As much as I’d like to say that I never question that I’m perfectly capable of being a great mom, that’s not always true. Sometimes, I think about my mental illnesses and wonder if I’m fit to be a mother. I wonder if I’m good enough for my son. I play the “what if” game.
What if he inherits my mental illnesses? What if I fail him? What if I’m not good enough?
I think every mom worries she’s not good enough, or not “doing it right”. But when you struggle with mental illness, it’s a whole different ballgame. You worry about things that other parents never have to think of.
You worry about genetics. You worry about your child’s mental health. Depending on your illness, you may worry that you’ll experience a relapse or mental “break”.
But, you know what?
I don’t think mental illness makes me a bad mom. I don’t think it makes you a bad mom. In fact, I think it can make us better parents. Here’s how.
DISCLAIMER: This post only applies to parents that have their illnesses under control. If you are struggling to go about your daily life, or are having thoughts of hurting yourself or others, PLEASE seek immediate medical attention. If not for yourself, then do it for your kids.
General Mental Illness
No matter what disorder you have, these apply to you.
We know to watch for it in our kids
I know a HUGE worry for me is that I’ll give my son all my crappy genes and his mental health will be garbage. But, on the bright side, we are much better prepared than parents who haven’t ever dealt with these things.
We know to remain vigilant. We know to look out for signs of mental illness. This gives us a distinct advantage (at least in my mind).
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We know how to approach the situation (sort of)
We know signs to watch for, but we also know how to approach the situation. That saying, “be the parent you needed” is so perfect when talking about mental illness. A lot of parents are just NOT equipped to handle their kid telling them there’s something invisible that is wrong with them.
Obviously, we are all individuals, so what your younger self would have found helpful might not be the same as what your child will find helpful. Remember anything your parents did that made things worse, and steer clear! It’s not a perfect, guaranteed fix, but I do think we have a leg up in this situation!
Anxiety Makes Me a Better Mom
Ugh. That knot in your stomach that never fades, that nagging voice in your head, the constant worrying… Anxiety is one of the most common forms of mental illness, so it’s a safe bet that a lot of moms struggle with this.
Anxiety makes us more cautious, which can be good!
We might be accused of being overly cautious, but wanting to double check our kids’ safety is never a bad thing. Obviously, this can veer into the realm of overprotective and unhealthy, so we need to keep ourselves in check. But if you keep your anxiety somewhat controlled, you can be healthily cautious. Go ahead, triple check that he’s got his seatbelt on. Remind him again to look both ways.
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We’re used to the stress
Physiologically, anxiety disorder puts us in a constant state of stress. We can build up a sort of resistance to the stress, which makes us good in tight spots.
I know this isn’t always true. For some with anxiety, any added stress puts them over the top. But for me personally, I work better when I’m under a bit of pressure.
And I think you’ll be hardpressed to find a mom out there who doesn’t think kids are stressful 😉
Depression Makes Me a Better Mom
You may not think it’s possible that depression could make you a good mom. Think again!
We’ve been to some of the darkest places there are. We know pain and suffering intimately. This makes it easier for us to empathize with our children’s pain.
Even if your child doesn’t have depression (thank God!) they will still inevitably get sad. Now, I know sadness isn’t the same as depression. But if your child experiences something that truly hurts them that you can’t quite understand, you have a lot of experience feeling hurt. You can pull from your repertoire and tweak it to fit the situation.
We also tend to feel EVERYTHING more deeply. Thus, we are able to empathize with our kids when other emotions come on strong.
You’re a fighter
No one said parenting is easy (if they did, I’d like some help over here). Sometimes you have to fight tooth and nail to get what’s best for your child. Well, you know how to do that. You’ve fought to climb out of the darkest places you’ve ever been. Fighting for your child will be a breeze.
What if I Don’t Feel Like a Good Mom?
Everyone has those days (mental illness or not)… We snap at our kid more than we should. We can’t handle the idea of making dinner, so the kids fend for themselves. We don’t get a single item checked off our to-do list.
Take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay.
First of all: Don’t drown in it! Maybe you didn’t have a great mom day today, but tomorrow can be different. The worst thing you can do right now is fall down the rabbit hole of blaming yourself. It was a bad day, move on. You can’t change the past.
Next, something I find helpful is distancing myself from the situation and looking at what happened. What did I do well? What do I need to improve on?
Big change generally starts with a small step. Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. Make small improvements and one day, they’ll lead to big improvements.
If your depression is making it hard to function, you need to talk to a professional. Getting help is actually the best thing you can do for your kids.
Do you try to use your mental illness as a strength? What else would you add to this list?