Three Ways to Deal with Being the Mum Friend.

I reckon I was about 13 when I was given the esteemed title of ‘mum friend.’ There wasn’t one event that suddenly made everyone in my friend group pour their hearts out to me or constantly ask for study help, but at this age, I began to feel like people depended on me more than they depended on others. Eventually, due to my maternal disposition, I began putting aside my own mental health, studies, and general wellbeing to support others; which isn’t okay.

For example, in my 3rd year of high school, after months of exposure to my friend’s extreme struggle with depression and self-harm, I had police enter my home after she had threatened suicide, and no one could reach her but me. This act of total dependency frightened me beyond belief and is something I still struggle with today. However, once normality ensued I went back to proofreading essays and making sure everyone was always happy. In my mind, I was once again a mother to my peers.

In my final year of secondary school, I still had the ‘mum’ title, but this time it solely centered around being the most organised, always having a pen and being in a constant state of anxiousness. I had my own real-life stresses; university applications, relationships, dramatic friendships as well as an unspoken responsibility to look after my friends.

With that being said, I don’t blame my school friends for the anxiety I was dealing with. They are truly wonderful people who I am still close with today and I know if I had spoken to them at the time they would have helped ease these anxieties. Nevertheless, the feelings I had were still very real to me and therefore valid, regardless of the calm front I publicly portrayed.

It has been over a year since I have felt the full weight of ‘mum’ responsibility from my peers, and while my friends in Aberdeen still tease me about my extreme meal planning and lengthy to-do lists, I no longer feel responsible for others in such an intense way. You are far more likely to see my friends drag me out of Underground, unable to walk than the other way around.

Despite this, I feel as though I have sufficient knowledge to give advice to anyone feeling bogged down by their friends’ responsibilities, problems, and general life happenings. I truly believe helping others in times of need is incredibly important but when you start pushing back your own needs to help others, it has gone too far.

Here are 3 pieces of simple advice that may help if you have identified yourself in the above paragraphs:

#1 Don’t feel guilty!

Take a step back from supporting someone to ensure your own good mental health can be a difficult task and guilt can quickly shroud your thoughts. However, it is important to overcome this and remember that it is perfectly acceptable to put yourself first, and that the person you are supporting will most likely understand, even if they don’t right away (if they fail to understand after you have explained your decision to let them sort their own life out, they are not a good enough human for you to spend any energy on). It is not selfish to prioritise your own feelings over the feelings of others, most people do.  

#2 Set boundaries!

If you are like me and naturally finds themselves wanting to help others as much as possible but worries about the potential negative impacts on their own mental health, I would suggest creating boundaries. Not just with other people but also with yourself. I did this both after the incident with my suicidal friend and before I went to university; I wrote a list of situations that, for me, would cross a certain line. This list included more abstract situations like allowing myself to be upset when someone has hurt me and more serious situations such as stopping potentially triggering conversations pertaining to mental health.

Once I felt comfortable enough with my friends from university, I did share some of these boundaries so that they would know what I was comfortable with. Although I will admit I haven’t spoken about all of them- and that is okay as well. The boundaries you set can be as personal as you need them to be, as long as you are clear on what they are and are comfortable within them. Also, it is important to remember that boundaries change as your life changes-  this is a sign of growth, not something to be necessarily scared of.

#3 Speak out!

I, stupidly, never spoke to anyone about how I was feeling because I didn’t think I was

feeling bad enough to warrant attention but if I had, I am positive it would have helped me. Speaking to family, friends, and even the university staff can lift burdens and in turn offer good advice. Also, knowing where there are support systems available to students is another great way of ensuring you don’t get caught up in someone else’s life. For example, you can still help someone by giving the information to a mental health charity without being personally obligated to fix that person’s mental health.

If something truly unsettles you, or you feel like you can’t escape from your own or someone else’s demons, seek professional help. It is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength as it shows that you have taken the brave decision to recognise that you can’t do everything on your own.

Below is a list of support networks that you can reach out to if you, or someone you know, has been affected by this article or the topics within it:

 

National Bullying Helpline: 0845 22 55 787 or [email protected]

Bullying UK: 0808 800 2222

University of Aberdeen Student Support: 01224 273935 or [email protected]

AUSA Student Advice Centre: 01224274200 or [email protected]

Your Student Resident Team within Halls

Nightline listening services from 8pm-8am: 01224272829

University Counselling Service: 01224272139 and [email protected]

Chaplaincy: [email protected] or 01224 272137

Samaritans: www.samaritans.org or 08457909090

 

All images are from Google.