The surprising benefits of parenting a challenging child

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Nobody asks for a challenging child but that's exactly what I got when my eldest child came along. She is bright and funny and a lot of fun to be around, but she also struggles with the darkness of mental illness and has caused me more angst and worry than I care to acknowledge.

No parent should have to sit by their child's hospital bed, hoping they haven't hurt themselves too badly, hoping they won't do it again, and wondering what they can do to help lift this black cloud that engulfs their family.

But that's what I've been doing for the past couple of years now. Caring for my daughter can be draining and time-consuming. It's not easy, especially as a single mum, but when I'm tempted to feel sorry for myself, I think of the surprising benefits this life experience has brought me.

1. I'm stronger and more resourceful than I ever thought I could be. I used to be pretty shy and I hated to cause a fuss, but when the wellbeing of your child is at stake, you learn to speak up and fight when you have to. My daughter's psychologist called me a lioness recently it made me realise how far I've come. I've fought for more vigilant care for my daughter, I've fought for more help from her school, I've fought for support from those around her. I now have no trouble taking charge of difficult situations, and that has translated to every aspect of my life. When you've looked down the barrel of losing a child, nothing much can intimidate you.

2. I have endless empathy for others. When I was going through the worst days with my daughter, I didn't look any different than I do now. There was no big bandage or sling to show that I was in a world of pain. I still got cut off in traffic, short-changed at my local café, and cut in front of at the supermarket. It's made me more aware that there is invisible suffering everywhere. You know that saying about everyone going through a battle you can't see, so be kind? I choose that.

3. I have a more honest and frank relationship with each of my kids than I used to. I've learned that all I can do as their mum is to be as honest and open as I can – within reasonable guidelines for their age, of course. I don't lie to my kids, and I try to share my thought processes and emotions with them. I want them to understand that I'm human just like them, and that, although I'll always be here for them, I'm not Superwoman. I'm just a mum coping with life the best she can. This has opened more discussions with each of my children than I ever thought possible and it's brought us all closer together.

4. I appreciate the little moments of joy in my day. I try to take time each day to do something nice for myself. Whether it's a cup of tea in the sun, some meditation, or a catch-up with a friend – every day I do something to take care of myself. That saying about securing your oxygen mask before helping others is true, but more than that, I refuse to lose myself in the care for my child. I'm still here, and I still deserve acknowledgement and care too.

5. I've learned to prioritise my time and seize the moment. I spend a lot of time caring for my child and I never know what is ahead for her – or for me and my other two children, for that matter – so I make sure I live for now. I waste less time on social media than I used to because I want to cram as much life into today as I can. I look people in the eye, I have conversations that matter, and I do things I've always wanted to do. I have no idea what tomorrow holds so I'm all about today.

If you or someone you know needs help you can call Lifeline on 131 114.