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Meeting the needs of children when a parent suffers from mental illness

Senior Contributor

Meeting the needs of children when a parent suffers from mental illness

Looking for feedback/ ideas

For anyone who has not followed any of my other posts, my wife suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder and major depression. This year has been particularly difficult for us with multiple hospital admissions. This has been hard on our children but one son particually. 

This is somthing I have often pondered but a couple of things in the last week have brought this to the front of thoughts.

Last week I read an article on childhood emotional neglect and thought how relevant it was for my darling. (Important to note that I think my darlings parents are fantastic so not judging them at all. More a symptom of the era and environment they were raised in and my darlijgs overly sensitive personality).  

Then I recieved a message from a friend asking me to encourage my darling to see a particular councillor to talk about childhood truma that she believed was present. 

Also some time ago when researching signs of bpd in children and growing up in a high stress home enviornment increases the risk of devoloping mental illness for children. 

So here is my question, 

How do we as parents support our children to reduce this risk, particually when everything around us seems to be fallig apart.

Also how do we manage difficult behaviour that is a genuine cry out for attention. Unacceptable behaviour can not be  ignored but I struggle to balance sometimes how to deal with it. Especialy when I am tired and emotionally drained myself. Sometimes I just have nothing left to give and I worry if this is harming my children 😔

59 REPLIES
Senior Contributor

Re: Meeting the needs of children when a parent suffers from mental illness

Example

Last night my darling and I went to bed early as we are both sick. The children wanted to stay up and watch a movie out, it was way past their bed time but I was too sick and tired to argue, it is school holidays and the movie was age appropriate so we let them, on the condition that they turned everything off when it was finished and go to bed without waking us.

So when it was finished what do they do, come into the bathroom adjoining our bedrom and turned the light on, and of and on ......

Then at the door way, good night, good night ...... ... ... kept talking till he git a response... seriously, you were told to go to bed without waking us.

Was this unacceptable, I believe it was, but my concern is, when the child already has a emence fear or rejection  (as does his mother) how do you tell him that that was not acceptable without him feelng rejected. Was refusing to get up to go tuck him in unreasonable?

Is it  all the little things like this that can potentially mout up in a little heart and mind getting blown out of proportion and creating problems later in life.

One of my biggest fears for our children is that they might later in life suffer the way their mum is suffering 

Smc
Senior Contributor

Re: Meeting the needs of children when a parent suffers from mental illness

I'm not sure if I can offer a lot of advice, but I can certainly relate. A lot of the same difficulties come up when it's an older sibling. It is really hard to balance the needs of other family members against the very high needs of the one with the MI problems. 

Encouraging the kids to talk can help a lot. Our two sons travelled overseas with me on some short volunteer teaching trips. As part of our preparation, we were regularly doing a 2 hour train trip to the city to do training and preparation. Those trips turned into an unexpected chance to get one on one time with them, and they actually got a captive audience for what they needed to talk about instead of feeling like they had to keep it to themselves because I was already dealing with so much. They were teens/young adults at the time, but I've seen a similar thing happen with their younger sister too. (She's now 12 going on 13.) 

Our daughter's talk time tends to be when she comes in to our bedroom to say goodnight to me. It's our routine "bedtime prayer" spot, but often the conversation that happens is as or more important, or the two just blend in to each other. I probably don't hear all of her worries, but having a time which is just her and me helps her to talk.

So... is there a spot in your family routines that can be made into one on one time? Storytime? While travelling? And yeah, I know routines don't always "happen" like we'd hope. 

Ummm... also age-appropriate honesty, but I get the idea you're in with that already. Lining up a counsellor for the kids that they can call on if they need another person to talk to. Our youngest has a mental health plan and approval for the funded Medicare psychologists sessions through Headspace. (She's right on the youngest limit for their services, thinking KidsHelp might be more appropriate for your family?) She can either contact the psychiatrist for an appointment through her school's student welfare centre, or ask us to make an appointment at the Headspace "quarters". If there's no-where nearby for face to face appointments, maybe via phone instead might work for yours. Or their school might be able to have a counsellor or psycologist visit for appointments. 

Your bedtime situation is a hard one. We've more had the problem of our youngest waking up at night, or having nightmares, or having trouble getting to sleep. Sometimes we've let her into our room to talk for a bit before sending her back to bed, other times we've been too tired and sent her back because "none of us can sleep with you at our door..". Yep ,we all have those times. If it's been a nightmare, usually it would be talk and pray, and often walk her back to her bedroom to tuck her in, but some nights when I've been too tired for that I've let her crawl into bed next to me instead... then ended up gently "kicking her out" back to her own bed when she's been crowding me to the point where I can't sleep. Smiley Tongue Yes, she is kind of "too big for that", but I think it was needed at the time. 

Senior Contributor

Re: Meeting the needs of children when a parent suffers from mental illness

Thank you @Smc

Bedtime routine usually includes a prayer time here. It is a chance to talk about the day and the boys worries if they have any. They are usually accepting that this is not always possible.

