Should You Have Kids If You Have a Mental Illness?

I often wonder if I’ve screwed up my children. Not only do I enact terrible punishments like limited screen time or healthy options before sugar, but I also insist they do homework and get to bed at a reasonable time.

Most of all, though, I worry that I literally screwed them up. You know, genetically.

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I have a veritable soup of family history maladies to pass on to them. Plus; I have my own limitations, bad days, breakdowns, and personal failings they’ve had to witness. They continue to witness. They witnessed just this morning.

The real punch to the gut comes when they exhibit signs of mental illness themselves: anxiety, fixation, depression, and negative self-talk.

As I rub my kid’s back and tell him advice didn’t follow the day before, I wonder, What have I done?? The unhelpful voice in my head adds, This is your fault, You are a terrible mom, and You shouldn’t have had children. Some days, it adds, They would be better off without you.

Back when we were deciding whether to have children yet, I worried about such ‘logical’ conclusions. I didn’t feel like the best genetic specimen.

The thing is: no one is the best genetic specimen.

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True, there are some people with very serious cases and/or horrible genetic diseases. Those people are true heroes, in my mind, for choosing the difficult option to not reproduce.

Besides those, I’m really just about as crazy as the next person. Mostly. In fact, compared to many of my relatives and ancestors (who obviously procreated), I’m stable enough to run a small country. But, as I said, they still had children. I even have a few distant relations who I think shouldn’t have had children and still did. And you know what? Their kids are fine. Mostly.

In trying to play Devil’s Advocate to my own mind; let’s suppose a hypothetical situation: What if I were a perfect parent? To continue that fantasy, my kids would have to be born perfect. Their kids would. And so on. Then, as happens in every sci-fi story line, the rest of the world would hunt us down and assassinate our family out of envy.

No one is perfect, at least by the definition of making no mistakes.

Further, despite what one of my kids thinks, mistakes are essential to life. Mistakes make us human and that’s not a bad thing to be. Frankly, we don’t have another option since we were born like this.

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To specifically answer those negative thoughts of my mind:

  • This is your fault: Blame doesn’t matter. What can we do moving forward?
  • You are a terrible momI am a good mom because they are alive and we keep trying.
  • You shouldn’t have had children: I’ve had the children and will continue to raise them well.
  • They would be better off without you: Of course they wouldn’t be better off without me. Have you seen how stepmothers in fairy tales are?

Having kids is hard no matter what. Beating myself up over their problems only adds to my mental strain and depressive triggers. Choosing to be pragmatic and move forward with what I have is a better option than giving up and hoping they’ll still turn out. Even if “moving forward” means that I might have to get checked into a recovery program, that makes a better future (one in which mom’s still around) than trying to maintain an impossible reality.

I saved the best benefit for last: since everyone deals with some sort of mental or physical issue at some point in life, my struggles and authentic life lessons are preparing my children for their own futures. Because of what they start with, what they learn, and what I teach them; they will be loving, honest, supportive, and self-aware.

They will, as every parent dreams, be able to make the world a better place. Someone’s got to live in the future, after all. I may as well try to help mine be better. Mostly.

 

Photo Credits:
Jenna Norman
Aditya Romansa
Sai De Silva

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22 Replies to “Should You Have Kids If You Have a Mental Illness?”

  1. I’ll happily put money on the fact that you’re a great parent! Anyone who has suffered any mental health issues has had to experience tough times, and it’s those tough times that make us not only strong, but also appreciate the good stuff. This is the best lesson to teach our children. Life is tough and we have to deal with it.

    Nobody is perfect and if they think they are, then that in itself reveals a monumental flaw in their character. And people who on social media try to portray perfect lives and perfect parenting are liars, so in my book that’s a pretty major flaw to be teaching the kids too. Ooooh I’m on a roll now!!

