Parents' Mental Illness Compounds Guilt
Thursday, September 30 2010 Angela McClanahan
You didn't believe my last post on Stigma of Mental Illness Affects Parents Too--where I claimed to feel 100% non-responsible for my son, Bob's bipolar disorder and ADHD--did you? If you, too, are the parent of a child with a psychiatric diagnosis, you likely didn't buy it. Chances are, no matter how much you tell the world--and yourself--otherwise, you can't help but feel at least partially responsible for your child's mental illness. Especially if you, too, live with a psychiatric illness.
Parents with Mental Illness
Most parents consider our children a direct reflection of ourselves. Perfectionist parents want perfect children. Athletic parents want children who excel in sports. We all want to see in our children some semblance of ourselves.
Lately, however, I've been seeing much more of me in Bob than I want to. The almost paranoid fear, the nightmares, the unrelenting sadness--all of them a mirror image of myself at his age. I cringe when some behavior of his suddenly takes me back 30 years and I realize I was exactly the same way. Although I do not have bipolar disorder, severe depression and anxiety have been my lifelong companions. Psychiatric and neurological disorders are highly common in my family. (Genetics, Family History in Bipolar Disorder) I know I gave him seasonal allergies and green eyes. The more similarities I see between myself and my firstborn, the more I wonder--did I give him crazy, too?
Children of Parents with Mental Illness: Am I To Blame?
Of course, I've been told from the beginning by strangers and some non-strangers that Bob's problems are all my fault. I don't believe that entirely--though I know the impact environment and circumstance can have on one's emotional health, I also believe the science supporting physical, genetic components to mental illness. I am not a perfect mother, but my actions did not give Bob bipolar disorder. The fact I am genetically defective, however, may have. To be honest, I'm not sure which feels worse.
I try to keep it all in perspective and put a positive spin on it. It's not my fault I'm nuts, so it can't be my fault Bob's nuts, either. I do think perhaps my own struggles give me a certain advantage in being Bob's parent--I feel like I understand him a little better than I might otherwise; that I have more insight into his mindset than a so-called "normal" parent would. I am also hopeful this commonality will help in later years if/when Bob challenges the need for medications--it's easier to hear "you need this" from someone who needs it, as well. (Issues for Parents with Mental Illness)
Parental Guilt: Genetics and Mentally Ill Parents Having Mentally Ill Children
Parental guilt can be a debilitating thing. We feel guilty for harming our children (intentionally or not), so we over-compensate by indulging them, frequently or occasionally. I like to hope I'll be able to use it to my advantage--and Bob's--by turning it around. Mental illness isn't something I bestowed upon my child. It's an unfortunate circumstance we can, hopefully, help each other understand and survive.