COPMI - Children of Parents with a Mental Illness - Keeping families in mind

Partners in parenting

When you and your partner disagree, it’s how you sort it out that’s important to your child...

>Click on text on the left hand side of the video to switch to different videos. 

What’s best for my child?

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.

What you can do (click here)

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. 

Parenting with the mother of my children

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.

What you can do (click here)
  • Talk with a trusted friend, support group or counsellor to help you work out difficult situations.
  • Make a plan to help guide you (or your partner) in your parenting and other duties during times when you (or your partner) is unwell.
  • Develop a support hand with your children (see our Finding Support information sheet).
  • Stay connected to your children because being involved in their life is vital for their wellbeing.


mum and dad with son

Dealing with relationship changes

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. 

What you can do (click here)

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:

  • Stage one: leave me alone
  • Stage two: be kind, patient, and attentive
  • Stage three: insist I call my mental health worker
  • Stage four: take me to the hospital

Working with differences

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.

What you can do (click here)

When differences between you and your partner need moderating: 

  • Discuss your differences when your children aren’t present (not just in another room).
  • Listen to your partner’s point of view or beliefs, acknowledge them, then present your view.
  • Find a way forward by finding a mutually agreeable solution.
  • Get help from a support organisation or a counsellor (if practical)
  • When difficulties appear insurmountable keep in mind your child still benefits when the parent with the mental illness continues being involved in their lives, where practical.

More info for dads



Need to talk to someone?

Are you a parent with depression or anxiety?

Help your family understand. Find out how to discuss mental illness with them.