Dissociative Parenting: Memory, Mistakes, and Middle School

September 9, 2010 Holly Gray

Yesterday was a big day for me and my son. He started middle school. I received a painful reminder that I'd be a better mother if I didn't have Dissociative Identity Disorder and the unique memory problems that go with it. I knew it'd be a stressful day for him. The first day of the school year is always a little nerve-racking. Ratcheting up the tension was the newness of middle school - lockers, changing classrooms, six teachers instead of one. I really wanted him to have a good first day. I made sure he had all of his school supplies and some new clothes. I took him to an orientation last week where he got his schedule, toured the school, and met his teachers. We talked about what to expect and how he felt. I dropped him off at 8am yesterday, satisfied that I'd done all I could to make his first day go smoothly.

I Forgot I'm Parenting with A Handicap Called Dissociative Identity Disorder

"How was it?" I asked as he got in the car after school. He didn't look at me, but I could see he was trying not to cry. I shifted into empathetic mother mode and got ready to save the day. I took my cape off when he said, voice breaking:

I missed the first day of school. It was yesterday. My friends asked me where I was and I thought it was a prank. It wasn't. Everybody knew what they were doing but me. It was embarrassing.

There's plenty about Dissociative Identity Disorder that's painful, but nothing hurts like failing my child. I know mistakes are part of parenting. And I know that you don't have to have DID to take your kid to the first day of middle school on what is actually the second day. Normal parents with reasonably cohesive identities occasionally forget really important things. But I'm not a normal parent with a reasonably cohesive identity. And mine aren't your garden variety memory problems. When things like this happen, I don't smack my forehead and say, "Oh that's right! I forgot!" Because I didn't forget. I never knew. I didn't know yesterday was the first day of school.

When I Say Memory Problems ...

People with Dissociative Identity Disorder don't forget in the same way the rest of the world forgets. My brain's default setting is compartmentalization to a degree that most people don't experience or understand. Information comes in, but I may never see it before it's stored somewhere that's inaccessible to me. Without outsourcing memory to tools like calendars and cell phone alerts, everything - including parenting - is a crapshoot. I rely on those and other tools to tell me what to do because so often I don't know what to do. Still, they're not foolproof. Evidence of that is on my desk in the form of my calendar, open to Wednesday, September 8. Written in large, bold letters are the words, "First day of school!"

APA Reference
Gray, H. (2010, September 9). Dissociative Parenting: Memory, Mistakes, and Middle School, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Author: Holly Gray

February, 4 2018 at 9:39 pm

Thank you so much for posting this... It's scary to try feel like no matter how hard you try, you still cannot succeed. Your children are probably all grown by now, but I hope they paid attention to how hard you tried and never gave up. My daughter is 9yo and has had truly strange difficulties with memory since we started fostering her when she was 3. She is one of the sweetest human beings to ever walk this earth, just a smart, loving, considerate and thoughtful young lady. She explained to her counselor that she's been forgetting who she is and everyone she knows 4-6 times a day for a few minutes each, and while waiting for the dr appt., I started looking things up. It's highly likely she has some kind of dissociative disorder, both from her history and her current experiences... And she blames herself for the things she doesn't remember. I will tell you what I told her: it's just not your fault. Everybody has something in their life that makes it hard, this is your thing. Just keep doing your best, because that IS succeeding.

October, 16 2016 at 5:02 pm

I lose track of time everyday. A couple of years ago i noticed stuff would appear in my home. It's been nerve racking today because I've noticed changes have been in the weirdest places. It's as if they moved on there own or that I'm not alone. It only happens as far as i know a couple times a month. It's getting really difficult for me to find a doctor to listen to me and to actually admit i have DID. I have talked to doctors about it all my life and everyone has a different diagnoses.

June, 5 2016 at 1:21 pm

I have DID. Ive known for years but have kept it to myself. I stopped going to therapy when they suggested it. I was and still am afraid. I wanted to have a normal life, you know, with kids and a husband and a house with a white fence and such. It seems my hidden self has made it very difficult to find my happyness. Im married, but every day is a fight. He doesnt understand why one day i say and do and dress one way, then the next i seem to have forgotten all about it and am "another person" he loves one of me and hates another and has no patience for the third. Worst yet, he does not believe in mental illness which i thought was a blessing so he would never guess my secret, but now that ive tried explaining in order to save our failing relationship, i see it for the curse it is. On top of that, one of me hates him and just keeps hurting him and i can make up for it any more. Added to the mix, we have two boys 5 and 2 who both have ASD and my oldest Exhibits signs of DID. His alter is mean and violent and hurts himself sometimes. Now he has another someone who seems to be female. My husband insists there is no such thing as mental illness and says our sons are just trying to get attention. I still dont want to come out with my illness because im afraid someone will use it to take my boys from me and regardless of my alters, we love our sons more than life. I know if my boys were not here, i would have killed myself long ago. I know in the face of immenent divorce, i need help, but can anyone tell me, if i do get help, can it be used against me to take my kids away?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

