What It's Really Like Growing Up With A Parent Who Has A Mental Illness

Dina Giangregorio

It's hard to be in an on-and-off again relationship with your own parent.

It's hard to long for the perfect mother-daughter relationship every other girl seems to have, and it's hard to feel like you might finally get it right before it blows up in your face yet again. 


For the majority of my life, I've felt like the parent while my mother, who has a mental illness, is the kid. It's a weird feeling, basically being the adult in the relationship.

I've had to take care of her. Give her rides, lecture her, teach her things -- all things she should have done for me, the child. But she's unable to, and it's still difficult to understand and accept.

I don't always feel sympathy for her because she brings it onto herself. Not the actual medical side of it, of course, but choosing certain paths for herself that get her deep into holes she can't always climb herself out of.

She consciously knows what she's doing with her life, and that I can't accept.

Don't call me harsh or  unsympathetic, though. I understand you don't choose to be born with a mental illness. But you can choose to control it and manage it. You can choose to seek treatment.

Lions Gate

I can't help but feel like I've been cheated sometimes. I occasionally think, "Why did this have to happen to me? Why was I the one born to a mother with crippling mental illness?" It's affected my life in more ways that I can probably even explain.

Not many kids can say they've been through what I have.

Not many kids can say they've watched their mother be arrested right in front of them, seeing her kick and scream as they carry her away. Not many kids can say they've spent a night in jail on the break room couch of the police station watching "SpongeBob," waiting for another family member to retrieve them.

Not many kids can say they've been woken up at 2 in the morning to a screaming, drunk mother, calling them every profanity in the book, for no reason at all.

Hell, I figured out what that little black ankle bracelet was before I was even old enough to understand what house arrest meant.

Dina Giangregorio

I commend my dad for being both a mother and a father to me. He takes on both roles beautifully. He probably doesn't even know it, but he has. I am so lucky to have a dad like him. 

I was also lucky enough to have been given a third parent: my stepmom. She's taken on the mother role to me as best as she can, and I know she tries so hard to step up in a way that my biological mother can't. 

It's tough not to be bitter with what I've been given in life. I know I am bitter, and that affects me, too. But I think I've done pretty well for myself with what I've been given, for which I partly have my dad and stepmom to thank for.

I also have myself to thank. I've only surprised myself by what I'm able to endure, how I've been able to create such a positive life for myself.

I may have felt broken in the past, but it wasn't true. I may have faltered, but I did not break. 

Javier Pardina

I've graduated in the top my class, with a B.A. in Psychology. I've created meaningful, healthy relationships with people and have started to make a life for myself on my own.

What I've seen growing up has sparked my curiosity about the human mind. One day, I hope to be doing something to help people because I've been there. I mean, really, I'm still there. But I want to make a difference in those people's lives and pay it forward.

Having a mother with a mental illness has, no doubt, made my life more difficult. But it hasn't broken me. Maybe bruised -- but not broken. All I can say now is I've learned invaluable life lessons in the process, and well, hard times only make you tougher.

I don't have the relationship I want with my mom -- but that's okay. As the saying goes, life doesn't always work out the way you want it to. This was one of those things God gave me that I can't control, but I am strong enough to handle.

What you've been given in this life doesn't have to make or break you. You have the strength and power to change your life, and to make it something you want and deserve. Only you can do that -- not a parent, not a friend, not a boyfriend or girlfriend. Only you.