Their Soft Place to Fall – Helping Children Through Your Mental Illness

MotherDaughter

What do you got if you aint got love ~Bon Jovi

Sitting at the dinner table with my daughter, I was telling her the story of how I had to say no to someone’s help because I am not ready to go into big public spaces. As I was telling her my story, her face changed from interested to sad and a bit mad. As a reader of people’s emotions, I immediately stopped the conversation to ask her “What is wrong” although in my heart, I already knew the answer.

“I thought you would be better by now mom! How come a few months ago you were walking to the grocery store all by yourself and now you can’t?!”

Oh, boy, I can see the anger, sadness and disappointment in her gorgeous blue eyes, and to tell the truth, I didn’t know exactly how to answer that question. How do you explain to your child, that although you are working hard at getting better, that the meds and therapy are working, there are places where it seems I am going backwards? I really cannot explain it to myself.

She is angry, angry at my depression, angry at me even, angry at the situation, and yes.. all she wants to is her “normal” back. In reality, this is the best normal we have ever had.. She just doesn’t see it yet. She can’t, well she can, however, my daughter is at an important stage of her life too, so is my son.. they are teenagers!

My job is to love my children no matter what. To be their soft place to fall through this time of our lives. I want to understand, however, maybe I cannot.. maybe I am too close to the situation, and as every parent knows, the first instinct we have is to want to remove their pain and take it on as our own.

I remember the couple of times I spent time in the hospital with her. There was one time she was in so much pain, the nurse had to give her morphine. I remember being there for her, but felt so helpless, lost, and afraid, yet I had to keep a strong face for her. I had to hold her hand through the experience even though it meant staying up all night to tell her “Its going to be alright, I am here, I love you”.

The thing is, today, I cannot always keep a strong face, my emotions are right there on my sleeve. As we continued our conversation at the dinner table, I said to her “You know, remember you can talk to Nanny or Aunty if you need to about how you feel about me and my illness. It is ok, and you can even be mad at me. Remember if you need to talk, there are people there for you!” Of course, this didn’t help at the moment, and it is normal, yet if there is one thing I can do for both my children is plant seeds. Yep.. seeds of knowledge, seeds of love, seeds that open doors, windows, and seeds of wisdom.

Planting them is the easy part. Waiting for them to blossom is another story. I must know, and not underestimate the strength of my resilient children, I mean they come from a long line of them (look at me!!) I am so proud of my kids, they have been my strength, my inspiration, and my true loves (and no FrootLoop1, I don’t love Gibson more than you LOL)

The best part of this whole story.. Is this line of “negative patterns, and dysfunction” ends here. Thus begins our journey to wholeness.. 🙂 

Breaking Patterns

Breaking Patterns

I am not powerless, I am breaking a long chain. This is why I may seem to be going backwards, when in reality, the chain is so strong, that it tires me out faster. As we take apart the old links, we immediately replace them with links of love. My daughter is strong, yet she needs to know that all will be well too, thus the best thing I can do for her now, is love her, love my son, listen, and seek to understand.

Here are some good tips on how to support children if you or someone you know is depressed or has a mental-illness. 

  • Make time.Family life is about more than the illness. You want to make sure your children continue to feel safe and secure, with as little disruption in their everyday routine as possible. Try to make time for family outings or just do things with your children. Cooking or creating art together can be a great time to talk things out without getting heated or upset.
  • Talk about your feelings and encourage your children to share theirs. Don’t try to pretend everything is just fine when it’s not. Children can easily sense when things are not right. Let them know how you feel, but in a way that ensures they don’t feel helpless or abandoned. Encourage them to speak about their fears, guilt and confusion. If your children are old enough, talk to them about the illness and let them know about long-term plans for on-going support; involve them in supporting their family member if it seems they can handle the responsibilities. If they are worried that they or their own children may develop a mental illness, talk to them about their chances. There are websites and other research materials available that discuss the statistics of inheriting mental illness.
  • Consider counselling or other professional help. Counsellors or other professionals may be available through school, university, employers, family resource centres, or your family member’s health professional(s).
  • Provide them with age-appropriate information about the illness. Check with your local library to see if they have suitable materials, particularly for very young children. Ask library staff to recommend some appropriate reading material.
  • Help them to see that they are not alone. Encourage them to meet others in similar situations. Schools, family resource centres and your family member’s health professional(s) may offer suggestions for peer groups.
  • Provide a safety network: Provide a list of names and telephone numbers of caring adults for children and youth to call if they need help. Defuse their fears with information. Give them clear instructions for what to do in case of an emergency. Ensure that they understand ahead of time that emergency situations could arise and that they know what to do. You may have to explain to them what kinds of emergencies could arise and remind them that their safety and welfare comes first.

 Source: Impact Of Mental Illness On Different Family Members

 Further reading: Children of Parents with Mental Illness This article has a great section on the study of resilient children.

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12 Comments

  1. Carole Décarie

    March 29, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    Reading this piece once again Kim something pop up in my mind…why not having group meetings for children of mentally ill parents or siblings …like the one for Phobie 0 or Overeating Anonymous or AA …..you know a group of children supporting each other and knowing they are not alone facing this situation…May be your children could start one in their school or at the CLSC with the help of a counsellor . I think this would be a step forward of Let’s talk about mental illness. The benefits of group therapy is proven to work wonders…. Just an idea !

  2. “Their soft place to fall” is such a beautiful phrase. Thank you for writing about the fact that we all fall in this life, but that love softens the pain.

  3. This is an insightful, loving piece. You are doing a better job raising empowered, emotionally supported and mature children than a lot of parents who aren’t struggling with such a personal challenge. It’s hard now, but I know that someday they are going to be (even more) amazed, humbled, and grateful for all you do for them. And for the way you take care of yourself in times of struggle. Blessings and love to you, dear one.

    • Kim

      March 23, 2013 at 10:42 pm

      It can be a real challenge, yet I know there is only one thing I can do: that is to continue on this road to wellness xoxox

      Love your comments.

  4. Kim, to be able to express yourself in such an open, honest and volnerable way is a gift.

    Through your struggles, pain and sharing you are helping countless people and you should be very proud of yourself.

    Never give up. Hugs!

  5. When children feel safe to express their anger towards mental illness it’s a good sign…they won’t repress it and have to deal with it so much as adults.We all have to deal sooner or later about what has affected us in childhood. Now days parents are much more open to receive this anger and know that even if it’s hard to be the recipient of it and feel their children’s anguish it’s also beneficial in the long run . Great article and great advice to your children….let’s talk is not only on February 12 th. Love you all <3

  6. Kim, this is a wonderful article. What a great, loving mom you are.

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