For Parent Mental Health Day 2024, Volk Bowie passes on some sage advice about looking after your wellbeing after your children leave home…
After 18 years of cleaning, housing, educating, stressing, budgeting, loving and supporting my children, they are in the process of moving out of my home and I am left with what I hope is a new freedom, a (quieter) empty house and some free time. I’ve already been able to sort through the piles of spare ‘things’ hidden in cupboards that would normally be ignored. I’ve actually gotten ‘on top’ of the laundry for the first time in living memory, and I’m feeling hopeful that my surroundings will soon become clear and tidy enough so I’ll feel ‘ok’ about letting visitors in.
One piece of advice that I have followed, that I learned many years ago while chatting with other parents in a primary school yard, is this: make sure that you have something to do – a job, a hobby, some training, anything – for when the kids grow up and leave. I’ve been nurturing this idea for over ten years, and it’s holding me steady now.
Being a parent – especially a lone parent – is immensely stressful, and it can feel at times like that is all we do. Or even, that this parenting is all we are able to do, which is one of the worst things that you can believe. We are perfecting so many skills as parents, all of which are transferable in some way. But for good mental health we need activities that also have nothing to do with our families. By all means, involve them if you can. But make sure that you have things to turn to when you are alone later.
Things that can increase your social life or bring you into contact with other likeminded people are especially important. Being part of the Service User and Carer Involvement Bank is one of the ways that I make links with other people, and I know that taking part in these activities does make a difference. The Involvement Bank is run by Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust to ensure service users and carers have their say and help shape services. You can take part in things like recruitment activities and interviewing new staff, hospital inspections, and research projects. (Find out more about the Involvement Bank.)
I also keep an eye out for local events. It doesn’t cost anything to pop into the neighbourhood community centre or wander around an outdoor market!
Staying in touch with friends is important, and not always easy when they have family or work of their own. Consider branching out online or going to new places to bring more people into your life. I found that being a lone parent was so isolating, yet now I’m ‘free’ to do as I please, it’s harder to socialise than I thought.
When I am feeling a bit lonely, that’s where hobbies come in – and they’re proving very useful! I’ve been baking treats to give as gifts (pictured), saving money at the same time. And practicing my skills at art and decorating the house is really improving my environment and boosting my mental health in the process. My family can only benefit, and although it looks like utter chaos now, once this change has settled, I know everyone will be happy and occupied – including myself!
By Volk Bowie