Being a parent is hard. Being a parent with a health challenge can be extra hard. Being a parent with a highly stigmatized health challenge — it can leave a momma with mental illness feeling like no one understands what she’s going through.
That’s why we wanted to ask moms in our mental health community to share one thing they wish others understood about parenting with a mental illness. Because all mothers deserve love and support, and no mother should feel like she’s doing it alone.
Here’s what our Mighty Moms shared with us:
1. “Having to attend parties or playdates is a nightmare. I’m not being rude if I don’t talk to you… I quite literally can’t. I will leave a social event with a migraine and be physically drained. My house is never 100-percent clean… it’s sometimes not even 50-percent cleaned. If it comes down to doing something with my son, or cleaning, my son will win out. I’m not a bad mom for not wanting to socialize with other parents. I’m not a bad mom for not having a spotless house. My son is happy, healthy and loves me. That’s a win in my book. My anxiety/depression/ADHD/DID don’t define me. They are a part of me, and I make the best of every day. You should never judge someone because you never know what battles they are fighting.” —Kim B.
2. “I am ‘real’ with my children because I have to be. I don’t care if other people think I shouldn’t talk to my 4-year-old about ‘why Mommy gets cranky and cries sometimes.’ I’d rather tell them the truth, that Mommy is sick, than have them wondering their whole childhood and growing up thinking they were somehow to blame. As a result, my children are more empathetic than most adults because they realize that sometimes even adults can struggle with their emotions.” —Katie H.
3. “Sometimes I need to be away from my children. That doesn’t mean I love them any less than moms who can do it all and still be smiling… I just need to be alone sometimes.” — Courtnie H.
4. “I am not lazy. There are reasons why my house is not in order. Some days it takes all I have in me just to get out of bed. Ask me questions. Do not assume I am a horrible mother/woman.” — Lisa L.
5. “Not all moms fit the mold. I am not rude. I do not look you in the eyes or make small talk because of my depression and anxiety. I am as overwhelmed as my kids in a new school. I keep it together for my kids, smile through the darkness to let them know everything is OK, I go to Girl Scouts, sporting events, plays and concerts to support my kids. I am overwhelmed by crowds loud noises, but I push through. I am their number one fan.” — Aurora C.
6. “I wish people understood that having children isn’t a fix-all. Telling me I should be happier because I have children doesn’t help. In fact it does the opposite. It makes me feel guilty because I start second guessing my parenting ability.” — Julissa S.
7. “Mental illness can be a lifelong struggle… sometimes I will be fantastic, but there will be days when anxiety gets the better of me… understand that just because I am doing well sometimes does not mean I am cured.” — Jolene N.
8. “I am capable of being my kid’s mother. She is fed, she has clothes and shelter, she is loved. Do we go out constantly? No. Does she know I love her to pieces even when Mommy is sick and needs yet another movie day? Yes.” — Christine S.
9. “It doesn’t make me a bad parent to ask for help.” — Amber R.
10. “The guilt can be horrible. You tell yourself you’re failing your children almost every moment. It could be because you forgot to buy squash or didn’t do the dishes today — little things seem like the biggest failing. It makes your depression or anxiety worse, then you find it hard to get up or take them to the park, and you self-confirm that you are a failed parent because of your depression. But, they are also the greatest healers. A smile and a hug from them can ease your suffering. And when I started CBT, I found that if I did something with them (big or small) each day then I felt so much better. Children are motivation. They are a reason to keep fighting.” — Hannah W.
11. “Sometimes I have to just lay in bed. Depression zaps my energy and will to do anything. I’m not lazy. I hate that my son gets more screen time than he should… but some days I just can hardly leave my room. I also wish my husband understood that a bad mental health day is just as bad as having a stomach virus or something. Having to be a responsible mom of two while struggling with those things is equally exhausting and cruel. Sometimes even though I look decent, I need backup.” — Destiny P.
12. “I wish people would understand that when I ask for time alone and away from the baby (even just to the grocery store), it’s not because I don’t want to ‘have to deal with my kid.’ It’s not that at all! My anxiety makes me tense and anxious and I feel so guilty if I let that side of me show to my son. Also, have patience with me while I try to pretend I’m not crying on the inside. I always struggle with feeling worthy to be a mom.” — Kendra C.