January, 8 2018 at 8:49 pm

Hi mama86 it's been two years since you last posted but I am a daughter to a mother who has DID, when my mom was diagnosed with it I didn't have to leave her but I could not realy be alone with her or more like it was suggested I should not be alone in case if she were to revictimize, switch, try to self harm or so on. It is important to get help my mom has been in therapy for 19years now she is fighting everyday. She still is diagnosed with it but therapy helps her. Anyways I just thought you should know your kids can't be taken away unless they are out in danger. But it's important to know that even if your not harming them physically it is traumatizing to see the parent harm themselves and it's is painful when the parent dissociative. Anyways best luck to you

February, 14 2016 at 5:24 am

Hi Jess,
It helps me to put everything on my phone with alarms. My therapist and my instructor at college think I'm very detail oriented and organized, but my kids would laugh if they heard it. Before the smart phone I would miss appointments, despite having a calendar and white board in the hallway to remind me. It worked to an extent, but the alarms dinging work better for me.

February, 5 2016 at 6:15 am

I was looking through Internet resources for parenting with DID and I found this. I'm soon to be a young mom with DID. I'm only 25 and my child is due in August. My husband, of course, is supportive of me and my alters but I haven't a clue how this whole parenting thing is going to go.
I like to think I have a healthy handle on my disorder but the memory problems drive me insane. I always repeat myself because I don't remember telling people what I just said. I ask the same questions over and over because I can't remember what the answer was or even if I asked the question. I have to leave bills on the fridge and remove them as they get paid and check them each day to make sure I don't miss the due dates. I feel like someone with early dementia because I just can't remember sometimes.
So I guess the question is, what are your effective ways to keep track of important dates. I don't work right now so I don't have a system set up but I know I'm really going to need one. I'm going to try and remember important dates but like you told, it doesn't always work. So I'm going to need a good system. What works for you?

Holly Keller
March, 1 2015 at 11:34 am

Greetings to all,
I was so excited when I stumbled across this blog. I could identify with everything. I too am bi-polar along with personality disorder.
I was blaming my memory problems on the side affect from being on chemo for a year after being diagnosed with melanoma. I knew it was more than a little memory problem when I woke up to see my sister, with whom I live with getting dressed; I asked where she was going and she replied, "to work" with a confused look on her face and I said, "what happened to Saturday and Sunday"? I didn't remember where I went, what I ate or even what I wore! I knew this was more than a little memory problem. My short term memory is nonexistent! It's scary, embarrassing because I can't hold a normal conversation with people and frustrating to say the least. My world revolves around calendars, post-it notes and phone reminders. I have not been diagnosed professionaly but after reading these blogs I am Definately going to talk to my doctor. Thanks to all of you who were brave enough to share your stories.

May, 31 2011 at 10:03 am

I have the worst memory in the world. I'm so absent-minded that I feel downright stupid sometimes. This sounds like something I would do, miss the 1st day of school. Information goes into my head (supposedly) and I dont know where it goes.

September, 14 2010 at 6:35 am

Hi Holly,
Thank you for your kind comment. As I read back what I wrote, I can see where I made a blanket statement regarding normal children. That was just my bitterness and jealousy coming through and it was good for me to have a reality check through your responses. Of course most parents are aware and grateful their children are well, plus they have their own private struggles, and out of my own pain, my comment was somewhat narrow-minded to say the least.
Your blog really hit home when you wrote about your experience trying to parent your child while suffering from a mental illness. I sit here paralyzed by my illness, feeling guilty for not being more involved in my other child's life (my ill child refuses to have anything to do with me). Yet my well child, 10 year old daughter is the opposite - trying to compensate for her brother? She's cheerful, spirited, positive, loving and we are almost joined at the hip. Because I am not well right now, she sits there right along with me and watches Dallas reruns.
In a perfect world, I would like to be teaching her cooking, to clean her room, help with chores, be involved with her school. It started out that way - until my son got so ill and brought me down with him.
My friends and family don't understand, and it's hard to try to get together with them, and try to talk about normal things, to hide all the pain I'm in - they've heard it from me all before - it gets so tiresome to be the one taking and not able to be giving. I don't want to call anyone because I'll break down into tears just hearing their kind voices. I just do want to do that AGAIN!! That old merry go round has to stop!!
I should mention I am a psychiatric nurse working here in British Columbia, Canada. I get the rewards from work instead of the constant failures, frustrations and disappointments from home. I have a different face and another tank that is not empty and I can give and inspire from my heart, my education and experience.
I had a wonderful, lively conversation with a group of patients all mentally ill enough to be hospitalized. They were all higher educated, more intelligent and knowledgeable than I was. The theories and opinions they all had, all university educated, some more than with one degree, yet too ill at this time to be able to function in their day to day lives.
I am able to sound more optimistic than this, I am just having a low moment. Thank goodness for this blog - a place where I am not speaking a foreign language and people understand, plus I am no longer the only one, I can now speak about myself.
You and I have different illnesses - myself bipolar depression, but the outcome is still the same - pain, guilt and frustration.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
September, 16 2010 at 6:50 am

