One if my biggest fears while suffering with mental illness, was the effect on my young daughter. Next week, I’ll be launching my series: Parenting through adversity. It’s got me thinking about how we’ve been doing and how Boo is despite my depressive episode and anxiety disorder.
Spoiler alert: she’s OK. She’s good. In fact, she’s great!
Here’s the thing: depressed people can be good parents; it may just be harder work.
Before we lost George, Boo was hitting all her milestones. She was also shy, didn’t sleep well, breastfed a lot (still at almost 2) and spoke non stop. Now almost a year later (since I fell pregnant), she is shy, sleeps really well, no longer breastfeeds and speaks non stop. She is still hitting her milestones. Her development didn’t stop. She’s still her. She’s also empathetic and caring. She’s funny and likes making me smile. She loves dancing, messy play, snuggles on the sofa, books, letters, numbers, Paw Patrol, slides, swings, cheese, yoghurt … she loves A LOT.
Throughout a very dark time, I made activities for Boo that I knew were good for her in terms of fun and development. Being a trained teacher, I know skills that she should be developing and created opportunities for her to do this. That sounds complicated. But it wasn’t really. There are some great articles out there about early childhood development with some simple tasks. My series parenting through adversity is going to be giving ideas for parenting through those hard days. You don’t need to be trained – it just so happened to help me. For example, we played with blocks and I talked while we played. I found interaction hard but I could sit and say “It’s a red block.”, “Let’s count the blocks.” or “It’s a triangle.” I found I was able to narrate what we were doing more easily than actually trying to converse.
So I kept on narrating. I tried my best to listen and respond. It was exhausting. And so very difficult. My head and thoughts pulled me away but my daughter pulled me back.
Sometimes we sat on the sofa in silence glued to our own iPads. Sometimes we rolled around being silly and laughing. To an outsider it probably looked liked normal parenting. To me it felt like I was moving mountains. And I often worried that I just wasn’t doing enough. She saw me cry too much. She couldn’t get me to talk and listen as much as she needed. I worried and felt guilty. She is having a childhood she will need to recover from.
Since I’ve started to feel better and be more talkative, Boo has become much less shy when we are out and about. Of course, this could be a coincidence – it may just be developmental. But there’s a part of me that wonders if my mental state was affecting her? Maybe she was feeling anxious? Or maybe she was copying my behaviour and is now copying me be more confident? I won’t ever know. And I’m ok with that – does it matter? I can’t change it. I did my best. I try to not feel guilty but there is still that pang there. I know I did my best but what if it wasn’t good enough?
Then yesterday she did something that blew me away. She went and showed me just how much she really is OK. It was her Grumps birthday so after making a card, I asked her to write in it. She very quickly scrawled something and handed it back and said “I wrote Ivy in it.” And sure enough, she did. She showed me – “look Mummy, I V Y, Ivy.” It may not look much to you – but seeing her little marks that she has purposely tried to form into letters amazes me. She loves spelling her name but seeing her do this independently filled me with such pride. And relief. My little girl is OK. Yes, my mental illness may have effected her. But she has resilience (remember how she reacted when our passports were stolen on holiday), she is caring and empathetic, and at 2.5 years she is writing her own name. My little Boo Bear is OK.
Mental Illness doesn’t mean you can’t be a good parent.
*comparison is also a great way to feel guilty as a parent. This is her strength. Don’t compare it to what your child is doing. Instead – compare your child to themselves – I bet you will find they are making progress in all sorts of ways.