Managing changing responsibilities and roles if your kids step in to help

Household chores

When a parent experiences mental illness, their children often step in to help with household chores, and family responsibilities and roles may shift and change.

Every household has its own way of managing everyday chores and routines. Some families have a formal arrangement while in others things somehow just get done (or not!) Sometimes there’s a lot of conflict.

When you’re unwell (and even when you’re well!) it can be very hard to stay on top of these regular tasks. Whilst family members often take on additional jobs when you are unwell, the changes in responsibility can cause friction. Some family members might feel they have no choice and others might stop their own activities to ensure things get done.

Managing household chores when you are unwell

Talking about chores as a family and negotiating who will do things if it becomes harder for you is very important to make sure things are clear and predictable.

To help you get prepared, think about the following:

  • What does your family’s regular routine look like on a weekly basis? What are the busiest times? What are the quieter times? What responsibilities does each family member have?
  • When you’re unwell, what extra chores does your child pick up?
  • Does your child understand why there are extra responsibilities? What can you tell them?
  • How do these chores impact on your child’s regular activities? Can others help you with these chores (so that your child can continue with their own activities)?
  • How can you check with family members to make sure they are comfortable with the arrangements?

Re-claiming your role

As you feel better, it’s good to let your child know when you can cope with household responsibilities again. If you find your child is reluctant or uneasy about this, it can help to talk to them about wanting to step back into your role as parent and the importance of this to you.

As they see you gradually take back more tasks, they’ll probably feel more confident about letting go of them.

Concerned about your child?

If you’re concerned about shifting roles and routines, especially if your child is young and is taking on a range of extra responsibilities, think about getting support from relatives or friends, or talk to your health professional to try to find ways to reduce your child’s load.

Your child may think they’re doing fine, but not know what their limits are yet, or they may prioritise helping out over their own activities.

You may also like to help your child or other family members to access some support developed specifically for carers. These include respite, counselling, community activities and peer support.

To find out what is available in your local area:

“I had a sense of ‘ok the household must return to normal’ – but we had a new normal. I had been sick, very sick, and I still hadn’t accepted this. It was really hard to take on. I needed to make sense of the experience.”

Sam, SA mum

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For use by families where a parent has a mental illness, their supporters, and services who work with them.