Why It Was Important to Explain Mental Illness to My Children
Most would agree that while being a good parent is a challenging job, being a good parent while having mental health issues of your own is a task that is no easy feat.
I used to feel terrible for bringing my beautiful children into the world – not because I do not want them, I wanted them so very much and still do; my life would not be complete without them. This feeling was because I had brought children into this world when I was struggling with depression and anxiety; depression and anxiety that were consuming me and, in my mind, made me a horrible excuse for a mother.
I am raising two amazing sons. I am biased, of course, but when I see them and how they respond to others, there is a sense of pride in knowing they have empathy and consideration. That empathy and consideration are largely because they are just beautiful kids with good hearts, but there is most definitely a good measure of learned behavior in there too.
My husband and I have always tried to be very open and honest with our children, giving them age-appropriate explanations and talking candidly about any topic. Mental health is one of them. We have explained that sometimes depression or anxiety can make people act differently to how they really want, and that those people still need to have friends too. We have openly talked about my hospital admission with them, and the need for me to take medications. We explained in detail about how your brain can change when you have been sad for a long time.
We have educated them in their emotions, and their right to feel them and express them in a healthy manner. We have spent countless hours talking with them about caring for others, even when you feel badly yourself, and that there is no excuse for treating another person badly just because you don’t feel nice.
These are not easy conversations to have; no parent wants their children to see them as weak or flawed. However, children have big hearts and a lot more intelligence than we often give them credit for. They don’t judge the same way some adults do. I personally have found my sons are quick to forgive and fast to offer thoughtful comments, both to myself and to other adults, because they are more alert to the fact that grownups have feelings much like their own at times.
Children also need to be aware of the signs in themselves, because it is a fact that early intervention is helpful to management and recovery in mental health.
When our young son started to have anxious feelings and depressive thoughts of his own, he was aware of how they were affecting his actions and felt comfortable to talk to us about them – moreover, because of my own mental health problems, we knew what kind of help to get him, and where to seek it from.
Yes, I am a mum who struggles to look after herself some days; being a present parent is at times too much. There are many days I berate and belittle myself for the things I cannot do, or have not done well because of my illness. However, today I am proud that I have been able to use these experiences to make sure my children know their own feelings and are accepting and sympathetic to those of others.
I am raising children who are happy, despite being informed about depression; they are knowledgeable about mental health, they are kind, thoughtful, and self-aware. Most of all they are empathetic and understanding, and I am so proud of them.
Follow this journey on The Art of Broken
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