How to Parent With a Mental Illness
Living with a mental illness can cause challenges when it comes to functioning on a daily basis. However, when you are a parent you don’t always have the option of not functioning. This is something that I have spent many years trying to figure out. I want to be the best mother that I can be but at the same time I have to take care of myself. Over the years I have discovered five steps that help me be a parent while managing my bipolar depression. Parenting & Mental Illness are not always black and white. Life is full of gray areas and I hope that these 5 steps will help you learn How to Parent with a Mental Illness.
How to Parent with a Mental Illness
1. Take Time For Yourself
This is the most important step to take and one that needs to be implemented before everything else. If you don’t have time to do anything else, do this one step to immediately decrease your stress. As parents we often think we need to be on 24/7 but we don’t. It is also not beneficial for managing a mental illness to not have time for yourself. Set aside time every week and if you can every day (even 20 minutes before bed) to do something you like to do, ALONE. Use this time for investing and refreshing yourself, GUILT FREE. You can’t take care of them if you are not taking care of yourself.
2. Set Boundaries
We often feel like we need to say yes to everyone and everything they ask of us. WE DON’T! You can greatly reduce your stress by setting boundaries. This is hard when we feel we are letting people down but taking care of you is more important. When you set boundaries and only say yes to the certain things, you free up time for yourself and family. Plus you are able to give better attention to the things you have agreed to do.
Once you start setting boundaries, it does get easier. If you suffer from bipolar depression, make sure if you are in a manic phase that you are careful of the things you agree to. When I am manic I feel like I can take on the world and often over commit. This leads to me cancelling plans or feeling overwhelmed. I have found that I run things by my husband before I say yes so he can help provide balance.
3. Make a Plan
When you have a mental illness, there are good and bad days. Make sure you have a plan for the bad days. Some things to plan for include the following: alternate car pool for the kids, simple meals you can make for dinner (or the kids can make if they are older), who to call in case of an emergency, prioritizing the important tasks, etc. Writing out this plan makes it easy for the whole family to know what they are supposed to do/expected to do when you are having a bad day. This takes away stress from you and allows you to focus on what is necessary for your mental health.
4. Have a Support System
You cannot handle everything yourself and it is okay to ask for help. Having a support system (big or small) is important for your mental health and for your family. It is important to have someone to talk to and help you make the best choices for yourself and your family. A support system can be made of family, friends, doctors, and/or therapists. The other thing to remember about having a support system is that you need people who will not only support you but also tell you the things you need to hear (not want to hear.)
5. Focus on Your Strengths
When dealing with a mental illness or even parenting for that matter, we often focus on the areas that we struggle in. Focusing on these areas does nothing except bring us down. Instead focus on your strengths, make a list of all the things that you are good at and post it somewhere you can see it daily. When you are struggling, turn to that list and remind yourself that you do have something to offer. For even more help focusing on your strengths, ask your family to make a list of what they think your strengths are. They will surprise you with their answers and make you realize you are good at things you didn’t think you are. We are always our worst critics.
My hope for you is that these fives steps will help you be a successful parent with a mental illness. Remember our children don’t need us to be perfect, they just need us to be there.
Do you have tips that help you parent while managing your mental illness? I would love for you to share them in the comment section below.