As you all probably know, I am parenting three children with mental health problems. There are a total of seven people and two dogs in my house right now.
We are blessed in many ways. For example, our house has plenty of space. Almost everyone has their own bedroom, except for the two youngest boys. We have a back yard with a swing set and a slide, as well as a great climbing tree in the front yard. Our neighborhood is safe for walking, and our neighbors are all doing a great job with social distancing. In addition, my husband and I are both able to do our jobs from home, so we haven’t lost income like so many others have. We are so very grateful for all of this.
But that doesn’t mean that the shutdown has been easy on us. My son’s mental illness causes some very serious and violent symptoms. I’ve spent much of the last two years putting out fire after fire, and working on getting him onto the right treatment regimen to help us live a normal life.
Right before All Of This happened, he had finally started making some progress. We got him into an intensive outpatient therapy program that he loved. We started seeing a new psychiatrist who helped us figure out a better medication regimen that helped stabilize his mood and decrease his meltdowns. In fact, the meltdowns were practically non-existent.
Then Coronavirus happened. He couldn’t go to his intensive therapy program anymore, he was stuck in the house with the same siblings all day, every day, and everything went to shit. Within days, it seemed like all that progress had been obliterated by this unforgiving pandemic.
Obviously, I can’t just throw up my hands and give up. I’ve been trying a few things that have helped somewhat, and I wanted to share them with you, in case you are in a similar situation.
Tips for parenting mentally ill kids through the pandemic
- Keep in touch with their providers via phone or internet. Many therapists, doctors, and psychiatrists are offering virtual appointments now. If your child’s providers are doing this, absolutely schedule those appointments.
- Heap on praise for every itty bitty success. There’s got to be something. Find it, and give your kid praise in whatever way they respond to it.
- If you have more than one kid, separate them by taking them each for a drive, one at a time. Even neurotypical siblings tend to fight more often when they’re cooped up together. The drive just gives them a short break.
- Spend as much time as possible outside. As long as you stay 6 feet away from the neighbors, outside time is still O.K.
- Don’t beat yourself up. If you need to give extra screen time, do it. If your kid melts down over the homeschool work, let them stop. If you’re all eating too much junk, don’t stress over it. This is survival time. Just do what you need to do so that you’re not losing your mind.
- That being said, it’s probably a good idea to have some structure to your day. Write down a daily schedule and tape it to the wall. It can be broad or detailed, whatever you want. Just try not to slip into a chaotic, non-linear existence where you never know the date or time.
- It’s OK to change the schedule at the last minute. It’s there to serve you, not the other way around.
- It’s also OK to get stricter about something. Have you noticed that your kid has turned into a monster after 8 hours of TV and an all-sugar diet? Go ahead and take that screen time and junk food away if you think it will help. Yes, you’re going to have to put more effort into supervision in order to enforce this. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it.
- Try to stay away from alcohol and drugs. I know that some people will hate me for saying this. I hate me for saying this. But if you use mind-altering substances to treat your stress and anxiety, it is very easy for that to turn into an addiction. Addictions will increase your stress and anxiety, as well as many more problems. You also might spend the mornings hungover while parenting your mentally ill children, and that is SO much harder. It’s a vicious cycle.
- Self-care is pretty difficult right now, but it’s still important. Try to spend a little time each day on one of the following: Meditation, chatting with a friend on the phone, taking a warm bath, reading a good book, exercise, or a virtual session with your own therapist.