13. “I’m not that mom… I’m not that mom who remembers to sign everything, check everything. I’m not that mom who signs up for everything, I’m not that mom who shows up looking perfect at every function, or even manages to make every function. I’m not that mom who keeps a spotless house and hides her tears from the kids and also remembers to always keep a soft voice. But I am the mom who keeps getting up every day even when I don’t want to. I keep going to work to support my family despite my anxiety, despite my depression. I still leave my house despite my issues. I still find the strength to be the best mom I am capable of being. I am that mom.” — Heidi G.
14. “I wish people could understand that just because I’m working through my own mental health issues, it doesn’t mean I am irresponsible or an unsafe mother. I can still fully care for my children (and any friends who may come to visit).” — Jen D.
15. “My children see my illness and we speak about it. I tried hiding it. It hurt them more. We talk about medication and why Mum has bad days.” — Liz H.
16. “I really wish people would get that I spend all my spoons on my kids. I have to to be able to properly care for them. That’s why when it comes to social functions, I don’t really show up or make an effort to hang out. I’ve already exhausted myself.” — Gail B.
17. “I’m just like the other moms, just some of the usual daily stresses and struggles are often amplified by my mental illnesses. That’s what complicates my life. If I’m having a high anxiety day, my children’s activities/lives still come first, but I will be visibly off. I may want to reach out and chat with you at a school function, but it can be too overwhelming at times. And that although I struggle with what is at times debilitating mental illnesses, I am still a loving, warm and compassionate mother who can be trusted just as much as anyone else with your most precious gift, your child.” — Meghan B.
18. “It’s possible to manage my symptoms and be a good mom. And sometimes, I just can’t manage my symptoms, but I will still be a good mom.” — Kyra H.
19. “I can’t just get up and go when called for plans with my 7-year-old. I need time to prepare. I may look ‘not friendly,’ but I have the biggest heart. I just don’t smile much. If I am having a really bad day I might not answer the phone. Don’t take it personally… I might be late to everything. It’s not because I am a bad mom or lazy. It’s because of my OCD when leaving the house. I also love my daughter more than anything, and having depression and anxiety doesn’t mean I can’t raise my daughter right. I am here because of her. Don’t judge others!” — Amy L.
20. “The biggest and most important thing to understand is that I can have a mental illness and still be a good mom! Having an invisible illness doesn’t mean I can’t or don’t love my child. It doesn’t mean I can’t or don’t take care of her and it doesn’t mean I should be looked at any different than any other mom. Do not judge mine or any other mother’s ability to be a good and loving parent based on their health.” — Amanda C.
21. “My child is the best thing to happen to me. With the right medication, I can be just as good of a mother as someone without a mental illness. I have a wonderful doctor who prescribed me the psych meds that allowed me to have a healthy baby…. My daughter is my world.” — Laura S.
22. “No, I will not hide my mental illness from my child. He will see me cry, he will see me struggle and he will see me overcome so one day when life gets hard for him, he can look to the struggles of his mom and know it’s surmountable and there’s someone out there in the whole wide world who will understand.” — Jessi W.
23. “My mental illness doesn’t define me or how I take care of my child.”1— Sarah A.
24. “My struggles with anxiety and depression have made me a better mom. I understand how to enjoy the little things because I’ve known the darkness. Being a mom was what forced me to get help, and I’m grateful for that.” — Alicia N.
25. “I wish my kids knew I always gave 100 percent, even on my worst days. But, when I tried medications that didn’t work and made things worse, I wasn’t 100 percent. I wish they would weigh the good day with the bad because the good was so very good. And there was a lot more good day than bad.” — MaryAnn M.
And lastly, from a daughter:
“I’m not a mom, but my mom has always said she felt like she wasn’t good enough. We both have depression and anxiety. I’m afraid I will be the same way and people won’t understand. I tell her all the time now that she was a great mom. I wish I had done that more as a kid and teen. My advice would be to remind people to be supportive of all mothers because you don’t always know what is going on in their lives, in their minds.” — Sara F.