6 Strategies for Parenting with a Mental Illness

When my mother was a little girl, her mother would disappear into her bed for months at a time, punctuated by periods of restless energy and action. My grandmother was so scatterbrained, she would forget the birthdays of each of her six children. The house was extraordinarily chaotic, what with my grandmother constantly replacing furniture from auctions and worrying about money. She was never diagnosed, but her behaviors were hallmarks of mental illness.

parenting

Credit to flickr.com user Teresa Qin. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Parenting while mentally ill adds extra challenge to people’s lives. Often, children of parents with a mental illness can feel anxious due to the chaos in the household, or unloved because their parent may be emotionally unavailable. Here are some tips for maintaining a healthy relationship with your children despite facing mental instability.

1. Get Treatment

Treatment helps a mental ill parent function properly. Being able to get out of bed in the morning to take your child to school on a regular basis requires you to manage your disorder. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. There is help available.

2. Try to Stick to a Routine

Providing structure for your kids helps them grow into healthy, well-adjusted adults. Unpredictable behaviors in a parent disintegrates a child’s sense of safety and make it difficult for children to learn self-care routines. Even though enforcing structure may be difficult, abiding by Taco Tuesdays ensures that your children will have a rock in what may be chaos otherwise.

3. Talk to Your Kids About Your Mental Illness

Arming your children with age-appropriate information helps them realize that it’s not their fault that you suffer from a mental illness. If you keep them up to date with what’s happening with you, they can learn what to expect when you’re having a down day. They’ll also learn to separate you from your disorder, which can help them feel loved.

4. Create an Emergency Plan

Should you need to be hospitalized, your kids will need someone to pick them up from school and feed them dinner. If you have a partner and treatment team, create a crisis plan with them to ensure that your children won’t be affected negatively if an emergency sidelines you. Make sure that you communicate that plan to your kids.

5. Maintain Relationships with Adult Role Models

If you can’t provide a healthy role model for your kids, make sure they have someone in their lives who can. Consistency is key in this: you want an adult that will be there for them no matter what’s going on in their lives. If you have a supportive partner, that’s half the battle. If you’re a single parent, try to find a good friend or two–probably a parent themselves–who will help.

6. Remember That You are the Parent

Your children should not parent you. They are too young to take on that kind of responsibility, and that fosters an inappropriate relationship. Prioritize taking care of yourself. Put your oxygen mask on first, then care for your kids.

Following these six strategies can help mitigate the effects of your mental illness on your kids and encourage them to grow into healthy adults. Making them feel loved is paramount to their happiness.

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About Cassandra Stout

Freelance writer Cassandra Stout blogs at the award-winning Bipolar Parent, a comprehensive resource for parents with mental illnesses. Cassandra holds degrees from the University of Arizona in Creative Writing and Journalism. She has been a judge for the Pacific Northwest Writers' Association literary contest for nine years, where her memoir, Committed, recently placed as a finalist. She balances her literary work with raising her children, feeding her cat, and managing her bipolar disorder.
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4 Responses to 6 Strategies for Parenting with a Mental Illness

  1. dyane says:

    I’ve been late (again) with leaving comments on all my favorite blogs! Yikes! Please forgive moi!

    I’m so sorry your mother grew up with a mom who had a mental illness. My father would also disappear into bed, but for days instead of months, and had been diagnosed with bipolar as a young adult.

    Anyway, it took me a long time to incorporate all six of these key strategies into my life. It took way too long! My wish is for parents to get this kind of invaluable information right away and follow it to the letter. This post is a “voice of reason” for all parents who have mental illness – every point is expressed perfectly and concisely.

    • Hi, Dyane! You are forgiven, though I don’t want you to feel obligated to comment! I appreciate anything you have to say, but you don’t have to say it if you don’t want to. 🙂

      My grandmother’s illness was hard on my mother, especially given that my grandmother didn’t acknowledge that she had a problem–ever–but my mother is well adjusted now. Thanks for your well wishes and unique perspective.

      And thank you so much for the lovely words! I’m glad you were able to incorporate the six strategies, even if it took you a long time.

      • dyane says:

        I only feel obligated with my favorite blogs, LOL! I’ve cut way back on commenting on only a few blogs mainly because of increased responsibilties and less energy. 😱And I’m the one who benefits the most by keeping up the connections – it makes me feel good in the end. 👍😜 Have a great weekend, Cass!!!!!

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