    You’re great and regularly reading your wise words from your blog I know that you’re a super duper mum (or is it mom?)! Xxxxx

    1. Thanks, Katie! I certainly try. Given how many people tell me I’m not yet fired from the profession, I’ll take the compliment. 🙂

      I think the key to a great parent, boss, leader, person, etc. is in the trying. We need to keep doing the best we can at the time, striving to keep going and do better.

  2. I’ve had these thoughts very often as to why I should never have a child. I have a lot of other anxieties (they’ll hate me, I wouldn’t be a good mother, climate change will cause them to live is a desolate wasteland, etc.) regarding parenthood that make me uncertain. Thank you for your post!!

    1. Thank you for reading, Megan. Parenting is definitely a challenge, but I think one or two kids (and ensuring a parent keeps up on healthy self-care and mental care) is totally doable.

      …and that’s why I have four. 😀

      1. I’m sure having 4 can be incredibly challenging! In your experience, what has been the most helpful thing for your mental health as a mother? Like when you’re stressed and you feel like they would be better off without you.

      2. Every time I get so stressed out that I’m at a figurative ledge, I withdraw. It’s like a mom time out. Usually one of them does SOMETHING I have to intervene with and that forces me out again. 🙂
        I’m still a work in progress; but that working has been the most effective thing. Many years I’ve NOT chosen a good way to deal with life’s stresses, but I started therapy and working on myself a lot more over the last year.

      3. That’s great, Chelsea! I hope you continue to do well 🙂

  3. This is superb:

    To specifically answer those negative thoughts of my mind:

    This is your fault: Blame doesn’t matter. What can we do moving forward?
    You are a terrible mom: I am a good mom because they are alive and we keep trying.
    You shouldn’t have had children: I’ve had the children and will continue to raise them well.
    They would be better off without you: Of course they wouldn’t be better off without me. Have you seen how stepmothers in fairy tales are?

    And even ‘normal’ parents question themselves. I think it’s a sign of being a good parent to question yourself. Sure, we all worry about different things, and observed/learned traits can be every bit as terrible as genetically inherited traits. But ultimately, if you do your job, you’ll pass on good LEARNED traits, genetics be damned. Everyone needs a heaping of perseverance, faith, recognition of weaknesses and how to overcome them, as well as someone to idolize and emulate. Be that someone. 🙂

    1. Awww, thank you. I agree. I think we feel worse about our failings as parents with mental illness(es) because we are already good at beating ourselves up over everything.
      Everyone is just trying to live life, and I hope my children see the love and the trying.

  4. You okay? Feel free to email me if you want to chat. Believe me I’ve asked myself these questions. I think it’s easier when the kids are older and you can talk to them on a higher level about your issues. My kids seem to appreciate my honesty about my struggles with depression. Just keep LOVING on them. Ask forgiveness when you lose it. They are so forgiving. <3

    1. ❤ Thank you for asking. I’m not currently beating myself up over it, but it’s a recurrent enough happening over the last decade that I felt I ought to write about it.

  5. Great read, thank you for sharing. I’m 32 and trying to figure out if I should or want to have children given my mental illness. It’s really tough!

    1. I don’t think kids are easy by any means, but I’m so glad I had them. I much prefer having them over not, and ensure I follow all the self-care and occasional counseling I would do even without kids.

  6. I’m glad I came across this. I have the same negative tapes. I had a counselor who tried to talk me out of having my last child. She said, “You don’t exactly have the best genes.” It might be one of the most hurtful things anyone has ever said to me. Worse, in my moments of mom guilt, it always surfaces. I think “She was right!”

    I have four sons. Three of them are in counseling and the other is still in diapers. I figure that because I do have mental health problems that I treat, I am in a good place to help my children who also have them. They are growing up to be incredible people. Mental health seems to me to be less about nature and more about nurture which I have more control over. I like your responses to that inner critic. It sounds like you are a much better mom than your critic wants to give you credit for. Hugs!

    1. Aw, thanks! I need to start at least two of mine in counseling. As you said, we’re preparing them to deal with life. 🙂

      Thank you for the kind words!

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