Mental health issues are challenging for everyone involved in a family or relationship, not just for the person who is ill. If, however that person is your ex-partner and you both have care responsibilities for your children, this can add to an already difficult situation. Parental mental health issues can have a huge impact on children who need to be handled with care and honesty to protect their long-term emotional wellbeing.
By the nature of the beast, some parents suffering with mental health problems are barely able to meet their own needs, let alone the needs of others who are even more vulnerable than they are. Let’s not be naive – just because someone has not been clinically diagnosed with mental health issues does not mean they don’t have them. However, it is only after you yourself have moved through the hurt, pain, tears and let go emotionally through forgiveness that you can start to have compassion for your ex-partner over his lack of being able to ‘parent’.
Whilst I acknowledge that some people do a wonderful job of parenting whilst managing their mental health problems, I also know that many parents in this situation struggle. Those with mental health problems genuinely struggle to consider the needs of anyone other than themselves. It’s also very easy for mental health to be used as a weapon to control others.
Consider the following scenarios:
A partner asks you to come home early from a night out because he or she may suffer a panic attack. When he or she can’t get up in the night to feed your newborn baby because he or she is feeling a ‘bit anxious’. When he or she is too ‘stressed’ to take your child out to the park. When he or she can’t handle it when the child is not conforming and looks to you to sort it. When he or she is in a ‘foul mood’ and the children know to stay away from them. When he or she needs some ‘time out’ to relax and hands over all the responsibilities to you.
Is mental health being used to manipulate? A naive person would say that he or she couldn’t help it, it’s just the way they are but it’s not that clear cut in every case. Yes, we all have our days when we want to hand responsibility over to someone else. However to decide if it is manipulation, we must look at all behaviours in every circumstance.
Let’s fast forward to a few days later and your partner is able to manage business deals, argue with suppliers and be chatting and joking at the day’s events. They can spend time with their friends in the pub and stay up late playing on Xbox or watching movies. They can spend time with their family gossiping and laughing and it is like they are a different person. Where is the anxiety, depression and panic attacks then?
I am not saying these people don’t suffer and I feel compassion for them having to live their life through the coping methods of manipulating, over-working and over-drinking, however it is not acceptable to control others to do things by playing the mental health card when it suits them.
The difference is some people with mental health problems take responsibility to stop drinking, being stressed and overworking. They seek therapy to confront their demons. Others use it as an excuse to treat people cruelly. It is with ruthless compassion that we need to view these people. We can feel sorry that they can’t be there to meet their children’s needs, but I strongly believe we don’t ‘protect’ our children by keeping up a veil of illusion.
We need to educate our children about loving behaviour and what actions demonstrate love and why some people don’t, or can’t do this. Children don’t understand any of this. All they see is ‘Dad can’t be bothered to take me to football’ or ‘Mum’s always in a bad mood’. Children can interpret this behaviour as being their fault, internalising not being kind enough, special enough, or well-behaved enough for a significant other to want to share their time with them. This can cause them to feel ‘shame’, a feeling they will struggle to overcome in adulthood.
So, how do you tread this very fine line of compassion versus confrontation?
My top tips for co-parenting with an ex who has mental health challenges
1. Find a legal representative who understands mental health issues and or narcissism and has an objective view of the potential impact they can bring to a family situation, such as one partner using their mental health as an excuse to avoid caring for their children or contributing financially for the care of their children. There are strong legal processes to protect children from being used to manipulate the situation using this type of behaviour. Similarly, non-molestation orders can be used to stop emotional, mental and physical abuse.
2. Explain ‘mental health’ to your children. Keep it compassionate and factually accurate. Make it clear that the person using mental health to manipulate is responsible for their behaviour along with seeking help. Reassure it is no indication that the child is not good enough or special enough or kind enough etc that the parent cannot meet their needs.
3. Reassure your child that they are loved and that you are able to care for them mentally, emotionally and physically. A child needs to know he or she is safe and will be protected until they are old enough to protect themselves. A child can’t hear that they are loved too often.
4. Get help yourself, seek a counsellor, ask trusted friends and relatives to babysit so you can have a little time-out.
5. Read up on the subject and get insight and advice from professionals. ‘The Boys and Girls Book about Divorce’ by Richard Gardner is one of the best ones I have found. There are lots of books out there regarding co-parenting with another who is controlling. Search the web for articles.
6. Let your child’s school know what’s going on and try to get counselling for your child.
7. Speak your truth with your children using words that don’t imply blame. Make it clear it is how you view the situation, it is your ‘opinion’ but that they must decide for themselves what they think through actions by each parent. Children need to see that it’s not enough for someone to say they love them or buy them lots of ‘presents’. Words need to be backed up and unless their actions demonstrate love, it’s not love. T I M E is love to children. Don’t bad mouth your partner or speak with vicious tongue. It will only come back to bite you.
Search the web for help and support, as there are plenty of people that have been through what you are going through
If you are facing this type of situation, you have my sympathies. I know from personal experience how difficult life will be for you right now. I also know that by focusing on the needs of your children and with the right support you can and will create a loving, well-balanced and honest environment where your children know they are safe and never doubt that they are loved.
You can handle it and if you need some help straightening your crown or clear practical ways to stay strong then contact me on 07966523781 or email email@example.com
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