Has anyone had experience working with a mentally ill parent?

Received Saturday, July 21, 2007-Perspective & Opinion
Has anyone had experience working with a mentally ill parent? Of particular concern to me is the lack of consistency and the inability of the parent to behave as an adult. I feel as if the parent is yet another child I am responsible for. Quitting is not a readily available option as I am quite attached to and concerned for the children I care for. I would appreciate perspective from both nannies and parents. I had at one time hoped that things would get better and I feel as if they are getting worse. What's more this illness, the details of which I am uncertain feels like the elephant in the living room. Everyone knows it's there but no one discusses it.


Anonymous said...

It must be a terrible position you are in.

Can you give more details ie, what is the mental illness, is the parent functioning in society or barely getting out of bed, delusions, etc. Perhaps there is another parent/family member who is willing to listen to reason?

I suppose in a worst case scenario, someone who is mentally ill and unfit to care for their children should be referred to social services.

or poster said...

OP: I cannot say more than I have already. If I were to involve social services or the like, I would be out of a job. The family members know that things or anything but normal, but no one seems approachable.

Anonymous said...

not getting involved is a luxury you should not be providing the family. how many children are involved???

SP said...

I was raised by a Narcissistic/Borderline Personality Mother until the age of 13. She was either unwilling or unable to respond to my needs. My paternal aunt fought for years to get full time custody of me. My mother had no problem sending me off in the middle of the school year or for every holiday, but she didn't want to give up her title as mother. While my paternal aunt and paternal uncle and their family welcomed me in to theirs, I was aware of the strife between my mother and my aunt for a few years and this caused me to resent my aunt. At the time, I was angry that this aunt was upsetting my mother. I clung to her side and promised my mother I only wanted her. When I was 13, she announced, somewhat out of the blue that I was finally getting what I wanted, that I should thank her and she sent me to live with my Aunt and Uncle. She made me thank her. I choked through the sobs and never saw my mother again for 3 years. At that three year mark, I saw her at a family function-which although not in her honor, it seemed everyone around her was feting her as if she were a queen. Or a person of grand accomplishment. Remembering every abusive thing she had ever said and done, each and every blow to my self esteem, I walked over to her, hugged her and told her she looked beautiful and that I missed her every day. Despite the wonderful family I was to become a part of, it took me 13 years of therapy to work through my childhood at her hands. I only wish someone would have told me sooner that it was she that was crazy. Not me. You'd be surprised of the statistics that confused children of mentally ill parents and how often the committ suicide. You stated you could not tell anymore about your story and I respect that. Please don't let children grow up with an affected parent wondering what they have done wrong and why they are so unworthy of her love. Here is where I would like to link to my blog, but at last I am not ready to reveal that much of myself. Good luck to you.
"Degradation by someone who claims to love you is qualitatively different than degradation by a stranger," says Christine Ann Lawson, Ph.D.

Anonymous said...

OP, I understand you wanting to stay involved with the children that you have grown to love and care for. I too am a nanny, and it kills me every time I have to leave a family. I think leaving the children at the end of the job is the hardest part of being a nanny.

With that said, it would be a HUGE mistake not to report this to child protective services, or at the very least another family member, say a grandparent or aunts/uncles. I know you want to be involved in their life and your scared of loosing them, but think of how much pain you are saving them!

I really hope you do the right thing and report this family. What if they did something to one of the children? Would you ever been able to forgive youself?

Anonymous said...

If this mother has been diagnosed, then why isn't someone monitoring the children who are being raised by her? Her doctor, husband??? Someone, anyone???

Anonymous said...

You can make a report to CPS and your identity will be protected. If they look into the situation, it may result in the family getting the help they need.

Anonymous said...