S2 is of a high concern for me because he often feels left out and not good enough. Unfortunately his older brother requires a lot of extra support and bub, well he is a bub so naturally gets more attend because he needs it. And also with his mum so unwell she also gets a lot of care and attention. Because S2 is more self sufficient he sees everyone else getting more attention and feels left out and resents it.   Just looking at similarities and attitudinal devolopment I am realy concerned that S2 is going in the same direction as his mum. 

It hasnt helped that for 3 of my darlings admissions this year and 1 late last year I was driving to see her daily with bub (she was fearful he would forget her being so young) so on school days one of the grans was picking s1 & 2 up from school and I was getting home in time to feed them and put them to bed, o weekends sometimes they came with me sometimes they didnt as they dont likemthebdrive or the hospital. Doing the 200k round trip 7 days a week for 3 to 4 weeks at a time didn't leave me with much time or energy for the big boys at a time they really needed me and I regret that. Last 2 admissions 1 week and 4 weeks I dropped her off and brought her home for weekend leave only, not only was I too tired and would not have been safe to keep uo the driving I recognised that the boys needed me as much or more than my darling did. 

I know I need to prioritise my time better and give him some one on one time but with everything going on am emotionally and physically drained and cant connect at the level he desires.  He recently started seeing a councillor through headspace which has been helpful for him. It is bit over an hour drive out of town so the added benifit is that he has had me to himself for the drive down and back . 

He has access to the school chaplan and knows he can talk to him about anything. Chappy is aware or our family dynamic as I have confided in him over time myself as we go to the same church. Unfortunately he has not followed through or made use of chappy . He can also go see our church pastor at any time, just has to ask but he wont .  Having chappy and pastor to confide in is important to me because I have always encouraged the boys that what happens at home stays at home. 

S1 also has access to  a chaplan at his school but has rarely gone to see her unfortunately. He can also ask to see our church pastor at any time. 

Church pastor catches up with them at youth group where he can for a chat for encouragement and prayer if they want which I appreciate .

Smc
Senior Contributor

Re: Meeting the needs of children when a parent suffers from mental illness

Our "self sufficient" younger son was also the one in danger of neglect at our place. He went through a rough patch during VCE and got quite depressed at one point. We supported him as much as we could, but with me running off to help my parents (that 400km trip I keep doing) and the unpredictability of his sister's crisis points leading to emotional exhaustion (oh yeah, we get that!) we couldn't do as much for him as we would have liked. He passed VCE, but only just... given he has the intelligence to have been acccepted into a gifted kids' accelerated learning program at his school, his marks didn't even slightly reflect his actual ability. We decided to wear his living costs for a "gap year" last year. He really needed the recovery time. He's now been able to move out to the nearest rural city (only half an hour away, so we still see him regularly) and is hopefully on track for getting into a uni course that he really wants to do, and which doesn't require an ATAR score. Even if he doesn't get in, he's been picking up work that keys in to the same areas of interest, so one way or another he should get to where he'd like to be.

There were times when we had to see to emergency department level crises, and had to leave him as "adult in charge" of his younger sister. It has been hard on both of them. Despite that, they both seem to be very "psychologically resilient". It's the older two who have struggled more. Our oldest son and daughter share a house together, and we see him struggling with anxiety. He's been prone to that due to high IQ coupled with a specific learning disorder, and some associated mental processing problems.

We've frustratingly got four family members on Centrelink payments... eldest two on DSP, hubby on Newstart with reduced work requirements due to anxiety, me on DSP due to severe depression. Part of our rationale for covering younger son's gap year was that we didn't want him caught up in that system too. Jobs are not easy to find, subtle MI problems like reactive depression are not always accepted as a "barrier to work" by Centrelink... the whole thing ends up being punitive, and no way would that help him to recover from such a rough few years.

We've missed a lot of things we wanted to do with our family when they were kids. We never got the cubbyhouse built for our youngest. I'm still holding out hopes of maybe making a "teen retreat" instead. Our kids got most of their swimming pool fun and axperience with friends' families instead of with us. "Holidays" have mostly involved visiting family. The good news is that they seem to think we've been great parents anyway. And it seems it's not too late to build in the "special times".  Last school holidays we bought tickets to a few ice skating sessions. Youngest came with us twice, both sons joined in for a session each. Older daughter opted out, but did opt in for a fun movie instead. 

I remember years ago reading a series of short autobiographies in one of the more legit magazines. The people who, as adults, felt that their childhood had been a good one were the ones who were confident that their parents loved them through whatever happened and whatever they did. Their childhoods ranged from old-school strict through to very freeform with few limits. I guess the big thing is, despite everything, your kids will remember most of all that you love them.

Community Elder

Re: Meeting the needs of children when a parent suffers from mental illness

It is such an important question @Determined

So much depends on their age and how much attention and support they are getting.

From what I can tell you are doing a great deal and I feel a bit envious of your wife for all the support she is getting, BPD or not.

It does not hurt for children to have compassion and respect for their parents and that can be present at quite an early age.

I would never have rocked the boat in that way from 6 years old and up and I had parents with MI issues.

