My friend Rita Arens wrote about anxiety and parenting with a mental illness.
“I’ve tried to insulate my daughter as much as I can from my anxiety, but when you live with people, it can be hard. Especially when you’re alone with them as much as I’m alone with my girl. As a result of seeing me cry sometimes for no reason and telling her hey, it’s not you, I’m just sad and sometimes I get sad and I don’t know why, hold on, I’ll stop in a minute, I hope she is kind to herself if she ever cries for no reason. I want to make the world perfect for her but I know that I can’t and actually I shouldn’t, because if I did, she wouldn’t know her own strength.”
Parenting with a mental illness is not easy. Rita wrote so beautifully about the fears of those of us who go through this that we’re hurting our children in some way. I always worry that I’m contaminating my children with my own mental illness, as if every time they rub up against me they’ll get what I’ve got.
Don’t touch me. You’ll get the anxiety.
I know genetically speaking that my kids are more predisposed to mental illness, but I have to remind myself it doesn’t mean they’re doomed.I also have to remind myself that I’m not ruining my children’s lives by being who I am.
Yes, they see me worry. They hear me caution. They know that daddy is more likely to give them wide birth and let them experiment, whereas mommy wants to keep everyone safe no matter what, even when there’s nothing to really keep them safe from.
Yet, I’m a good mom despite my anxiety. I do everything possible to control it.To take responsibility for it and manage it to the extent that I can.
It would be helpful if I wasn’t so uptight. I have seen how it has made them at times more cautious than necessary. If I thought about it too long I could descend into unending guilt and despair that my anxiety is hurting them, yet succumbing to guilt and despair would make me a far worse parent than I ever am now.
Here’s what I want my children to know: When it comes to my brain, I have challenges with the way it works. I’m an anxious person, more than most. I deal with it the best I can, thanks to supportive people, coping tools, and medication. Those things don’t fix my brain 100%, they just make my brain easier to live with.
Also, my mental illness is all relative, in the scheme of things. Challenges abound in life. I have anxiety, but there are a lot of things I don’t have. I don’t have diabetes or heart disease. I don’t have anger management problems. I don’t have a job or marriage I hate.
There are all sorts of things that affect parents lives that may in turn affect their parenting too. None of these things makes a parent bad or good. They just are. Not managing them could turn into a problem, yes, but otherwise they are part of life. No parent is perfect, except as a perfect display of real humanity with all of its flaws.
I have things that make me feel good about myself, and things I wish weren’t part of who I am. I have cavities. I also have great hair and good blood pressure. I love public speaking. I’m kind of afraid of heights. I’m a real pain in the ass when I have my period. I’m great at putting my kids to bed. I’m a good cook, but I can’t barbecue worth a shit.
I’m resilient. I can help you with language arts homework all day, but I’ve never been able to count, so don’t even ask me about math. I spend too much. I’m empathetic. I’m loving. I sometimes let the laundry pile up and the floors get dirty. I help others, but I’m terrible at keeping up with my friends.
Good and bad. Whatever.
I’m not ruining my kids because I have a fairly well-managed mental illness any more than I’m ruining them because I burn the meat and can’t count and become highly over-dramatic one week each month.
One of my favorite quotes, and one that I’ve shared with the Daily Hope subscribers, is the following:
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. ~ Plato
This is what I want to teach my kids about life and about mental illness. I hope the battle I fight with anxiety is a lesson to my children that we all have battles, numerous battles, and that it would be a mistake to expect they won’t have them too.
If their battle is with mental illness, so be it. If it’s with something else, so be it. All battles count. None are better. None are worse. They simply are.
Learning to control my anxiety has made me much more compassionate for people, sometimes people I don't want to have compassion for. But you're right, that's good, and this is just one challenge in a world of challenges. Thanks for this, Kat.
Kick ass post. Really! Being a mom is challenging job on every level: Emotionally, physically, and mentally.
Thank you for this, I spent a whole therapy session once spilling out how I worried about being a parent with depression and passing that along. I've grown to accept my depression and to wrap it up as part of me since. Such an important post.
Thank you so much for this. My 18mo gave me his first kiss last week and made my fears and worries over our bonding because of my anxiety and PPD started to fade. And even though I'm battling to manage my BPD2 under control, and know my boys are genetically predisposed to it, I'm reminding myself daily that I'm doing what I can, am being compliant with my treatment plan, and that I'm still a great mom….and that they love me despite what I struggle with.
Sorry for the typos! Posting from my phone lol
Brilliant post. Thank you.
One of my greatest anxieties upon accepting what was happening to me with PPD and PPA was a deep guilt that in having my brain chemistry as part of his genetic makeup I had cursed my son to anxiety and depression in the future. However, with treatment, both cognitive and drug, I can become more resilient and, in turn, make him less vulnerable and, as he gets older more educated and more likely to seek treatment early.
I liked this. But I also want the facts too please! My kids are definately affected by what I have gone through. Two of them really struggled, and one is not better yet. And my husband. I'm not sure how you give out the info, because like you say, concentrating on the positives is good. But, I could have done things better with my family if I'd had more info.
What kind of info are you looking for, Sarah Freeman? What are we missing that you'd like us to add?
Wow, this was the best post I've ever read about this topic. It's like it fell out of my head fully formed, and into your head, and then onto this page. Only, when it landed in your head it got much more articulate. THANK YOU. I have to link to this! I have four kids, and with 3 of the 4 had PPD/A~for me it was less the genetic possibility and more the emotional 'damage' of living with a crazy mom that made me wild with anxiety. Like, wild.
Treatment makes a world of difference. It's hard to believe I lived so long, so out of control, so untreated.
That post was so good it outed me as a lurker. =) Nice work.
Yay! A delurking moment! Woohooo!!!!
Melissa, your comment "…fell out of my head fully formed, and into your head, and then onto this page. Only, when it landed in your head it got much more articulate." So, thank YOU.
Thank you, Katherine. This post could not have come at a better time. I had a meltdown at the dinner table last night over this exact topic. I will be re-reading this post probably everyday for awhile.
God bless you both.
Glad it helps Heidi!!
Great post – and website! I just wanted to add that this is also generational, which can make it even harder. My grandmother had PPP(sychosis), which was repeated when my mom had each of her children. My mom didn't have PP-issues (thankfully) but struggled mightily to parent her children "normally", as opposed to what she remembered as a little girl. Your post here reminds me exactly of what she's told me as an adult – that she wanted to make sure she did everything for us exactly right so that we'd never experience difficulties of ANY kind. Of course, impossible, but the urge to protect is so so strong. And although I had some prenatal depression with my first pregnancy, I've been thankfully ok PP with all my kids – thanks in large part to my mom's support.
this was beautifully written.
I struggle with anxiety/depression too so thank-you 🙂
So very timely for me to read this. I really try to hold that it is good for my daughter to see my struggle and when she is older to hear about it. In the now, however, it is challenging. Her preschool (with our consent) brought in a child therapist to evaluate her play (which is deeply imaginative but also has some unusual rigidity and anxiety about others). The therapist was insightful and very compassionate when we met with her but also echo'd what I knew to be true in my heart…our girl is working out something in this play and part of that is probably about her experiences as a baby/toddler with mom who would become unavailable bc of PPD. Trying to just stay present with her, reassure her and let her play through this with our love and support. I do feel sad about it. Trying not to dwell bc I cannot change the past.
As a daughter of a woman with depression and ADHD, I can tell you you are NOT "messing up" your kids. AS long as you continue to work on yourself, your kids see and learn from that more than from your illness.
Thank you. Thank you.