Parents Not Always the Enemy (Pt 1)

December 16, 2010 Angela McClanahan

There are some issues surrounding children with mental illness, their parents, blame and anger, I want to explore. While I'm collecting my thoughts, however, I ask you to consider this, originally posted on my personal blog in July, 2007.

Kindergarten starts August 20, 2007. Bob is registered. He's had his tour of the school. He can't wait. Me? I'm freaking out.hug1

There's the obvious--Bob's behavior issues, the possibility they will follow him, and what will happen if they do.

But there's more to it than that.

Bob is my only child. We've known each other about 6 years now, but it seems like a lifetime. We've had our share of highs and lots of lows. Our relationship has gone from great to horrible and back again. We've laughed together, we've cried together, we've butted heads more than I can count.

Bob started daycare at 5 months. Since then, he's been enrolled in some form of preschool, so the transition to public school shouldn't be a big deal. But it is. Preschool is where you take naps, wear pull-ups, and have snacks, and even though everyone would like it very much if you learned to read and write, the real focus is on learning how to function in the world. As long as you're in preschool, you're still a baby. And you'll probably be one forever.

Once you walk through the doors of public school, you're not a baby anymore. It's official.

My Baby Is Growing Up

Deep in Bob's closet is a music box someone gave him as an infant. I've gotten rid of most of Bob's baby toys, but I keep this for a reason. There was an afternoon the summer of Bob's first year when we were playing together in his bedroom. That music box played its tinny little song, and Bob came crawling to me as fast as he could, laughing all the way. He pulled himself into my lap and hugged me, and let me hug him. I thought to myself, some day, not long from now, he'll be running...this baby will be gone. I started to cry, but didn't let him see, because he was happy, and letting me hug him.

hug2I've thought about that a million times since. I feel like I shortchanged Bob in so many ways then. I admit I've been less than perfect, and have really only in the last couple of years reached what I would consider "responsible parent" status. I'm doing everything I can now to make it better. That doesn't take those mistakes away. And there aren't any do-overs.

So when I think about Bob walking down the hallway of his first elementary school for the first time, all I can do is wish I could go back. Go back to that day in his room, when he was a baby, and do better by him. And let him know that in some ways, he'll always be that baby, and I'll always love him just as much.

APA Reference
McClanahan, A. (2010, December 16). Parents Not Always the Enemy (Pt 1), HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 18 from

Author: Angela McClanahan

January, 24 2014 at 6:10 am

Where do I start - no it is not realistic to assume every person with mental illness was raised by abusive parents. BUT it is also not realistic or in my opinion healthy for a blog on parenting a child with mental illness to dismiss so casually the effect for some children at 5mths of age being placed in childcare 8hours a day for 5 days a week. Have you researched and understand attachment disorders especially reactive attachment disorder? Not having a go or laying blame, as my biological (and yes this in particular has a high stigma attached if child is non biological heaps of help, support an compassion if biological questions are asked of home environment, parenting, diet etc and even support places or forums classify into bio and non bio!) child developed RAD from prolonged hospitalization from birth and symptoms are very similar to bipolar disorder acute stress disorder and post traumatic stress disorder. Research has found some children are more sensitive to separation at a young age, which leads to these issues. So please even though other mental health issues may not be at the forefront of your mind be aware that parents like me who click on tags to hopefully find more info can easily be turned of by such divisiveness and doesn't help break down the barriers of stigma. Especially as biological parents, we already cop so much and take a back seat to this particular disorder compared to non bio children. My now 12yo has severe general anxiety, RAD and conversion disorder as main diagnoses has nearly totally shut down has regressed to the age of a 6yo no longer attends school and I am still battling trying to get her treatment. :)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

January, 30 2014 at 2:05 pm

Hello Kel,
Thank you for commenting on this post. While I'm not the author of the post, I will say that as a mental health professional, I disagree with your point of view. I have worked with children and families where attachment was disrupted early on for the child. I also have worked with many families where kids are in day care. I, myself, am a working, single parent. I would not have made it if I had not put my son in childcare. That being said, I do recognize the sensitivity that some children have to being left in childcare. However, I believe the number of children suffering from RAD due to placement in childcare is very low compared to the number of children that develop RAP due to prolonged separations early on. I also feel that the author of the post was not casually talking about the effect of attachments disorders. Rather, she was talking about her individual situation as a working parent having to depend on childcare. I think this is a topic separate from the instances of RAD as well as the causes of RAD. I'm sorry to hear that your 12 year old is not doing well and that you're having trouble getting treatment. I wish you the best in your search for the right providers. Please come back again soon.

December, 27 2010 at 5:46 am

I'm not the person you want to hear from. I've suffered from borderline personality disorder, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder for most of my life. Only in the past 2+ years due to continual crises in my life have I come to understand how all of this came about. Both of my parents were abusive in their own ways, neither one leaving a positive impression on me. Regardless of how they feel now (my father I refuse to speak to or see and my mother protects herself in a bubble of denial), the fact remains that I have paid a huge price in every way for their destructive parenting. Realistically, I will continue to see trauma therapists and psychiatrists for the rest of my life. I am 50 years old. I am not married, I cannot hold a job; I haven't worked since December, 2009. I was just approved for disability benefits (for mental health reasons) and I have few friends.I have spent endless hours in therapy and an enormous amount of money buying antidepressants that help very little without the benefit of medical insurance. I want to point out to you that your separation from Bob when he was 5 months old very well could have been "the abandonment straw that broke the camels back" for your son. If this is the case then the fact that he has had time to "adjust" to it and should have an easy time adjusting to public school will not apply. These first years of life are as critical to the development of a child as the doctors tell us. They are critical because we don't get a second chance to do it right. We get one shot at it. Our mental health, ability to trust others, to be a secure, well-adjusted, happy, independent, productive member of society in our adult years are built on the mental health foundation we receive as a child. I would never leave this opportunity and great responsibility to any other person on earth. It is for me to own, accept and excel. I commend you for your self-reflection but caution you that the traits/behaviors/coping strategies we develop as young children are indeed part of our personality and may or may not be subject to change. Continue to love your son and keep his best interests on the forefront. Educate yourself on mental health issues and look for any signs that Bob is struggling. Always be supportive, affectionate and open. Tell him how proud you are of him. Tell him you love him JUST THE WAY HE IS. Tell him there is nothing you wouldn't do for him. Carefully select the words you use to teach him right from wrong. Validate his thoughts, feelings and attitudes. Accept him for who he is. Love him till the day you die - or he dies.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Angela McClanahan
December, 28 2010 at 1:53 pm

I am sorry for your experiences; however, it's not realistic to assume every person with mental illness was raised by abusive parents (or other caregivers). It's also (in my opinion and the opinion of others) not entirely healthy or productive to waste one's energy laying blame--energy that could be used for more positive pursuits. I would also like to clarify, Bob wasn't "abandoned" at 5 months of age--he went to a daycare center for 8 hours a day, Monday through Friday. I don't think his early childcare placement made his transition to public school any more or less difficult.

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