Parenting A Child With Mental Illness: Guilt and Self-Care

August 12, 2013 Guest Author

Recently, I spent the afternoon making greeting cards. I’m not particularly crafty, but this is a hobby my mom got me into years ago and I enjoy the creativity of making up my own designs combined with the practicality of creating something I need anyway. I have a little spot in the basement where I have all my paper and ink and stamps and glue and I spent four glorious hours all by myself figuring out the design for this year’s family holiday card. And I felt guilty nearly the entire time. One of my kids has been struggling emotionally for several weeks and really, really, really wanted to bend my ear for the 432nd time that week and I said no. I said I needed some ME time, and that was most definitely true. I’d spent the past six weeks – at least – doing nothing but working full-time and coming home to one teen in crisis and one needing stimulation to stave off the voices, and a spouse who’d been absorbing the brunt of them both all day. Even so, the few precious hours of quiet felt like a selfish indulgence.

Parenting A Child With Mental Illness Highly Stressful

Parenting a child with mental illness is highly stressfulBut it isn’t. I, just like all parents of children with mental health conditions, need to remind ourselves that self-care is an essential part of caring for our kids. (read: Special Needs Parenting and Self-care: Ask for Help) A study by the University of Wisconsin found that mothers of children with conditions that include behavioral issues have stress levels similar to those of combat soldiers. We don’t expect our troops to perform without R&R, and we can’t either. Statistics show that 47 percent of women parenting children with special needs meet the diagnostic criteria for clinical depression. If you’re a single mother, double that. Intellectually, we know that self-care is essential to keeping our children healthy. But emotionally and, many times, financially, taking time for ourselves is out of the question.

We don’t have anyone to watch the kids or any available respite care. Our children can’t maintain if we aren’t there 24x7. Between appointments and IEP meetings and therapy, there isn’t any free time. We’ve got to get past the guilt and make the time; even if it’s simply sitting on the porch reading a book that is NOT about mental illness for the few precious hours the kids are in school. Let the laundry stay dirty another day. Our kids can wear their socks a second day. What they can’t do is maintain their stability living with a stressed out, unstable parent.

This article was written by:

Chrisa Hickey is an eCommerce marketing professional, blogger and mental health advocate specializing in providing education and support for parents of children diagnosed with serious mental health conditions. Chrisa began her journey into advocacy when her middle child, Timothy, was diagnosed Schizoaffective Disorder. You can connect with Chrisa through her blog, The Mindstorm, Twitter and Facebook.

To be a guest author on the Your Mental Health Blog, go here.

APA Reference
Author, G. (2013, August 12). Parenting A Child With Mental Illness: Guilt and Self-Care, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 23 from

Author: Guest Author

June, 24 2016 at 8:10 pm

We have 3 adopted children out of foster care and all 3 have mental health issues. No one knows what we go thru like you say, they can only say what is wrong with them, or oh they know they are adopted and they are just acting out, what don't you just give them back and let the state deal with them. so no no one understands what we go thru every day of our life.

Jill Sadowsky
April, 17 2014 at 7:52 pm

i never felt guilty and nor did my husband as nobody can cause a mental illness. Our son suffered from schizophrenia and at first we had to learn about the illness. Then we had ton attend a support group and learn how to deal with it. Much later, we reached the stage of looking after ourselves. it wasn't easy but we learned to take each day as it came and to find other interests beside talk about and agonize about schizophrenia.

Jen S.
March, 18 2014 at 6:35 pm

The guilt eats at me, and people don't understand. There are times when I am scared to answer the phone because I just not hear any more bad news or how bad things are., and that is horrible, but sometimes I dread hearing from my child, and I feel so bad about that. I crave time for me, but it never comes. Between family and work I am just drowning. Thanks for acknowledging that we as parents need support, too. Outside of this, I have not found that, but rather blame for letting this "happen" to my child, as if I would pick for my child a life of anxiety and depression. Seriously?!? Oh, well. Tomorrow may be better... Guess we keep going based on that hope.

August, 20 2013 at 5:34 am

Thank you. So glad to read I'm not alone here.

August, 13 2013 at 2:54 pm

You're so right. If I'm not OK, how will my kids be OK? I wish it was easier to remember before I hit a crisis. I wonder of there's a lot app for that?

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