7 Tips To Avoid The Pitfalls Of Being A Parent With Mental Illness
Ramblings in Recovery

7 Tips To Avoid The Pitfalls Of Being A Parent With Mental Illness

I was diagnosed with mental illness a few years before I had children so I had time to think about how to be a good mom with a mental illness. The kids have been there through the times I was suicidal, hospitalized, manic and more.  They seem to have adjusted to it as a part of their life.

Some kids can develop emotional or behavioral problems when their parent has a mental illness. My boys both have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) which is more related to genetics and the prenatal environment than it does with living with a mom with a mental illness. To raise resilient children, kids who can bounce back from the negatives in life, we have to be sure we do a few things.  This #wellnesswednesday we are talking about 7 tips to avoid the pitfalls of being a parent with mental illness.

There may be affiliate links in this post. There is no cost to you by clicking on an affiliate link. By buying products through the links, you are helping to further the mission of Live Mentally Well.    Here is an awesome book to get started with natural medicine for mental health – Beyond The Label. This is an informational post. It does not constitute professional advice. Please consult a medical provider for medical issues.


Explain Mental Illness In A Way Your Kid Can Understand

  • Teach kids 0-5 years old to recognize different feelings in themselves and others. I had a feelings chart that my kids could pick a feeling face and tell me how they were feeling. Once they grasp this concept it is easier to talk to them about your own feelings. Click here to check out Michael Rosen’s Sad book – a book about depression written for kids.
  • For school-aged kids, I started to clearly and simply express what I was feeling. I would say things like, “ I’m really mad. You know how you get mad when you’re sister takes your toy away. That’s how I feel.” I don’t recommend going into detail about the feelings. Just acknowledge them. Up and Down The Worry Hill is all about anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).  The Bipolar Bear Family talks about bipolar in a way a child can understand.
  • At the teen level, kids can understand explanations about mental illness and can research it themselves.  The key here is to keep an open and honest conversation going about mental illness. Make sure they know they can always ask you questions.
  • Suicidal thoughts are too complex and scary for most kids of all ages to process.  When kids hear you talk about killing yourself, they think, “Mom/Dad is going to leave me. They don’t love me anymore.” I don’t recommend talking to your kids about this unless 1. They are going through it themselves or 2. They are adults.

Be Honest About What You’re Feeling

  • Be honest about your feelings. Don’t try to pretend like everything is ok.  Kids always can sense when something is going wrong. They will know something is wrong and they might blame themselves.


Make Sure Your Kid Knows It’s Not Their Fault

  • When you get angry or sad, kids of all ages often assume it is their fault. When you tell your kids how your feeling, make sure you add that it’s because of your illness and not something they did.  
  • Just recently I described to my 11-year-old daughter that I was feeling really irritable and couldn’t sit still and that is a part of my illness.  She already has a good understanding of the symptoms I have from the years of openly talking about my feelings with her. I never burden her with more information than she wants.  She knows she can come to me when she has questions about my mental illness.

Take Care Of Yourself So You Can Take Care Of Your Kids

I know it seems backward to put yourself first but it really is necessary. If you don’t fill up your own tank, you will have no energy for your kids. Here are some things you can do:

  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise
  • Sleep well
  • Pray/meditate. For more self-care activities, click here.

Get Support and Therapy For Yourself And Your Kids

  • Get therapy for yourself and consider having family therapy.  Therapy can help you become a better parent. Family therapy will show you areas you need to work on with your spouse and kids.  This will also help your family understand your illness.


Get Parenting Help

Protective Factors

From Mental Health America’s Parenting page – Increasing a child’s protective factors helps develop his or her resiliency.  Resilient children understand that they are not responsible for their parent’s difficulties, and are able to move forward in the face of life’s challenges.  Here are some protective factors:


  • A parent’s warm and supportive relationship with his or her children
  • A sense of being loved by their parent
  • Positive self-esteem
  • Good coping skills
  • Healthy engagement with adults outside the home
  • An ability to articulate their feelings
  • Parents who are functioning well at home, at work, and in their social relationships
  • Parental employment

Wrap Up

Teach children to talk about feelings. This will make it much easier for them to bounce back during the difficult times that sometimes come with having a parent with mental illness. Be open and honest about your feelings and they will be open and honest with you.


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