Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Mental Health and Parenting: How to Support Yourself and Your Kids

Mental Health: A Two-Part Series

Part 1: How Couples Can Promote Good Mental Health During and After the Pandemic
Part 2: Mental Health and Parenting: How to Support Yourself and Your Kids

Last week, I kick-started the conversation on a really important topic for couples and individuals, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and any time: mental health. I covered depression, anxiety and isolation — among many other topics — and ways to work toward better mental health. If you weren't able to join me last week, I hope you'll check out the article and video here.

Today, I'm excited to continue the conversation that I had with Jeremy Edelen, director of content at Northpoint Church, this time with a focus on mental health and parenting. If you're wondering how to approach mental health issues with your children or what you can do to lead and love your kids better, I strongly recommend checking out the video above. I encourage you to take notes while viewing and to share your takeaways in the comments below.

Here are just some of the highlights from my conversation with Jeremy on mental health and parenting.

Is Anxiety a Bigger Issue for Today's Teenagers?

It's no secret that most teenagers today have a much different coming-of-age experience than I did. Many of them are always reachable and plugged in to the internet, thanks to the capabilities of smartphones, which can be extremely distracting and create an enormous amount of pressure to maintain appearances. This can be challenging for adults to handle, so it's no wonder why it's sometimes overwhelming for adolescents with still-developing brains.

Numerous studies have noticed an increase in anxiety levels in children and teenagers over the years, including a PEW Research Center survey shared by the National Education Association.

The Pew survey found that "70% of teens say anxiety and depression is a 'major problem' among their peers, and an additional 26% say it's a 'minor problem.'"

While technology isn't necessarily the culprit for these statistics, it can definitely be a contributor to poor mental health in some people. I think what happens a lot of times is kids, instead of feeling really connected in their families, are just kind of living through their peers or other things via social media. I believe, in some ways, parents can do a much better job of bringing life to their children's experiences.

In his book* "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life," Donald Miller talks about this a bit. He says: "The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won't make a story meaningful, it won't make a life meaningful either." In borrowing from him, let me ask you this:

If your family was a movie, would it be enthralling or would it put the audience to sleep?

It's easy for the latter to become your reality if your family isn't really giving back or growing, if you're not building things together. Sometimes, we can forget how to do this.

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Why Is Legacy Important for Mental Health and Parenting?

At Affair Recovery, one of the things we try to help people with is developing a strong sense of legacy, so that they know where they come from and who they are. Legacy is a very important thing.

Going back to Donald Miller, he tells this really funny story about a family:

A man was complaining about his daughter and that she wasn't doing well, that she was running with the wrong kids. Miller responded with the movie example; he said: If your family was a movie, would your daughter be interested in being a part of it or would she rather leave the theater? The man replied, "Oh, she'd definitely want to leave the theater." To that, Miller said, "Well, maybe that's part of the problem."

And so the guy, without even talking to his wife — which probably wasn't smart — comes home that night and it's supper. Everybody's sitting around the table and he tells them, "I've volunteered our family to raise $500,000 for an orphanage over in India." There's just silence, and his wife makes a surprised face.

Sure, they had to make big sacrifices and cancel all of their vacations, but this experience completely changed their family. They all bought into it. They did some incredible things, and they travelled as a family. But, perhaps most importantly, they built a life — and that changed their kids.

As parents, when we create a strong sense of legacy and pass it along, that's something alone that can help kids. I'm not talking about simply taking vacations but, rather, embarking in meaningful and purposeful experiences together. It's about passing memories and lessons along, and it's about showing our kids how to create a joyful and fulfilling life.

How Does Connectedness Affect Mental Health?

When it comes to mental health and parenting, another thing that helps is emphasizing the importance of connectedness with real people — healthy people. That's why I often suggest youth groups. There are so many people who grow from these. My youth group was huge for me when I was growing up.

At Affair Recovery, we know that when people begin to have community, that it becomes about health, about life and about growing. We put participants in moderated forums where they're able to communicate every day, 24/7. Often, they're also texting each other and doing all kinds of stuff to stay connected.

When the focus is on helping others along the way, when it's on processing emotions and just being vulnerable and honest, one of two things happens:

  1. People surround themselves with co-conspirators who support their victimhood, who tell them life is awful and that it won't get better.
  2. People surround themselves with healed individuals, healthy people who help them find a way forward and tell them life can get better.

I think we have to help our kids find really healthy people, other healthy kids. When they're in that sort of community, the second community, they naturally do better.

When Is It Helpful to Consult a Therapist?

If your child is — or you are, for that matter — really struggling with depression, get them help and get them the right type of help. Find somebody who specializes in depression and anxiety. I am a big proponent of this: Not all therapists are created equal, in the sense that some people have really worked to be specialists and have done their homework; they are truly experts. Other people are generalists, and they haven't seen as many cases or received as much training as a true expert. Find somebody who understands how to treat anxiety or depression and is known for that.

