Earlier, I was just thinking in relief, Hey, at least I showered finally last night.
Then in my head I heard the questions my family has asked. Not without merit.
“If you can’t take care of yourself, how can you be trusted to care for a child?”
“What is it doing to your child seeing you with all this anxiety and depression?”
“Are you sure you can handle it?”
There are many parents without mental illness who can’t handle being a parent and they bail out. Mental illness makes it harder, not impossible.
I don’t know if it’s in my female “nurturer” dna encoding or if it’s because my childhood ended around the time I was eleven and took on the role of substitute mom, housekeeper, budgeter, ‘cos both parents worked full time.
Could have been the fact I always had pets and the caregiver thing was imprinted.
Whatever the imprint, I’ve always fared much better at taking care of others than myself.
So caring for my kid and pets..it’s really a no brainer.
Do my conditions impact her?
I’m sure they do in some small ways. She’s so young I doubt it really makes too much of a dent. As she gets older, it just might become an issue. Much as we try to shield our children, kids are young and naive, not blind and stupid.
When I am stable or manic…I am an amazing mom.
When my anxiety is running full tilt, I am a jumpy fidgety woman.
When depression kicks in…I am on autopilot.
My kid still gets fed, bathed, has clothes, toys, gets to school. It feels much like Sisyphus pushing that boulder uphill for me, but I do it.
Kids are more forgiving than adults.
An adult sees you crying and trembling and looking sad, they become uneasy. If they see it happen too often, some run for the hills. In the case of employers, you’re easily replaceable with someone stable.
But my kid…I don’t have to 100% every single day for her. I meet her basic needs, make sure she knows she is loved, and she lets me be…me.
I do have concerns how it will impact her as she gets older.
But how is struggling with mental illness while being a parent any different than a parent with a chronic physical problem? No one takes their kids away or questions their parenting ability as long as the kid(s) are well cared for.
The best you can do, as a parent with mental illness, single or otherwise, is to be honest with them. My daughter will ask, “Why do you look sad?”
And I will tell her, “Sometimes people get sad even if there’s no reason and it’s okay to be sad like that.”
Society wants to paint this shiny happy people thing but most people aren’t. We all have ebbs and flows in our moods, stress levels, and demeanor. Teaching kids one must be smiling and happy at all times is setting them up for failure and an unrealistic expectation of life, and the human condition.
So maybe I bathe my kid every other night and I give her a poptart on my bad mornings. Maybe she has some cat hair on her clothes. Maybe I’m not stringent about bedtime every night. Consistency is a great notion and an awesome goal. But since it’s never been my strong suit in any way, I am not going to waste time guilt tripping about not being super soccer mom.
Actually, part of me wants to kick ass on soccer moms or at least soap the windows of their minivans. I am, after all, the anti mom.
But mental illness or not…I am a mom. A single mom. And I struggle but I am managing. My kid knows she is loved and has all her needs met.
So being doubted and questioned about my ability to be a parent…
I’ve proven myself ten times over in situations where others would crumble.
I am not a woman with mental illness who happens to have a child.
I am a mom who has a child and has some wonky mental issues.
Maybe growing up watching me struggle…may just make my daughter empathetic and educated about mental illness.
Which would put her ahead of a large percentage of polite society.