A child’s letter to a parent

Written for the COPMI national initiative by Tanya Ward. 

‘I may be a kid but I want you to know that I am capable of many things.  Here’s a list of what I am capable of:

  • I am capable of blaming myself for your illness and believing that all problems within my family are my fault, like when you tried to take too many tablets, or when you got angry and punched the wall, or when you fought with each other, or when you ended up in hospital.
  • I am capable of taking on adult responsibility too. I do this by trying to fix your problems, or sort out your fights, or when I try to protect my siblings.
  • I am capable of recognising when you are not well enough to protect and love me and I am great at gathering evidence to prove this. I recognise this because you may not check in with me to see how I feel after a problem arises or a traumatic event takes place. You may not ask me how I feel when I have a tantrum, or a fight with my brother or sister, or when I look sad and angry. You may get angry when I demand too much attention or sometimes you may not talk to me at all.
  • I am capable of believing that I am not loveable so sometimes I might push you away. I do this because I can believe that I am not worthy of your love because I have caused all of your problems.
  • I am capable of hiding all of my feelings so that I don’t become an extra burden to you.
  • I am capable of trying to be really perfect so that you love me.
  • I am also capable of being really naughty so that you take notice of me.

So, please consider me capable!

Here’s a list of what a capable kid needs when their parent has a mental illness:

  • Have a plan for when you cannot care for me and love me so that I know that I am cared for, protected and loved.
  • Make sure that you have a responsible adult in your plan who can take the adult responsibilities away from me.
  • Make sure that you have a responsible adult or therapist in your plan that can talk to me about my feelings, acknowledge them and validate them because I have probably been hiding lots of feelings that need to come out.
  • Make sure that you have an adult who can check on my behaviour if you are not well enough to do it. Someone who can sense when I am hurting or angry and bottling up my feelings.
  • Please don’t only tell me it’s not my fault after something scarey or unpredictable happens because I am going to think it anyway. Instead, I need you to really listen to how I feel and tell me my feelings are all ok. Please tell me I have a reason to feel angry, sad, alone, scared, jealous, etc…
  • When you are well please tell me that you are sorry for not being there for me and tell me that I am loveable and that it is not my fault that you are sick. I need lots of reassurance and love.
  • When you are well please play with me and/or join me in my hobbies and interests. Please also give me lots of hugs and kisses and quiet time just sitting and playing together in the moment. This makes me feel loved and worthy of your love.
  • If you cannot do it yourself please have a responsible adult or therapist available to help me talk about my worries and to help me solve my own problems. I don’t want someone to fix my problems for me, I want to learn how to do it for myself.’