Somehow though modern society seems to support people under the age of 18 to have bad behaviour as a norm and that can be catchy at school, just like a cold.

Yet up to about 12 they might want to test those sorts of instructions all depends on the individual child's personality.

Take care of you amongst the lot @Determined

 

Senior Contributor

Re: Meeting the needs of children when a parent suffers from mental illness

Hi @Determined

You are such a good parent seeking the best of care and welfare for your children.

How do parents help to support children to reduce the risk of mental illness in later life? A difficult one as my daughter received a lot of love, care and good parenting but still suffered mental health issues as a result of bullying and sexual abuse outside the home which lead to low self esteem in her, self destructive ways and instability. And I agree with @Appleblossom - that society does seem to approve certain bad behaviour in adolescents which makes it harder for parents to protect from the consequences and enhance respect for themselves and others. We as parents experienced this difficulty also. 

I didn't have a good childhood (my mother was mentally ill), and believe what would of helped to protect me from the consequential psychological suffering would of been parenting or attention from another caregivers that enhanced:-

. My self esteem and worth

. Feeling safe and loved 

. Being listened to

. Talking to me

. Reading me stories

. spending time with me and playing with me

. encouraging My strengths and self belief

. "Never arguing or yelling in front of me" ( causes anxiety in children )

. Feeling accepted warts and all

. Being there when I felt alone

. Encouraging me to talk without judgement or chastisement

. Providing healthy diet and promoting sport

. Taking me places and doing things with me having fun and making good memories 

. Spending quality time with me

. Believing in me

. Letting me know there are solutions to problems with the example of a positive outlook and actions. Teaching  coping abilities to overcome the hurdles in life

. teaching with example right from wrong; to respect myself and others (my mother had none for herself)

. Not drink heavily in front of me

. Not expressing disappointment in me personally for not living up to expectations ( expressing disappoint with bad behaviour is alright)

. Showing kindness and patience

. Reassuring all will be alright

. Hiding anger, negative attitudes and anguish from me (effects children if happening too much)

 . Needed to be told that they loved me

. Open Communication

. Show affection

. Hugs

And the best one - laughing with me. A sense of humour gives life zest and a protection from depression at any age. I received none of the above good as a child. As a consequence also I had very few good memories to look back on to get me through dark periods in my life and no real example of coping strategies to deal with life's bumps - that makes one more prone to mental disorders. I was a very resilient person as a result of surviving what I did though.

My father was good but rarely home and when he was could not express himself and that included telling me he loved me. I was never hugged. I was never congratulated for coming first in the class in grade 6 (which they did in those days) or when I was offered a scholarship in high school. Not even a "well done".  Never showed affection to me or each other.

The above in my humble opinion would give children the best start in life, which I am sure you are already doing.  It's a tall order and very hard to juggle in this day and age of high stress and little time. All we can do is our best. You are doing just that in a very difficult situation. And doing well. Love will win out in the end. Hope this helped.

 

.

 

Senior Contributor

Re: Meeting the needs of children when a parent suffers from mental illness

Thank you @Smc  @Appleblossom  @-Enigma-

Our children are not that bad really, just crying out for attention in ways that are meaningful to them.  As much as my parents tried and loved us children they failed as I am failing to connect in this way so I seem to be repeating the same mistakes.

Hard to connect emotionally when one is emotionally drained. I just need to keep on telling them I lovd them  and show them the best I can and put in place supports where I can giving the tools to makd sense of life. 

Senior Contributor

Re: Meeting the needs of children when a parent suffers from mental illness

Hi @Determined

You need to take it easier on yourself my friend - I know what it is like to be emotionally drained and then just facing the basics is a challenge. It's good to let our children know we love them and the best tools they can learn to coping with life is by our example I have learned. You do your best - there is not more anyone can do. And it's okay to have a bad day. 

Be kind to yourself, take a step back and rest your mind - pat yourself on the back for getting this far under very difficult circumstances. You are enduring out of love - you haven't given up a d are doing your best by them. Children will grow up and know that one day - and will know the difference between a parent who tries out of love and struggles to a parent who is selfish and cold. You are enduring out of love. "You have not failed the children". Never think that. The children will be okay as they know their Dad will always be there for them 😊🤗

Community Elder

Re: Meeting the needs of children when a parent suffers from mental illness

In many ways people try and over compensate for things/love/discipline/affection/stuff/guidance  they did not receive as children.

Self whipping helps nobody and it is best to settle on Good Enough with Genuine Effort.

I often have little "fleeting" engagements with families. Last night I met a mum with 2 boys travelling on regional rail, This morning I was called a "Fairy Piper".  My silly recorder echoing in an empty waiting room  had intrigued them and we had little friendly tete a tete .. but Parent supporting

Some people try and 'raise the child without the support of the village' but I am not sure how realistic an aim it is. You inspire me @Determined with your loyalty and honesty.

 

Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia (NT), MIFA(NT) is a non-government organisation providing services for people living with a mental illness and their carer’s and families. 

 

Image credit to Louise Denton Photography

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