8:31 gave the best advice ... please use it, OP. I had a friend who had serious Mental Health issues, and she started to take it out on the kids. I was there almost 24/7 to help out, then one day she flung her 5 y.o. son away from her side (she wasn't in the mood to be bothered), and he hit the fireplace. I know she didn't mean to do it, but that was the straw that broke the camels back. I called CPS, they investigated, and turned temporary custody over to another family member. She was soon after hospitalized and has since been put on medication and is stable. She has visitation and seems much better off. She has asked a few times if I was the one that turned her in ... I denied it. She knows it was anonymous, and would never directly accuse me. It was hard to see her go through all that anguish, but I'm glad things turned out the way that they did. Please call CPS ... mom needs help.

Stef said...

If Mama is mentally ill and family is near and does not acknowledge that, they are nothing but enablers. And my guess is they want you right where you are- dealing with all of the turmoil.
Ever have a mentally unstable family member put you on his/her s- list?

Sorry, OP but you are being used.
Make about 12 calls. Even anonymously write letters to the family and let them know what is going on so they know SOMEONE knows what is going so they can no longer pretend everything is okay.

The helpless people here are the children.

Anonymous said...

You may (or may not be) out of a job, but think, please, of the children who have to grow up with a mentally unstable mother and the long-term consequences thereof. No one else will take responsibility for these childrens' well-being, but you can and YOU MUST.

Anonymous said...

If you can't communicate to the family, or whoever else is in charge there about something that is so important and huge, this job is going to get worse in the long run. I know you say it's the elephant that nobody speaks of, but if you really care about these children and this family, you need to be the one to bring it up, get your concerns and problems out, and make your life a little easier... as well as the kids I'm sure.

ca mom said...

Save yourself. And get out now.
And on your way out, do whatever you can for the child/children.

Mentally ill people can be so toxic. I am guessing you will take a long time to recharge from this. I commend you for caring about the children. But who is caring about you?

Look out for yourself.

Lorenza said...

It's heartbreaking for a mother to have a child removed from her care and heartbreaking to see but sometimes, it is the salvation of the child.

Anonymous said...

all children need a voice, do these children have a voice that is being heard?

could it be you?

bravery is under rated.

Anonymous said...

Second time I am sending this.

Children of parents with mental illness link-

Anonymous said...

No, I have not and I cannot believe that anyone would take such a job willingly. Were you tricked?

jmt said...

OP, I know you didn't say which parent is affected, or if they are a single parent. That makes it harder for us to know what to say. I guess if it is a single parent, or the other parent is absentee or there is just no one else to step in to protect the children, then you need to call CPS. The kids come first to give them a chance at normalcy. It might take CPS to make the rest of the family wake up, step up and maybe take in the children rather than have them go to a stranger.
Good luck.

Mel said...

I agree with JMT-
there is not quite enough info. but if the parent is acting like an adult who is acting like the parent? The nanny?

Mental illness runs in families.
Who is in charge of making sure the child or children are properly evaluated and provided accurate background information.

Amy said...

The bottom line here is that you are obligated, by law, to protect the children that you are caring for. I know of a nanny who was responsible for caring for two children. The mother was accusing her of verbally abusing the children; when in reality it was discovered that the parent was doing it. The nanny got sued, and the parent won and the nanny's career was ruined. Why? because she "didn't want to loose her job" or "get involved". You're the only child(ren)'s saving grace... You need to be the responsible one and step up and do what you can to protect those children. I can't even believe this is real.
"I am quite attached to and concerned for the children I care for."... well honestly, how concerned are you if you're contributing (by not trying to put an end to it) to this BLATANT abuse on the parent's part?

Yes, I'm a nanny, and even if it meant loosing my job- there are too many nanny positions out there for me to stand by and watch the children- who are completely innocent- be in this situation without a way out. I would consider it further abuse on my part to not do something about it.

I do feel sorry for you, because it seems you're caught between a rock and a hard place... but do something about it. Stand up for those kids!!!

Anonymous said...

The OP never said that the children were being abused. Instead she said that the mentally ill parent is like another child the OP needs to care for or worry about. A mentally ill person might not abuse the children. The OP says that the mental illness seems to be getting worse. The OP expresses the need to talk with someone in the family, but no one in the family has spoken frankly about the person, or the situation, with the OP.