Lori -
Your earlier comment didn't read as narrow-minded to me at all. I just wanted to share a version of that oft repeated caution against "comparing your insides with other people's outsides." It's a little simplistic, I know, and it irritates me sometimes because I believe there's true value in comparisons. But particularly when I feel defeated by my limitations in some area - like I did about parenting the day I wrote this post - it helps me to remember that I cannot know anyone's private struggles like I know my own. Mental illness brings with it real isolation, and I certainly don't mean to gloss that over with a peppy, "Well, everyone has struggles!" There is no denying that your situation as a parent is not something most people can relate to. And that's lonely and it makes the day-to-day struggle that much harder. It just helps me to remember that everyone knows some sort of struggle, even if they don't or are unwilling to understand mine. I guess it makes me feel like a human being, a fallible member of the human race.
"In a perfect world, I would like to be teaching her cooking, to clean her room, help with chores, be involved with her school. "
I definitely relate to feeling like you're shortchanging your child because of the demands and limitations of mental illness. I worry about that often. My mother did a great job with that kind of stuff - teaching those basic skills like how to do laundry, cook, etc. Meanwhile my son will be twelve tomorrow and doesn't know how to properly wash a dish.
"You and I have different illnesses - myself bipolar depression, but the outcome is still the same - pain, guilt and frustration."
That's for sure.
Thanks, Lori, for commenting.

September, 9 2010 at 8:33 am

I too have a mental illness, but complicating that is I also have a very challenging special needs and mentally ill 13 year old child. So you put the two of us together and the recipe is not great.
I have suffered much guilt over what I have not been able to do, to follow all the many suggestions given to me by the experts on how to parent my son - I do give him love and a stable home - all of my health and my time has gone into researching ways to help him, fighting for resources, for which now I have received basically all of them. Then all of the input and suggestions pushed me over the edge - I ended up having to say no, push the experts away and ask them to please leave us alone.
I believe my son may have done better if I could have kept up the consistancy of all of their suggestions - remained tough enough to withstand all of his resistance, oppositional and anger, but my mental illness of bipolar depression exacerbated with the enormous amount of stress involved trying to parent this extremely challenging child.
I'm supposed to be consistant with getting my two children to do chores, put more energy into balanced nutrition, brushing their teeth, more productive activities, but I barely have enough emotional and physical energy to provide for their basic needs, which is to be there for them, make sure they have food, love, stable home. That's all I can do. Just basic survival. I feel I have short-changed them - time is spent with experts, appointments, extra time needed to try to help my son, plus the experts want me to find some "me" time. That's mostly possible with someone without a mental illness, who doesn't have the extra challenges I have.
There is no opportunity to be able to take for granted what other families appear to be able to take for granted - normal children who are not mentally challenged, who can take part in normal activities, children who don't suffer from depression and are constantly sad, angry and negative. We cannot live as a family - my husband is the primary caregiver for my 13 year old son - I am the primary caregiver for my 10 year old daughter. We cannot do anything as a family, go out, have people over, even sit at the dinner table together - my son is too ill.
I try to relish the rare moments of calm when there is not a tornado going on in our home, one in which each of us suffers. I try to look ahead to a few years from now, hoping there will be an end to this, and wishing for the old difficult life, not realizing how my life was to become a lot more difficult.
Sorry to sound like such a whiner.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
September, 11 2010 at 12:20 pm

Hi Lori,
I really can't imagine what it would be like to not only parent with Dissociative Identity Disorder, but parent a mentally ill child with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Parenting, and life in general, would be far more difficult, I've no doubt.
Even so, I can certainly relate to some of what you've shared.
"I’m supposed to be consistant with getting my two children to do chores, put more energy into balanced nutrition, brushing their teeth, more productive activities, but I barely have enough emotional and physical energy to provide for their basic needs, which is to be there for them, make sure they have food, love, stable home."
My child isn't mentally ill, but the above resonates so well with my experience as a mother I could have written it myself.
Those of us who don't have mentally ill children probably do take some things for granted now and then. And a little perspective goes a long way towards reminding us to be grateful for what we have. With that in mind, I'd like to thank you for commenting and sharing some of your story. But I'd also like to point out that though many families may take things like well children for granted, many also struggle privately with other challenges that make life exceedingly difficult, though in different ways. It's also worth noting that grief and frustration does not preclude gratitude. In other words, even if a family truly does have the easiest possible existence, and even if they sometimes give voice to complaints and grievances that seem comparatively trivial, it doesn't mean they're not also capable of recognizing their good fortune.
And for what it's worth, your comment doesn't read as whining to me at all.

Leave a reply