Being a parent is challenging. I have 3 children 6 and under and they all want their time to shine and their needs and wants addressed. This in and of itself is the daily struggle and believe me the struggle is real.
I pride myself on being the type of mother that places her children above all else often times above my own needs and definitely above my own desires daily. I am there if the kids need to climb into my bed because they had a nightmare and I’m there if you need a piggy back ride and I’m there to take you to school each morning (usually anyways) and to bathe you after dinner. Yes I have help but that’s only because I’m not an octopus and I can’t be in 3 places at once. My au pair allows me to spend one on one time with each child something they require and ask for constantly. We are always trying to find balance as mothers and we are just trying to do the best we can with the resources we have available and at the end of the day we strive endlessly to make sure our children are happy, with full bellies and smiles on their faces.
What happens when dad has depression, anxiety and ADHD?! Because that was/is my reality. Now you are faced with the hurdle of 3 unpredictable small children PLUS a volatile unpredictable parent.
Parents with mental illness have the added challenges of decreased energy, irregular sleep, trouble concentrating, sustaining attention, irritability and moodiness — all of which can contribute to a less available parent according to the top psychology experts.
This describes my ex to a T. Not only was his behavior erratic and he was very moody but if he was in a bout of depression he was physically unavailable to help with the children. When you have young kids it’s imperative that you treat them in a way that won’t discourage them because children look up to you and base their self worth largely on how you and their peers react to them and their endeavors. I try to make sure that no matter what is going on in my personal life, that around the children, I’m positive and upbeat and happy. Do I have to dig deep some days to conjure up those rainbows and unicorn vibes? Yes, I’m human so some days I do have to dig very deep to be super happy and upbeat around the children yet each and every day I make it happen for them.
When you have depression there are days that you can barely get out of bed much less give piggy back rides, read stories, build forts, make up knock knock jokes and be upbeat for the children’s sake. Most of the parenting (and by most I mean 90%) was and is done by yours truly.
I am the one that gets everyone ready for school, teeth brushed, makes lunch, drives car pool, does homework, takes to activities you get the picture. My ex was always “working” or at least that was his scapegoat for leaving early and coming home late… that’s if he ever came home at all. The children would often ask me in the mornings “where is daddy?” To which I would have to redirect them to some other topic because I didn’t know the answer to that.
When my ex was around he would vacillate from being the “fun dad” bringing home junk food that I allowed only on special occasions and toys and pitching tents for the kids in the family room. Other times he would be moody, sullen, and short and snap at the children leaving them confused, hurt, and often times dejected. I know this is what they were feeling because I too felt exactly the same way throughout my marriage to him. The ADHD made him begin a million projects and activities and finish none of them making everything around the house that much more chaotic. We never knew which version of him we were going to get and for how long.
Children thrive on routine, constants not variables and they have an innate need to feel safe. With my ex’s unpredictability it was impossible to plan a weekend much less sustainably have a life together. As the children started growing older and asking more questions I knew I needed to step up to the plate and give them all of the things that they truly needed and desired. It was now up to me to provide that not only for my 3 children but for myself as well.
I’m not saying that co-parenting is not achievable when one parent struggles with mental health issues but it definitely makes it more difficult. Add to the mental health issues his extreme alcohol intake and that is a clear recipe for disaster.
For my family it was the best choice to separate ( we are getting a divorce and I couldn’t be happier it’s the healthiest decision for my children and for me ) the children need one loving, caring, parent that they can count on. If dad wants to be around at his convenience then that is ok and absolutely they should spend time with their biological parent but for me it was paramount to create a life for my kids that was filled with love with stability and with the knowledge that mommy is always going to be there for them and always going to come back.
We don’t have it all figured out in terms of co-parenting but I can tell you this much. Now that we are on a set schedule and the kids know when they are doing what when and seeing which parent which day they are much happier so well rounded and adjusting very well. I hate the term “broken home” because we are whole. We don’t have a traditional family structure but we have grandparents, gay uncles, au pairs that are in the children’s lives daily that complete our puzzle.