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A major factor contributing to a child’s emotional development and wellbeing, is a positive, supportive relationship between parents. Cooperative relationships between mum and dad help children feel secure. When both partners display mutual respect they are supporting their children, even if they are separated. When you demonstrate cooperation, especially throughout difficulties which stimulate conflict, you are effectively teaching your child how to work through problems effectively too.
Demonstrate respect. During tense times children can feel the stress between parents. Speaking respectfully to and about their mother helps them develop positive attitudes about themselves.
Think of your children. Sometimes when it’s hard focussing on the positives, try thinking of your child’s wellbeing for extra motivation.
Understand the consequences. While an emotionally supportive relationship between parents is a protective factor for children, the opposite is also true.
Talk with your children. Discuss the effects of the mental illness to help them understand what might happen when you (or mum) becomes unwell.
Think about what you say. Talk about the illness rather than the person. eg. don’t say “your cranky mother!” Rather, ‘the illness is making mum cranky”.
Make time for yourself. Find time to do things for yourself while a family member or another support person helps out.
When mental illness is part of your relationship, partnering can become more complex. Being a partner and parent is very challenging, particularly when you’re unwell. This is when you might need to seek support (see below).
If it’s your partner who experiences mental illness, you may encounter additional responsibilities, especially during periods when they’re unwell. Get some extra help if you are having to to juggle multiple roles.
Learning to be flexible and sharing the parenting responsibility can be difficult when mental illness creates unpredictability. Discuss the shared responsibility of raising children, whether you live with the mother of your children or not, or are part of a blended family.
When mental illness is part of your life, your relationship may change, especially during periods of ill health. If you (or your partner) becomes unwell, behavioural changes can affect communication, intimacy and trust. If you both gain an understanding of the mental illness and its effects, you can be prepared for changes and be aware of what to expect. By adjusting your expectations of each other, you may be able to move through periods of ill health and accommodate the changes.
A partner of someone experiencing mental illness can have mixed and challenging emotions themselves. While practical demands can increase significantly, extra patience and acceptance toward the person who is unwell is needed. These increasing demands can take their toll. To continue meeting these challenges while supporting your family, you (or your partner) need to manage your own individual needs too.
Make an agreement. Understanding the effects of the mental illness and planning how to address it with your partner can help avoid conflict. Describe in terms you both understand what to do when one of you becomes unwell, for example:
Differences can stem from cultural beliefs and parenting attitudes and can add additional pressure in partnerships, especially when a family is affected by mental illness. Children can adjust to a parent’s different styles, but if clashes aren’t managed, you should seek conflict management support, for the wellbeing of your children.
When differences between you and your partner need moderating: