no one is their best self when they are sick.”)

Grow your empathy. Patience and perseverance blossom when we see parallels between our own emotional landscape and that of our children. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s eye-opening to consider that this may be how your son feels all day, every day. A spike in your own anxiety or a wave of feeling helpless can provide you with powerful insight into what’s going on when your daughter gets panicky.

Frame your frustration as a puzzle to be solved. It may help to remind yourself that not-knowing how to make things better doesn’t mean you’re inadequate – it simply means you haven’t figured it out yet. Read up on your child’s diagnosis, and be utterly frank with your child’s therapist about your need to learn better ways to handle your child’s outbursts or irritability or anxiety attacks. Tackling this as a learning-curve problem alleviates a great deal of insecurity, and makes it easier to connect with the love you have for your child.

Allow yourself to feel what you feel. Set aside time to face your feelings over what your child’s illness has done to him, to you, and to family life. Give yourself permission to grieve what you have lost. You are not a bad parent for resenting how your child’s irritability or outbursts impact you; it’s possible to love your child and hate the effects of his illness at the same time. The key is to find healthy ways to process what you feel.

Monitor your reactions to his behavior. Sometimes a child’s actions trigger old memories or reactions we thought we’d outgrown. It’s unfortunate that when our offspring push our buttons, the buttons still belong to us — and we need to take responsibility for them. When we overreact to a situation, it may be a clue that it’s time to work through longstanding issues for our own sake as well as for the sake of our kids.

Don’t take your child’s behavior personally. Depressed, anxious, and impulsive kids say and do many hurtful things. Even though you are the target, this is usually more about their pain than about you. Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that some portion of the venom is the illness talking. Then repeat silently to yourself, “My love is deeper than your pain,” and respond to your child as calmly as you can.