Parenting with a mental illness

I’ve been invited to work with a national group called Children of Parents with Mental Illness to develop a new website for dads who have a mental illness. I’ve attended a panel interstate and am contributing to a wiki which will then be morphed into the website. Next month, they’re flying down to film my story for the website.

In the course of disgorging what I’ve learned about parenting with mental illness it struck me (eventually) that parents with mental illness who are in recovery can actually make better parents! It was one of those light bulb moments for me because I realised that I’d been teaching my kids emotional and coping skills that were never taught to me.

One thing that mental illness has taught me is an emotional vocabulary. Before my mental illness, I was an emotional neanderthal. Most men are. If you ask Average Man how he’s feeling, you’ll get grunts to the effect of “not bad”, “fine”, “stoked”, “dunno”, and “alright I s’pose”. None of which are really feelings, and none are very nuanced. In fact he may not even know how he’s feeling. (Yes girls, it’s shocking!) That’s what it was like for me.

I’m still learning to be able to know and describe my feelings, but I’m on the way. Mindfulness is helping me observe my emotions impartially and notice where they are in my body and their intensity. Yes I know it’s all a bit girly by normal standards, but normal standards aren’t helpful. What I’ve found is that to be in touch with one’s emotions is to be fully human.

So these are the things I’m teaching my kids. To notice their emotions and to be able to describe them honestly and without judgement. To accept them, and yet to not feel compelled to do anything about them. Emotions are the like the car on the road outside our house. They come, and they go. We don’t jump out of our chair and race to the door and feel like we have to do something about them (unless you’re a dog). We can acknowledge emotions, experience them, and be kind to ourselves about what we’re experiencing but we don’t have to be ruled by them or carried away by them.

It’s a great way to approach difficult emotions such as pain, suffering, grief, anger, frustration, hatred, rage, jealousy, and rejection to name a few. These are really uncomfortable and hard to process for all of us, so giving kids tools to do it sets them up for life.

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3 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I’m a parent of child (now 18) with mental illness and prayerfully watching him struggle with coping skills. I hope he gets to your point one day. ~Blessings!

  2. Hey there, thanks for commenting. Being a teenager is hard enough with all the physiological changes taking place, hormones and what’s going on sociologically for them (peer pressure, studies, dating, relationships). They’re going to be up and down and all over the place even without throwing mental illness into the mix.
    I think mindfulness for teenagers would be really helpful, but even if they’re not in a place to learn emotional skills like that, then it can certainly help you as a parent.
    The mindfulness approach to your child, can be one of openness, curiosity, acceptance and kindness without judgement – and honestly if they’re 18, you have very little control anyway! I hope things continue to improve….

  3. […] my last post on parenting with mental illness where it dawned on me that when in recovery, we do have certain advantages in parenting, there is […]

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