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.

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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.