Staying Calm While Raising a Child with Mental Illness
« Raising a child with mental illness is probably one of the easiest things I’ve ever done. I’m always calm, and I never need any help, » said no one ever.
To be honest with you, raising a child with mental illness is the most stressful job I’ve ever had. There’s definitely a learning curve, and I’ve definitely made more than a few mistakes.
I make even more mistakes, though, when I don’t stay calm. That part is up to me. My kid is going to act like a small child with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) because that’s what he is. It’s my job to act like a calm, rational adult.
Sometimes, though, that’s easier said than done. Here’s why.
Raising a Child with Mental Illness is the Longest, Craziest, Most Fun Roller Coaster Ride Ever
I don’t even like roller coaster rides, but I wouldn’t trade this one for anything.
That doesn’t mean I always enjoy it. Raising a child with mental illness comes with a lot of noisy busy-ness, plenty of tantrums, and more than a little disobedience (both intentional and unintentional).
It’s a lot to handle, and dealing with my own mental health issues doesn’t help. My depression ebbs and flows sometimes without warning, and when it flows, I can get irritable, distant, weepy–traits that make it difficult to stay calm while I tackle the most important job of my life: raising a child with mental illness.
However, more than anything my little boy needs me to stay calm and patient. In a study of 391 parents of six- to eight-year-old children with and without ADHD, anger in parents aggravated ADHD symptoms in their kids1. The angrier the parents, the worse off their children were in terms of their mental illness.
Obviously, my son needs me to chill, but how do I give him something I can barely give myself at times?
How I Stay Calm While Raising a Child with Mental Illness (Even When the Roller Coaster Gets Crazy)
Staying calm when life is at its craziest isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. In the long run, it helps me, my child, and everyone else in my life. So how do I pull it off?
- I stay grateful. Raising a child with mental illness might feel like a burden sometimes, but really it’s a blessing. My boy has so much uniqueness to share, and I get to be a part of all of it. When I stay grateful, I can enjoy his childhood, even the parts that aren’t fun.
- I focus on how cute my little boy is. No matter what he’s doing, my kid always has one thing going for him: he’s unbearably cute. When I concentrate on that, it makes me want to love him and be patient with him, and I’m less likely to let any irritation I might be feeling take over.
- I let people help me raise my child. I don’t have a lot of people nearby who can help me, but those who are around, I welcome their help, even if they aren’t perfect at what they do. When it comes to loved ones who are farther away, I listen to the advice they have for me. Everyone has something to give.
- I write about my experiences raising a child with mental illness. I’m honest when I write, too, and when other parents reach out to say they can relate to my mistakes, it helps me feel better about myself as a mother. The ironic thing is I know those other parents probably feel a little better, too.
- I remind myself that my son can’t always control his behavior. Often, he isn’t even aware of what he’s doing. If I can remember that my child struggles with mental illness just like I do, then I might feel more compassionate towards the sometimes aggravating things he can’t help but do.
- I keep my voice low. As soon as I start raising my voice, I start to lose control of my feelings, and it’s really hard to come back from that. It’s easier to not raise my voice at all. Besides, if I start yelling, then everyone gets stressed out. Whatever the situation is, keeping my voice low won’t hurt anything.
- I keep a sense of humor about myself. Raising a child with mental illness is funny sometimes, so I have to keep a sense of humor about myself. You can’t laugh and be stressed out at the same time. Sometimes all you can do is kick back and enjoy your people.
Raising a child with mental illness means my patience will be tested, but it’s up to me to figure out how to keep myself calm. That’s my responsibility as my son’s mother, and it makes more of a lasting difference to him than I may ever know.
- Bhide, Simpada et al. « Association Between Parenting Style and Socio-Emotional and Academic Functioning in Children With and Without ADHD: A Community-Based Study. » Journal of Attention Disorders, July 2016.