Parenting With a SMI (Serious Mental Illness)

Updated on December 30, 2017
DulcyWarfield profile image

Mother of 3 humans and 7 fur babies. A wife, friend and aspiring artist, she has both personal and professional experience in mental health.

Humans Parenting Mini Humans

You can be a loving and successful parent, even when you're not well. One of the best things you can do for your children is to raise them to understand that no single human is perfect. Allow them to make mistakes without punishing them so much that they feel they have to be perfect. They need to understand that they are human, and humans make mistakes, have problems, feelings, and emotions.

As parents, we need to remember to practice what we "preach". We are human. We get sick. We make mistakes and have character flaws. That is OK. Allow yourself to be human.


You can raise happy children, even when you're not always well.
You can raise happy children, even when you're not always well. | Source

"Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do."

— -Dr. Benjamin Spock

Helpful Hints to Smoother Parenting for Parents With a Mental Illness

  • Make "To Do" Lists: I find that I have so many things in my head all at once, I get overwhelmed. This leads to unnecessary stress and anxiety. The last thing I want to do, is take this out on my children. If I get things written down on paper, I can cross them off when I've completed them. It gets it out of my head and just that simple action, will help take some of the weight off.
  • Treatment: If you're having trouble knowing where to start, get help. See a counselor. They will guide you in the right direction. Maybe you just need an unbiased ear. Maybe your suffering greatly and need medication. Whatever you do, don't go through it alone. There is always someone who cares.
  • Join a Group: Most towns or cities have small groups, formed by people just like you and I. If you have been diagnosed with a specific disorder, you can look for a group of people with your same struggle. Hearing from others who are struggling just like you, may be a great way to learn some healthy new coping skills.
  • Create a Crisis Plan: A crisis plan will help you when you feel like you're completely losing it. If you feel lost, it will have the answers you need. A good crisis plan should have your emergency contacts, including your doctor, Mental Health Facility contacts, a list of all of your current medications, directions for a trusted friend or family member on what to do if you are in crisis. I will post links to help you get started on your own W.R.A.P (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) book.
  • Keep the Kids Busy: Busy kids are better behaved. Half the time, they are acting out because they're bored. Enrolling them in classes, sports and other activities will keep them out of trouble. Be sure that if you plan to do this, you are committed to participating or at least spectating. This is very important to your children.
  • Make Date Nights With the Kids: The more one-on-one time they get with you, the less needy the are. They feel more secure. Happier. Make a plan to schedule time each week, even just an hour, when they get complete undivided attention. It may be difficult if you have multiple children (like I do) but they will get used to it. Everyone deserves special time. Happy, secure children.. that is the goal.
  • Alone Time: Go to a movie, go for a drive (that's my personal favorite), take a long bath, take a class in something you're interested in. Taking time alone for yourself is very important. You should not feel guilty about doing this. Just remember to schedule time just for the kids too.
  • Don't Forget Your Strengths: It's easy to remember all of our flaws. Try to keep notes to yourself. Write down one or two strengths every day. Soon you'll realize you have more self-confidence than you realized.
  • Stay Active. Find Your Passion: For me, it's pretty much any form of art. It makes me feel accomplished. I created something from nothing. It builds self-esteem and it's very important to remember that you are an individual. Being a parent is only part of who you are.

Get out and explore with your kids. Sometimes just seeing life through their eyes can pull you out of a slump.
Get out and explore with your kids. Sometimes just seeing life through their eyes can pull you out of a slump. | Source

"If you fell down yesterday, stand up today."

— H.G. Wells

Communicating With the Little Ones

Be honest. It's okay to tell children we're not well. They're going to notice anyway. On the other hand, it's not necessary (and can be detrimental) to give them too many details. They do not need to hear that you're feeling like hurting yourself, but it is o.k. to let them know you are feeling sad. Maybe a reassuring hug and a reminder of how much you're loved and needed, is just the therapy you may need in that moment.

Allow them to develop as individuals. One thing I actually love about myself is my open-mindedness. Sometimes is is a flaw but mostly, I try to embrace it. I realize it can be an asset to parenting. My children are wonderful adults now. In part, because I allowed them to grow on their own. I didn't choose faith or politics for them. I didn't force a particular music or clothing style. I introduced them to as much as I could then let them pick. They are confident because they grew up with the gift of free will. There were many times I had to "guide" them in a safe direction but for the most part, they made logical, safe and moral decisions for themselves.

I Screwed Up a Lot

There were (and still are) plenty of times where I was in a state of mania or depression, where I was a crappy Mom. My self esteem was so low that I made horrible relationship choices. I stayed in very abusive relationships, for way too long. Even though they were never physically harmed, I'm 100% positive that my choices caused them to have a distorted sense of what a healthy relationship looked like. Fortunately, they've learned from my mistakes.

Happy Kids

Even at my worst times, I tried to make sure my children were happy and safe. (This particular photo was taken during one of the most abusive relationships I was involved in.)
Even at my worst times, I tried to make sure my children were happy and safe. (This particular photo was taken during one of the most abusive relationships I was involved in.) | Source

Therapy for Your Children

Sometimes, you have to suggest to your children that an unbiased opinion (and ear) would benefit them greatly. Having a mentally ill parent is very difficult for a child. Believe it or not, they tend to feel like the parent themselves, if you're not careful. Again, don't punish yourself, just get them some help and reassure them that you will be ok. You are taking care of yourself and they need to enjoy being a kid.

Self-Control

The most difficult part of all of this.. the parenting, illness, life in general, is maintaining self control. It is vital that we control our anger. Control our actions and reactions. I know it seems impossible at times but, it's not. It will take time. You will backslide and you may need "outside" help. Do whatever you need to in order to maintain control of yourself. Take just 5 minutes alone if you have to. Call a friend. Call a babysitter.

Maintaining control of yourself is so important in protecting your children. I tell you this because I've been there. I have lost control and sometimes, when I get overly stressed or triggered, I still do. If you want to feel regret, losing control of your emotions will definitely lower your self-esteem in the long run.

It's Never Too Late to Start

Anytime is a good time to start. Better late than never.... make the changes you need to be a better version of yourself. Give your kids the best future you can, by giving them a great present. Remember that the relationships that they experience now, will reflect in their future ones.

Time and Patience

Happy healthy children.
Happy healthy children. | Source

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