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How do you help a parent who is struggling?

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan is a journalist, humour columnist, and a mum who has survived nappy explosions mid-air. She has over a decade of experience writing for print and online publications and is currently working on her first book.
Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 6 mins read
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Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the government funded a health retreat for parents experiencing stress and anxiety to help them process and recover?

What if it was insured and covered meals, childcare, and therapies? And what if, just what if, you were legally entitled to it? “Hey, you know, maybe it’s time to take that Kur,” your doctor might say.

Wouldn’t that would be brilliant! It would be like a buoy, tossed to a parent who had been floating on a raft for weeks in the open sea.

But, that’s wishful thinking. Or is it?

What if I told you Kur, is actually a three-week health retreat offered to struggling and burned-out parents in Germany?

Kur, which literally translates as “cure” is a preventative health measure for stressed adults and burnt out parents and is offered at German clinics for three weeks.

This shows that the parenting struggle is real and that the right help can be helpful for parents.

But since that option is not on the table yet, here are some things you can do to help a struggling parent instead.

Identifying a struggling parent

Here’s a thing they never tell you about a parent:  They don’t complain, and they will never tell you when they’re drowning. They’re so busy tossing out water from their boats that they don’t have time to send an SOS signal.

Whether it’s PPD, guilt, or being overworked with the stress of taking care of ageing parents and growing kids, parents will just try to ‘handle’ it on their own. But what they don’t know is that the signs are there.



What do you say to a struggling parent?

If you can see the signs that show that a parent is struggling, you can step up as a friend, neighbour, co-worker, or even a fellow parent and offer help.

Confused about where to start and what to say? We have some ideas.

1. Start with small acts of kindness

It’s the little acts of kindness that go a long way.

Offer to bring over some dinner or babysit the kids so they can run errands they’ve been meaning to do for a while.

One fellow mum at my kid’s school took me aside and told me to consider the struggling single parents when assigning duties. She suggested that giving them a choice to pick one of the easier tasks would help them feel included but at the same time wouldn’t be too burdensome.

Sure enough, when the list went up, I could see the relief on their faces. Not only were they happy they had the easier tasks, but they also didn’t feel like they’d been left out.

2. Listen

Sometimes all a struggling parent needs is a friend who understands without judgement. Maybe their child is a special needs child or has been diagnosed with a condition, and they need to just express their frustration and confusion as they come to terms with it.

Before you start to offer some well-intentioned advice, stop!
Instead, just listen and be there.

All this parent needed was someone they could vent to—someone who would listen to them without judgment or telling them they were being ungrateful.

3. Ask

Another great idea is to ask them if they just want to vent or would like you to offer some advice.

Sometimes a struggling parent will turn around and ask you, ” I really don’t know what to do! Should I start the treatment or should I go for a second opinion?”

Other times they’ll just say it loud and clear:  “I really don’t know what to do! Ugh, I wish this wasn’t happening to me.”

4. Praise their parenting

Oh God! If I could tell you the amount of self-doubt parents have about their parenting skills. We do it day in and day out, but the minute our child misses a shot or acts out or even falls ill, we point our own fingers at our parenting skills.

And the guilt piles up, so, so fast!
“Maybe it was because I let her watch too much screen.”
“I wish I was a better mom and could spend more time with the kids.”

You know how those thoughts go.
So if you are wondering what you could say to help a struggling parent, you could mention how they are nailing the parenting game.

“I love the way you’ve taught your kids to say please and thank you.”
“You’ve done such a great job with the kids. They seem so happy.”

Find something you really appreciate about their parenting and tell them. It is best to mention them casually at pick-ups and drop-offs. They’re the perfect pat on the back that they need to keep them feeling like they’re doing something right!

5. Show up and go the extra mile

It’s easy to overlook the needs of others when life gets busy. Make sure you show up and follow through on your promise.

One of the mums in my son’s class was so empathic. When her son’s best friend’s had a sibling, the mother was diagnosed with PPD. Her son mentioned that his best friend was dropping out of football practise because his mum couldn’t do pick-ups and drop-offs- thanks to the baby.

She offered to pick up and drop off her older child for playdates and football practise, giving the mother time to deal with postpartum depression.

How do you make your parents feel better?

Sometimes it’s not just parents with young kids, but older parents who may be struggling. A struggling parent can be worried or stressed by anything from health concerns to financial issues to marital problems.

If you have a parent who is struggling, try being there for them when they need you. Make sure that you are available when they call and be sure to visit when you can.

If they are struggling with health issues, you could arrange for their medical needs and get them the help they need. Bring joy to their life and enjoy the little things in life with them.

Remember that while you may not be able to solve all the problems of a struggling parent, you can give them hope by letting them know that they are loved.

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