How to Parent With a Mental Health Condition
Stephen Griffin - Parent - Teacher - Author

5 Ways to Parent with a Mental Health Condition8 min read

Have you ever been staring longingly into your new baby’s eyes in the middle of the night while Mom sleeping only to think “what the hell am I going to?”

Maybe your heart starts to race and small beads of sweat appear on your forehead. Does this tiny creature know that I’m completely losing my mind? If you have, you and I are in the same boat.

Being a new Dad is hard. Having a mental health condition is really hard. Trying to parent with a mental health condition is really fucking hard. There are no two ways about it.

When the Fog Starts to Clear

Imgaine if you were able to see a little bit of light at the end of a very long, very dark tunnel. When you’re living, and parenting, with a mental health condition, all you need is a little flicker. Just the faintest candle. That would be enough to know everything is going to be okay.

Well, everything is going to be okay. Below, I’ll show you how you can parent with a mental health condition and actually start to believe you’re going to be able to get through it.

This is a topic very near and dear to my heart because I’m living it. Hi. I’m Steve and I’m a parent with a mental health condition. As such, it’s a topic I’m going to return to frequently and touch on often. If its a topic that resonates with you, reach out through the comments or on our Facebook page. I never tire of talking about it.

1. Get Professional Help

This is important and I want to get it out of the way first. If you’re struggling with mental health issues, get professional help. Nothing on this website is medical advice. We’re not doctors or health professionals. We’re just dads living through the same issues. So the stuff we support is what works for us and what we like, it’s no substitute for professional help.

Living with a mental health condition sucks. Living as a parent with a mental health condition sucks harder.

The lingering societal stigma surrounding mental illness and men makes it even worse. Men have the unfortunate tendency to wait until they hit rock bottom before they seek help.

We tend to wait until we slam full force into rock bottom and hopefully bounce off… that doesn’t need to be the case.

The good news is that the stigma is trending downward and has always been based upon myths that are patently untrue.

The better news is that having, and being a parent with a mental health condition is extremely common. Much more common than you might think. Certainly more common than I thought when I was younger.

I felt like a failure. I felt like I was losing my mind, that I was weak, and that I couldn’t be helped. Just wasn’t true. My only regret about getting professional help for my mental health was not doing it sooner and more consistently.

Now, all that said, there are a bunch of self-care steps to get your mental health moving in the right direction and take your Dad game to the next level.

2. Read Voraciously And Find Distractions

When we’re in the depths of our condition we can get so wrapped up in our own heads that concentrating on anything but our own issues is damned near impossible. One natural way to combat this overwhelming negative energy is to channel it towards something more productive via a distraction.

In the run-up to the birth of our son, I spent a lot of time reading. Voraciously reading. I read everything I could about being a dad. Not that I really expected any of this information to prepare me in any real, meaningful way for fatherhood, but it was a welcome distraction. I was able to focus my nervous energy on something else, and if a useful piece of information became lodged in my brain, all the better.

In this way, I would essentially “forget” to be anxious.

If you’ve ever experienced a panic attack, you know how you become singularly focused on your attack. So if you can disrupt that focus, even a little bit, through distraction, the attack may well dissipate completely.

Reading your baby a story, or singing some songs, or just walking them around the house pointing out mundane details about the house can be just enough to disrupt your negative focus. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked our son through the kitchen explaining how the appliances work…

3. Eating Right is a Great Way to Manage being a Parent With a Mental Health Condition

Speaking of the kitchen, trying to parent with a mental health condition is finally what kicked me over the edge into trying to eat better. And the easiest way to start eating better, it turns out, was to start cooking at home.

This made a lot of sense and had a lot of tangential benefits as well. First of all, were (and are) home a lot. When you’re new parents you’re going to find that getting out of the house is pretty difficult and more often than not, more trouble than its worth. Being a dad that cooks at home is a great way to help out your partner as well.

o, making food at home was actually a lot more convenient than going out. Not to mention a hell of a lot cheaper.

Learning to cook at home has also been an extremely cathartic distraction. Not that I’m making anything difficult, but just having to plan a meal out so the elements come together, making sure we have the ingredients, and actually preparing the food has been a great lens to focus that nervous energy.

And since I’m not good, I’ve been living by the Instant Pot. A lot of the kitchen tests we write about here feature the Instant Pot, which means it is a kitchen appliance I wholeheartedly endorse.

I’ve also been exploring some of the food delivery boxes. One of the biggest issues I ran into when I wanted to start cooking was that I kept stumbling into major holes in recipes when I’d be missing a key ingredient. The food delivery boxes solve a lot of that headache.

Start cooking at home and I bet you’ll find your anxiety level begin to dissipate.

4. Find Support Groups

One of the more insidious myths about being a man (and a Dad) living as a parent with a mental health condition is that you are somehow alone, or weak, or that it should be kept to yourself. This idea that, as men, we should be completely in control over our emotions and mental state at all times is just wrongheaded and damaging.

The fact is, as I mentioned in point number one, mental health is laughably common. And that’s just when it’s reported. The continued stigma means that mental health conditions go unreported and self-medicated far too often.

You’ve heard the phrase “misery loves company?” Well, this is one of those times where it absolutely applies. There have been more than 50 studies that show the efficacy of group therapy.

If you aren’t ready to go the full therapy route, just seeking out an online community like /r/parenting on Reddit can be extremely beneficial.

Sometimes you don’t realize how much cabin fever you’ve been suffering and you just need a forum outside the house to blow off a little steam.

5. Find a Side Hustle

 can’t stress this one enough.

A recent study found that money, or really, a lack of money, was the number one cause of stress for Americans… That’s not good news. Family, health, and career are all further down the list.

As we’ve said from time to time, raising a kid is expensive. Even if you make a comfortable living it is easy to feel stretched thin. That’s why embracing the idea of the side hustle can be a critical tool in the mental health tool chest.

We’ve got a whole section of our site dedicated to the side hustle dad.

The obvious benefit for your stress levels revolving around money is that a side hustle is designed to bring in extra cash. And that’s great, but there is a slew of other benefits to a side hustle that can benefit your overall mental health.

A side hustle teaches valuable life skills that you (I certainly did) may have missed out on. It teaches confidence, resiliency, and tenacity. All of these are invaluable traits to bolster. Doing so will make you a more well rounded, assertive, person, and in turn, a better dad.

Wrapping Up

There you have it. Five simple ways to parent when you’re dealing with an ongoing mental health condition. Obviously, we’re not curing anyone overnight here, but Rome wasn’t built in a day either.

Mental health conditions are often chronic and require constant vigilance. Being a parent with a mental health condition means that you may not always have the bandwidth for such vigilence.

That’s why taking as many small self-care steps as consistently as possible is so vitally important.

Like I said up top, this is a topic we’re going to revisit frequently. My goal is to get just a little bit better at being a dad each day. Working on my mental health is, without question, a huge part of that journey.

What are some of your favorite techniques for coping with your mental health condition while also being a great dad? Like this article? Consider giving it a share below. 

Stephen Griffin - Parent - Teacher - Author

Stephen is the father of two rambunctious boys having adventures in Southern California. When he’s not parenting, he’s teaching history, camping, and sailing. He’s the author of two books. Washington and Napoleon, and The Gilded Tour.

Young father with a toddler boy cooking.

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