OP, I am willing to guess that the family members have not been frank with you personally, but that they DO speak with each other about the situation. They may not know if it is appropriate to talk to you about the parent's illness, because you are the employee. They are probably unsure of what to do and how to behave themselves, so therefore they refrained from talking with you.

However, you DO need to talk with them. I applaud you for recognizing that. I suggest that you approach one or two family members, perhaps those that seem to you to be the most sympathetic. Explain that you love the children and love your job, and that you are concerned about X (the mentally ill parent). Say to them that you feel X has gotten worse, and that you feel it is affecting the children. Explain that you are talking to them privately out of love and concern for the children and family. Ask if they can help you, help X, help the children, or do whatever they can to ameliorate the situation. Assure them that you are approaching them out of concern for the children, that you are not interested in quitting your job, but instead are asking for help. As they express sympathy and compassion and a willingness to help, then you can fill them in on more details of the situation and what X has been doing.

(If they don't seem at all receptive, and you've been very kind and gentle, then you might want to stop there, and try another family member instead. Don't provide too many details to a person who does not seem receptive, because then you will appear as though you are bad-mouthing your employer.)

If you choose your words well, and show that you are kind, gentle and concerned for everyone's welfare, you will probably be successful. What's more, you will know that you did whatever you could to help! Let us know what happens.

Anonymous said...

11:04 is CORRECT! Get out NOW! Report the's the best and most helpful thing you can do for the children. Then find employment with a family who has been screened by an agency. There are agencies that screen FAMILIES as well as nannies before a match is made. Make it clear to the agency that you do not want to work for a family with any history of severe mental-illness. And if possible, take a month or two between this job and the next to regroup and heal from what you've experienced.
Best of luck to you, and try not to let it break your heart. It's not your fault. And you CAN find a healthier work situation. Everyone deserves that.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I had experience working with a mentally ill (and that is the nicest possible way to put it) SAHM.

Not only did she seem intent on screwing up the lives of her children, she was hell bent on making me an accomplice in her sadistic games.

Sometimes even when a job PAYS
It doesn't pay.

I am haunted with regret, sorrow, what ifs and nightmares about the children I didn't do enough for before making my exit.

Anonymous said...

Are we talking slightly nutty or a total wack job?

Anonymous said...

My daughter was removed from my care for nearly 9 harrowing months a few years ago. It was due to my mental illness. Fortunately I was dianosed and went through intensive therapy (@ the state's expense nontheless). For only one reason am I glad that it happened, the fact that I can now take care of my child in a loving and positive manner. And luckily she was too young at the time to remember it now. It was a horrible experience to go through and sometimes completely unbearable, but I used it to make myself better. Although I do not want anyone to have to go through that, sometimes people have to in order to get better.

ro said...

How brave of you to share you story. How brave of anyone to try to get better, to strive to be a better parent. In the end, how we raised our children will be what defines us. Or how we treated the children we cared for.

Anonymous said...


You rock.

Anonymous said...

to 9:11,
As the child of a bi-polar parent, I just wanted to tell you that you did the right thing. It must have been so hard to be away from your child. But remember what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, and you obviously are doing well now.
God bless...

Anonymous said...

How many children?
How old?
They are going to get older and need mental help themselves. Even if they don't get the illness passed down, from dealing with a need and mentally ill parent, they could have codpendency and other issues. If no one is stepping forward now to take care of the basic situation, who is going to help the children deal with their own emotional health issues?

Stop considering the rights of this parent. He/she is an adult. Children need responsible adults to look out for them. BE THAT PERSON.

BPD411 Glossary said...

Dishrag Dad: the father, who, while married to a BP did little or nothing to protect the children.

That is who I grew up with.
And a mother who is best described as The Queen/Witch in Understanding the Borderline Mother.

Common traits:
BP Distortions- Most BP’s have feelings that are not very closely related to their actual, reality based life experiences. To rationalize their behavior (which is usually unacceptable to most people) they rearrange their memories to create facts, and believe that their version of what happened is real. They literally rewrite history to fit their feelings rather than have feelings that relate to life experiences. This can border on delusional thinking.

