Raising a family when your parents have mental health conditions

Having a family, a young one at that, it was hard enough having to manage the routine changes of family life. Then 3 out of 4 of our parents got ill. It started with my Dad just before we were married. His mental health took a turn for the worse. He left my Mum and left us all desperately wondering what had gone wrong and when the NHS would step up and see he was ill (we’re still waiting). He is a constant worry but rejects family care so we learnt to live with it.

My partner’s parents helped with child care after she returned to work after our first child, we then had our second child and thought everything was planned out. But then just months after my wife gave birth, her Mum had a nervous breakdown. We dealt with it by being honest with each other, staying calm and coming up with a plan to overcome whatever lay ahead. Then her Dad also had a breakdown and subsequently a major stroke. It was a dark time. My wife’s maternity leave was spent desperately trying to sort out care for her parents while we worked out how we could manage work and child care in the days ahead. While nothing is the same, we’re strong and we got through it. In the hardest of hard days we took it an hour at a time. A day at a time. We still looked for blessings and God didn’t fail us.

This whole experience has made us grow up a lot and there has been learning. Here are some reflections for anyone going through the same thing.

  1. Your home needs to be a haven. When the doors are shut you need to be able to let it all out. If that means crying, cry. If that means shouting, shout. Be there for each other even when it’s ugly and raw and painful. Life is not all roses.

  2. Don’t be afraid to ask other family members for help, they can’t help you if they don’t know what’s going on. This also goes for work colleagues. Help can come in all sorts of packages. People will surprise you. The ones you thought would be there will disappear, the ones that are meant to be there will come into your life.

  3. Know your rights and don’t be afraid to challenge services. My wife spent hours and hours on the phone demanding the right support and it was the difference between life and death. It shouldn’t have to be that way, but it is.

  4. Use Google. There is a lot of helpful information out there from charities representing different health concerns. For us that was MIND and SANE.

  5. Have a response ready for the children as they will ask questions. Consider carefully what they need to know and where they need protection. My wife made a decision that it wasn’t appropriate to take them into hospital when her Dad was very ill. These are tough calls but as a parent you should follow your intuition.

  6. Look after your own health. It can be tempting to turn to old vices like alcohol and cigarettes but they won’t fix it. The best thing you can do is eat well, sleep and exercise. These things make an enormous difference. Your children need you to hold your shit together. You’re the grown up now – not the child.

  7. Life is precious so spend as much time as you can with your family and friends; work is not the be all and end all of everything. Find time to do date nights, build relationships with the children and work on that summer body. If hard times teach us anything it’s to count our blessings and there are always blessings.

Written anonymously

Leave a Reply