You Must Be Courageous to Parent a Child with Mental Illness

December 9, 2020 Sarah Sharp

You must be courageous when parenting a child with mental illness. After all, if being the parent of a child with mental illness were easy, then there wouldn't be a blog dedicated to the topic. Life with Bob wouldn't exist. That's why I'm not afraid to admit that raising a child with mental illness takes more courage than any calling I've ever had--sometimes more than I have stored up. (At least, that's how it feels.) Evidently, though, I do have what it takes, and you probably do, too. So why does parenting a child with mental illness feel so scary sometimes, and where does all this parenting courage come from?

I'm Courageous, But Parenting a Child with Mental Illness Scares the Life Out of Me

Helping my son grow up takes courage because it involves a lot of fear--fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of being inadequate, fear of the future, fear that I can't handle my child's mental illness the way I "should," fear that I'm making it worse, fear that he isn't developing the way he needs to, and so on.

You get my point. This stuff is frightening.

Brienna A. Gallaway, a researcher at the School of Social Work at St. Catherine University, surveyed 27 parents of children with mental illness. Twenty-one of those parents admitted to experiencing negative emotions regarding their children's diagnoses, including fear.1 The way I feel isn't uncommon. So how do parents of children with mental illness turn fear into courage?

Acceptance Is a Must When You Have a Child with Mental Illness

Obviously, I live with a lot of fear, but I try not to let it immobilize me. I remind myself that my very worst fears will probably never come true. I keep doing the next right thing and trust that my baby will be okay because he has me.

In Gallaway's survey, some parents talked about learning how to accept their children's diagnoses and the challenges that came with them. I think a lot can be said for acceptance when you have a child with mental illness. Think of all there is to accept--the diagnosis (or diagnoses), your kid's limitations and emotions, your own limitations and emotions, other people's ignorance, and so on. Again, you get my point.

If I can learn to accept these things, though, then they aren't so scary. I can learn to accept the challenges that come with raising a child with mental illness and know that they aren't the end of the world. They're simply my new reality, and they can be managed if I put in the work and keep giving my little boy the best I have to give.

We Don't Talk Enough About the Fear Parents of Children with Mental Illness Experience

Unfortunately, I don't think parents who have children with mental illness really get the chance to talk about their fear. There are very few studies or articles or blogs on the subject, even though probably most people in my shoes feel the same way I do.

So let's start talking. Let's tell our stories and let the world know how courageous we are. That's how people connect. We can help each other feel just a little braver simply by sharing how we really feel. We owe it to ourselves, to our kids, and to one another.

How does courage play into your parenting? Share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. Gallaway, B., "Acceptance Experience of Parents of Children with Mental Illness.Sophia, 2015.

APA Reference
Sharp, S. (2020, December 9). You Must Be Courageous to Parent a Child with Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 18 from

Author: Sarah Sharp

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