Strategies for Effective Parenting with Mental Illness
Parenting is one of the toughest jobs you will ever take on, but struggling with mental illness amplifies the everyday challenges that arise for all parents. Living with mental illness may cause you to experience fatigue, irregularity in sleep and mood, and general irritability - all of which affect the way you interreact with your child. Leading research indicates that parents who battle with depression may not actively interact with their child, impacting the child’s academic and language development. No parent wants their child to suffer in response to their own health obstacles, making it ever more critical that parents seek the help they need.
The negative stigma attached to mental illness represents one of the primary reasons parents feel judged about their health status. Encouraging parents to obtain help for themselves, and thus becoming a more effective parent, is immensely important due to the ways in which children are affected by their parents’ behavior. A bad day for mom or dad can create feelings of loneliness and fault in the child. The existence of a mental illness does not prevent you from being a wonderful parent; however, it requires openness, education, and a willingness to connect with others. Educating others, beginning with your family, is the first step. I have five suggestions to help you feel confident about your parenting and foster a sense of security in your child.
1. Get the treatment you need. The mental health of a parent is the best predictor of a child’s success. If you are afraid or reluctant to seek mental health support, do so for your child. It is the single most important investment you can make for them.
2. Reach out and connect to others. Mental illness, especially with depression or anxiety, intensifies when you feel alone or frightened of the perception of others. Reach out to spiritual leaders, your child’s school counselor, a medical doctor, or join a support group. The stigma attached to mental illness is not your fault, and you should not allow it to dissuade you from treatment. Educating others about your diagnosis, experiences, and the ways in which you manage your mental health can be uplifting for others who struggle in solitude.
3. Create a “what if” plan with your mental health provider. During a calm moment collaborate with your counselor to create a plan of action for emergencies, such as worsening of your mental health. List safe people you can count on to pick up your child and care for them. This will allow you to feel more at ease and increases your confidence in the management of your health.
4. Enroll your children in activities. Activities help your child connect with other peers and offer you an opportunity to meet other adults in addition to your child’s friends. If scheduling becomes problematic, identify a friend willing to carpool to lessen your transportation burden.
5. Take care of yourself and maintain awareness of your parenting strengths. It’s easy to deny you suffer from a mental illness and overextend yourself; therefore it is important to recognize your limitations and refuse to criticize yourself for those limits. List three areas of parenting in which you flourish. These are your parenting strengths. When you begin to feel inadequate about your parenting skills, remind yourself of this list. No parent is perfect, but celebrating your strengths rather than criticizing weaknesses is a wonderful way to mentor your children for the challenges life will throw at them in the future.
You should not feel ashamed for experiencing mental illness, and taking care of yourself is the best gift you can give your children. Honesty and education about your illness with your children helps them recognize your courageousness and distinguishes you as someone who understands the challenges of their mental illness with the strength to face it head on. It sets an excellent example for your children, helping them to appreciate your mental illness as a component of your story but does not define you.