If they have anxiety, unless it's a phobia like flying, they may have trouble motivating themselves because they're just so anxious about, say, going to school. When they can work with somebody, somebody who knows what they're doing, they can get through this.

If they're having panic attacks, take this seriously and get them help because they don't have to live with panic attacks.

If they have really negative body dysmorphia — how they see themselves — find somebody who can help them change that construct, so they see themselves beautiful as they are. One of the problems for teenagers today is social media because it can make them feel amazingly inadequate.

But what if your child is depressed? Here are some of the common tell-tale signs of depression:

  • Sleep disturbance.
  • Lethargy or loss of energy.
  • Self-doubt or self-hate.
  • Feelings of guilt.
  • Loss of interest in activities.
  • Isolation.
  • Trouble concentrating on and completing tasks.
  • Appetite disturbance.

Depression is chemical, not psychological, so please don't refuse to see someone because of the mental health stigma. There's absolutely nothing wrong with getting the help you need, and there absolutely shouldn't be a stigma associated with this. You don't have to be ashamed, and you don't have to be limited.

I've always believed — and it's what we believe at Affair Recovery — that pain can serve as a catalyst to something better, that you can transcend from a crisis to become better, not worse. Sometimes, it's not until a crisis when we decide we need to change and do better. It's my sincere hope that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented opportunities for people to say, "Yeah, I don't like this," and make a conscious choice to change.

Viktor Frankl wrote a book called "Man's Search for Meaning."* He was a Jewish psychiatrist during World War II, who was arrested and put in a death camp that killed all of his family members. The Nazis took away his manuscript, what he had been writing for his life's work. They took all of his property. They took everything. But Frankl said:

"The one thing you can't take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one's freedoms is to choose one's attitude in any given circumstance."

He says that between every tragedy and outcome, there's always choice. I get to choose how I am going to respond; nobody can take that from me. I believe we should teach our kids how to see their choices as opportunities. When it comes to mental health and parenting, this is a biggie. It's a whole different construct of thinking than they might be used to.

How Can Parents Better Support Themselves and Their Kids?

Again, I think that with mental health and parenting, it's important to be able to really tune in to your child and pay attention to their emotions. If something seems amiss, don't be afraid to sit them down and say:

"Look, maybe I am wrong here, but you look really _________ [troubled/sad/frustrated, etc.]. Is that right? What's going on?"

Being able to just talk to them about their feelings and emotions, believe it or not, is huge. Also, ask them what they're interested in, and help them accomplish their goals. Children want to feel supported and encouraged by their parents, so do what you can to show that you believe in them.

So often, I think we put expectations on kids rather than just, really, taking delight in them. Encouraging them is what helps them be OK. It's also about helping them when they're really upset, standing up for them, helping them figure out how to calm down, and just talking them through things. You don't have to be a perfect parent, but you do need to be there for them and you do need to show up.

I'd be remiss if I didn't end on this thought: Hurting people hurt people. I see this all the time in couples healing from infidelity. If you're struggling with mental health and parenting or are just having trouble moving forward, I encourage you to enroll in one of our courses. We have two online, small group courses for individuals: Hope for Healing for wayward mates and Harboring Hope for betrayed mates.

When people stray from the relationship, they often have a lot of trouble seeing themselves clearly and being able to support and empathize with others — including their mates and their children. Hope for Healing helps them work through these things, put relapse prevention measures in place, escape shame and so much more.

Harboring Hope helps betrayed mates with empathy as well by first teaching them about infidelity in a deeper way, and second discussing what goes through the mind of a wayward partner. Participants also learn strategies to repair their confidence, process their pain and begin to rebuild their lives.

In the past, participants have developed profound relationships with their small group members; some have even told me that their best friends are part of these groups. Community helps people heal, I strongly believe that, and it's crucial to our mental health. And to be a better parent and partner, it's so important to take care of your mental health. Whether you choose to enroll in one of our courses or go another route, I sincerely hope you take the time to do what's necessary for your health and the health of your family.

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This isn’t another light-and-fluffy program that only scratches the surface of your pain. EMS Weekend is a safe space for you and your mate to begin moving toward acceptance, transformation and healing after infidelity. During EMS Weekend, we pair you with expert infidelity counselors, comprehensive healing resources and a small group of other couples to heal with and learn from.

"Before EMS Weekend, my spouse and I were at a standstill and were losing hope. After going through EMS Weekend and participating in the sessions and activities, we have a whole new outlook on our future. We BOTH have a better understanding of where we were and where we are now going — forward with love, respect, support and determination.” Virtual EMS Weekend participant | July 2020.

Whether you attend EMS Weekend in person or virtually, we’re here to help guide you during this season of healing. Note: Our remote offering comes at a $1,000 discount, as it doesn’t include food and lodging. So what are you waiting for? Join Rick for EMS Weekend to begin building toward a better, brighter life after infidelity.

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