Parenting comes with its share of highs and lows, good days and bad days. The task of growing a tiny human into a full-sized contributing-to-society adult is no small challenge. Whether you had children old or young, parenting demands nonstop balance of your own needs with your child’s. This balancing act becomes all the more precarious when you are a parent with a mental illness.
Acknowledging the Challenges
One of the most common fears for mothers with mental illness is the potential risk of their children developing a psychiatric disorder. In fact, disorders such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, alcoholism, and substance abuse have been shown to have a genetic component, often running in families.
Other concerns for children raised by a mentally ill parent include possible experiencing maltreatment or abuse, being regularly separated from the parent during hospitalization or treatment, having to care for younger siblings, encountering bullying or stigma at school, or developing insecurity or anxiety from an inconsistent parenting relationship.
Fortunately, being a mother with a mental illness doesn’t mean you can’t raise a great kid. There are measures you can take to decrease the negative impact your mental illness has own your children and influence their positive growth and development. Try these 10 strategies to better care for yourself and your children with a mental illness.
Coping with Parenting and a Mental Illness
Get professional treatment
One of the best steps you can take towards benefiting your own well-being and that of your children is to seek professional help. Stigma and misconceptions associated with mental illness often stand in the way of people getting the help they need; but, you must do it for your kids. Getting help is a sign of strength and courage. Plus, if you are actively participating in therapy and taking your medications, you will likely function better, and, therefore, parent better.
Take your treatment a step further and consider trying family therapy. Mental illness affects the whole family, so involving your children in your treatment can help you all learn necessary skills to cope.
Join a support group
Support groups are often led by mental health professionals or other people just like you who are battling mental illness. Talking to a group of people who are in similar circumstances can help you to feel less alone and also offer you helpful tips on how to manage your illness and be a parent. Talk to your doctor or therapist about a support group in your area.
Learn your triggers
Getting a better understanding of your illness can help you prepare for and manage the bad days. For example, if you are suffering from panic disorder, you might recognize the environmental stimuli that cause your panic attacks and notice the signs of an oncoming attack before it heightens. You can then put your children in a safe place, call another adult for backup and engage in relaxation exercises to help you manage the symptoms. Think of ways you can anticipate the problems associated with your disorder and plan accordingly.
Practice self-compassion and self-care
As a mom, it is naturally difficult to care for yourself first when your children need caring for, but you must. Remember that, if your cup is empty, you will have nothing to pour into your children’s. Take advantage of the children staying with the grandparents to relax. Take naps when your toddler does. Have a nighttime bath routine of running yourself a hot bath and lighting a candle. Don’t feel guilty about caring for yourself and attending to your needs.
Lead a healthy lifestyle
Making healthy choices is fundamental to managing mental illness. Eating a diet of real, whole foods, exercising, getting adequate rest, and avoiding drugs and alcohol can benefit the mental and physical health of not just you but your entire family. What’s more, leading a healthy lifestyle allows you to be a positive role model in your children’s lives, encouraging them to make healthy choices, too.
Reframe what “good” parenting means
If you have high expectations about what it means to be a good mother, it’s time to revise them. When you are living with a mental illness, you simply won’t be able to attend every sports event or recital. You won’t always feel up to family game night; and, that’s ok. Being a good mom with a mental illness means taking care of your health and well-being so that you can be around for your children longer.
Lean on family and friends
Don’t feel ashamed of asking for help when you need it. Whether help comes from your partner, your parents, your siblings, or close friends, reach out to your loved ones for support. Reducing and/or delegating some of your chores or errands could help you keep stress in check in order to prevent a mental health crisis.