MILWAUKEE — We have lived through a pandemic that has now spanned almost two years. It has included disruptions to work and school, sustained separations from family and friends, and unprecedented mental health challenges.
Many parents have never had so much on their plates. Studies show an overwhelming number of mothers, who are truly supporting the next generation, don’t feel they’re being supported by society.
That's why Wisconsin's Office of Children's Mental Health is shining a light on the stress many parents are under.
During the pandemic, at least 51 percent of mothers of young children reported frequent or constant loneliness, according to the Office of Children’s Mental Health.
Focus groups with Wisconsin parents showed the challenge and loneliness is magnified for families of color, and for families who live in rural areas.
“That's not a good formula for the kids, because when the parents are feeling that lonely, they're not interacting with their kids in a way that furthers their development,” said Linda Hall, the Director of the Office of Children’s Mental Health.
Hall says the overall well-being of children is directly tied to the well-being of parents.
Marrika Rodgers, a counselor in Milwaukee, sees it daily.
“A vast majority of my case load is moms,” Rodgers said. “The level of depression and anxiety that they express to me is striking, and has increased at a huge level.”
Rodgers is also a mom and is experiencing the struggle firsthand.
“I had to learn to better communicate my own feelings with my daughter,” Rodgers said. “Like, being honest that today I need to rest. That communication is important because you never want your child to feel like you're neglecting them. But they need to understand just as you try to help them live their best lives mentally and emotionally, you need to make sure you’re at your best as well.”
Rodgers says the lack of support many moms get isn't just sad, it's dangerous.
“They have very little help and are so heartbroken with the fact that they haven't been able to engage with their children because they have so much on their plate,” Rodgers said. “They are having to navigate so much on their own.”
Wisconsin’s Office of Children’s Mental Health is sharing information on how to better support mothers. The office published a new fact sheet that asks lawmakers to support family leave policies and childcare. It also asks employers to provide workers with the flexibility to meet care-taking obligations.
The fact sheet also implores communities to create more supportive spaces for parents, and suggests all of us more regularly, and meaningfully check-in with moms and dads we know.
“It’s as simple as asking them how they're doing,” Hall said. “How they're navigating childcare, and how they are managing?”
Rodgers organizes monthly community healing sessions and is starting a parent support group next month.
“Where moms and dads if they choose to join in, can get help managing their mental health, and learn different tools and techniques to help with their children,” Rodgers said.
She recommends the following for parents:
- Acknowledge you're struggling and focus on the things you can control. Try to remove unnecessary stressors.
- Practice healthy coping mechanisms. Examples include: journaling, deep breathing, listening to your favorite music, calling a friend, getting outside, exercising, resting, or doing something you enjoy.
- Keep communication open with your kids. Find a few minutes every day to talk.
The Office of Children’s Mental Health also points to a parent helpline based in Milwaukee with experienced parent coaches. You can access it on weekdays by calling 414-671-0566.