BP Distortion Campaign - when a BP deliberately tries to convince family, friends, community members or business associates that the Non is the one who is sick, was abusive, lied, was violent, etc. May involve false accusations of domestic or child abuse. May involve ’ setting up’ the Non to be charged with almost any crime.

And yes,
even if someone didn't help me, I wish that my father, aunt, neighbor, teacher would have whispered in my ear;
"Something is very wrong with your mother, not you"

On your way out, whisper in their ears, "it isn't you"
You might just save a child's life.

Anonymous said...

susan smith and andrea yates.

jmt said...

946 you rock, too. "It isn't you." I love that.

My dear friend's boyfriend grew up a single child with only his sick mother to outline his world. He's a mess. He's getting much better though. The only relative who stuck around was his aunt, who watched from as close as she could, taking a whole lot of crap from her sister, until her nephew was old enough to see her independently. She did whatever she had to to stay in his life and give him some validation and many, many reality checks.
I know two other women who grew up in the same situation. It happens more than you think.

Anonymous said...

jmt and glossary,
you are so on target.
i notice on this blog so many people say "why didnt you call the police", Why didnt you say more? When in reality children are being destroyed by their environments every day and people close to those children say nothing. I am glad your dear friend had the one aunt who got involved. These children need to be validated. "It happens more than you think". So right. And rarely do friends and family know nothing. They simply chose to look the other way and let the children fend for themselves.

Anonymous said...

there are nutters everywhere.
if this is the dad, they might do something.
If it is the mom, i think the courts here (ca) think it is a mother's constitutional right to abuse, neglect and ruin her child.

YSW said...

No, it isn't a constitutional right. i don't appreciate you saying that even jokingly. The court systems and Child Welfare Agencies need to be less forgiving when it comes to abusive parents and abusive mothers. Everywhere there are people waiting to adopt healthy children. They need not whither away in the care of toxic people.

Anonymous said...

I agree with what 3:04 is saying. It's not right, but that's the way it seems.

It also appears that white families are allowed to be nutty without consequence.

Look at the # of minorities in foster care versus the # of whites.

Why is that? It isn't because whites are saner. It's because the courts are more sympathetic.

Anonymous said...

money has bought many a white child of supposed privilege an 18 year stay in HELL.

Anonymous said...

I worked for a family who had a mentally ill parent.. it was the worst job i've ever had.. they flipped out on me over the slightest thing and it literally scared me... all I can say is.. GET OUT. if you care for the children, report the parent. not reporting them would be much worse.

Anonymous said...

I find all this urging to call state social service agencies very disturbing. There is no indication in this nannie's posting that any abuse is taking place in this home. Fortunately, she is there to make sure that the children are not being neglected during the hours she is working. It may be that this home situation is not ideal. Mental illness is effects a large number of people in this country and there are many kinds of illnesses with wide ranges of severity. If the nanny is unhappy with her job, she can leave. If she is concerned for the children's welfare, she should speak to the parents. If the mentally ill parent is not psychotic, he/she is probably well aware of the problem and may be struggling to control it.
I have worked with children for almost 15 years and have seen many children removed from their families and put into foster care or ageny homes. Even when parents have drug problems or living conditions are not particularly ideal, children are often better off than with what they are faced with once they are put in the hands of the state. It is a harsh, sad reality.

darryl said...

very true, 508-
however I am concerned that so often nannies see things that are disturbing and they need help, but if they say anything- they could loose their jobs. and in many families the nannies are the only ones who are truly meeting the children's needs.

Something should be done. Some sort of whistleblower act for nannies.

They are mandated to report what they see but also depenant on being able to keep quiet the details of previous families and yet still reliant on references...

tangled webs, indeed.

cali mom said...

This is sad. CPS wouldn't necessarily remove the children, which is good, but at least it would create some documentation and awareness of the problem outside other family members And maybe it would be best for the children to be taken care of by another relative, at leas temporarily, and probably sooner raher than later, assuming the problem will continue to worsen.

BP = BiPolar?

The description sounds like my sister!