Parenting Fails

Parenting With Mental Illness

I’ve written before about my Bipolar II and the difficulty it can bring to parenting (as if parenting wasn’t difficult enough!).  As I was looking through some old journals, I found an entry that I’d written before my diagnosis.  It shows a parent in the middle of a bewildering, frightening episode of mental breakdown.  I think it will serve as a good example of how hard it is to parent (a single parent at that time) with a mental illness.

I lost a bazillion good parent points and gained at least as many asshole points today, all before noon time.

Today started out great.  I got a good night’s sleep and woke up in a great mode.  I had a nice, relaxing shower, got dressed and talked to the kids.  L was hungry so I told her I’d make one of everyone’s favorite breakfasts; hash browns (made from plain, frozen, shredded potatoes), sausages, and melted cheese which we warp in tortillas.  L asked me if i could drive her to a park to meet her boyfriend and A wanted me to take him to sell his PS2 so he could get the final amount of money he needed to by a PS3.

I put the potatoes in the skillet with the sausage, covered it and took the dog out.  When I get back L asks if we could go to the park.  Now.  I told her that breakfast was still cooking and we’d go after we ate.  She got all whiny about how she can only see Jeremy for an hour or so and she hasn’t seen him in a week.  I repeated what I had said about breakfast.  She started begging and saying how she’s not hungry anymore and can’t we just go.

Normally, I’d just tell her to chill and that would be that.  Instead, for some reason, I lost it.  I told A to get his stuff together because we were leaving now.  I unplugged the skillet.  Utensils were thrown across the kitchen.  There was much swearing and raging.  Now L says she can wait, I tell her that we are fucking leaving NOW!

We can’t find the park she’s supposed to meet him at.  Why? Because no matter how many times I’ve asked her on the drive to ask Jeremy exactly where it is, all I get is a general location, like “not far from downtown.  I pull over and insist on an address.  Finally I get “Corner of Hallack and Monroe”.  I tried putting that into google maps.  The app keeps closing on me as I typed.  I tried the GPS navigation app and it, too, keeps closing on me.  Mind you I NEVER have problems with these apps.  After the 4th attempt to figure out where this park is, I totally lose it.  I toss the phone across the car, hitting A on the elbow and making the back cover of the phone go flying.  I drive to the main park in town and tell her to have him meet us there.  In 45 seconds Jeremy is there.  Why?  Because the park he was talking about is right fucking next to the main town park!  Thanks for mentioning that the dozens of times I asked for better directions!

I’ve calmed down some by now.  I apologized to both kids for my unacceptable behavior and wondered what in the fuck caused the outburst of rage over nothing.

I take A and he gets his PS3 after which I hit Walmart for a few groceries that I forgot on Friday.  We get home.  I turn on the skillet and resume cooking.  Seven minutes later, it is ready.  I eagerly fill a small bowl with yumminess and at that exact moment the phone rings.  It is L needed to be picked up.  I ask her if she and Jeremy can wait a little bit while I eat.  She tells me that he already left and can I come get her now.  Blind rage!  Why?  I have no fucking idea.  I tell her I will be there in a few minutes, and after more swearing and slamming of cabinet doors, I leave.

On the drive I blast deathcore metal as loud as my speakers will allow and take deep breaths and wonder what the fuck is wrong with me?  Where is this anger coming from?  Even with the drama with the kids, it has been a pretty good week on the whole.  I just can’t figure it out.

I pick up L and we go home.  The food is cold.  I open the microwave and go to put the bowl in to warm the food up.  I see the tortillas that I put in the microwave that I was planning to heat up all curled up and dried out.  Blind rage!  Kids disappear to their rooms, dog runs for cover.

I rarely lose my cool like that.  I almost NEVER fly into a rage for any reason.  Now I know exactly how my son feels when he loses it and says and does things that he regrets.  I just want to curl up into a ball and die because I’m so overwhelmed with remorse.  I am also scared.  This isn’t like me at all.  My stress level is way down from what it has been.  I’m feeling good about where my life is going.  I have the best kids and best friends anyone could ever what.  Why did this happen?

When I was raging, there was a part of me that was watching myself and thinking, what the fuck are you doing?  Just stop!  I wanted to stop, but I couldn’t.  It was like I was watching a performance of myself in a movie.  In spite of the fact that I desperately wanted so much to stop, I couldn’t.  I had become completely disassociated from what was happening and I was helpless to stop it.

I am the least violent person I know.  I normally have patience to spare.  This is very, very scary because it is just not like me at all.  I’m left wondering what the fuck my problem is.  It looks like my therapist and I will have plenty to talk about this week.

My kids were scared for months because their father was obviously losing his shit.  They needed a parent who was there for them, helping them, making them feel safe.  I sometimes still feel guilty about my behavior then and feel like I failed my children.  They both tell me not to blame myself because I was sick and couldn’t help it.  They are right, of course.

The important thing to take away from this is that I got help.  I got a good diagnosis.  I got medication, and I got better.  Not perfect, but better.  Mental illness is not a sign of weakness.  It is a medical condition that needs medical attention.  This is especially true of parents.   So please, if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, or feel that you just can’t take it.  Get help.  See a therapist who can help and guide you to get the treatment you need.  You owe it to your children and you owe it to yourself.

Featured image from marsmett tallahassee


Jay is a dad, husband, and pet lover. He has a degree in Theater Arts and works as a Unix systems administrator, mainly because he has a degree in Theater Arts. He used to be a single dad, but now he is married to the perfect woman. He has two teenagers, a daughter, and a step-son. He also has an adult son. He shares his home with his wife, kids, an Australian Shepherd, and a bevy of adorable chihuahuas. He is a skeptic and humanist and tries to contribute to spreading rationality by writing about skeptical topics. You can find samples of his writing on his personal blog at Freethinking For Dummies, the JREF blog, and in Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

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One Comment

  1. From my experience growing up with a dad who sometimes lost his temper (likely due to undiagnosed mental health issues) a lot of the ongoing hurt came from believing that somehow I was in the wrong, that I had done something bad to provoke the outbursts. I’m glad you’ve been open with your children about your struggles and clearly communicated that those outbursts were not their fault. I think it can benefit children a lot to have someone model “I behaved really badly, and I’m sorry; you didn’t deserve it.” (Plus doing everything you can to make amends and overcome those struggles.) That’s a message I never really heard, growing up.

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