First Day of School for the Mom of a Child with a Mental Illness

August 17, 2017

As I sit in my comfortable chair outside listening to the bird’s chirp, I think to myself: life today is not bad. It feels smooth, easy and comfortable. Relishing in the fact that today, school is starting, and it is no longer a part of my world. I consciously decide to ignore those old feelings of what it used to be like struggling to get a child to school. I say to myself, “not this year; it is my turn to avoid the feelings of the first day back to school,” or so I think.

An Interruption

My thoughts of bliss are quickly interrupted as I hear a child’s cries from afar. I surprise myself at how quickly the old feelings well up. My heart begins to beat faster, and my mind starts racing. Oh, that out of control sound. I wonder, will it rise to uncontrollable or will it be a short quick outburst?

Change is Hard

I know change can be hard for anyone, but add mental health issues and the first day back to school can be excruciating. It can catch you off guard, and things can quickly escalate to a level that one rarely expects.

The shouting now rings throughout the neighborhood. I don’t know why, but I go to that familiar place of shame. Are the parents worried about what others will think? Are they so consumed at the moment; they don’t care who hears?

A Day of Anxiety, Fear, and Trepidation

Many children and parents find starting back to school to be a tough day. Children with mental health issues have extra challenges to overcome. It can be a day filled with anxiety, fear, and trepidation. The children may have a running conversation in their head: “My teacher will hate me,” “My parents will be mad at me,” “I hate school,” “I am a failure,” “Nobody likes me,” and so on. My heart hurts for the child in such pain. Oh, how I wish, I could command it away.

Understanding Will Make a Difference

I think back to a time before I understood what I know today. The ignorant things I said to my child, “It will be okay, your teacher is kind,” “Your teacher will like you,” “Don’t be silly, of course, you will have friends.” Though they are well-intended and sincere statements, those remarks brought no comfort to a child who was hurting. It was her pain, not mine. It was a real pain, suffering that needed to be…

Recognized, Accepted, and Validated.

Instead, in my ignorance, I sent a scared little girl to school thinking her feelings were invalid, “stupid,” and wrong.

I go back to the screams and Momma Bear trying to do what is right and get her cub to school. I wonder, did Mom wake up thinking and hoping, this was the year when the first day back would be different? Did she have her armor on and was her skill belt tight, ready to face the day? Would she be able to coax patiently on, her child, in the midst of the hurling accusations aimed at her?

The screaming stops and I think to myself, what just happened? What worked, or did they just shut the windows so that no one will hear?

Ignorance is Not Bliss

I remember before mental illness came to reside – when I stood so proud thinking to myself, “I will never have a child that screams at me.” “I will do it right.” “I will always be that encouraging mom that coaxes her child lovingly into every difficult situation.”

Oh, how I used to judge those parents ever so harshly. I had all of the answers: more discipline, do it like me, tough love, more love, etc.

Offer Understanding Instead of Judgment

But today I am wiser; I know how challenging it is to coax and patiently prod along anyone that doesn’t want to do something. Adding unique struggles like mental illness compounds the challenges. These are battles that can’t be wished away or entirely understood. It is hard when school officials breathe down your neck insisting you make your child perform. I know how it feels to stand there and be judged by others that have not walked a minute in my shoes.  Also, what it is like to have your heart broken as you gaze into the eyes of the child that wants you to take their pain away, yet you push then on to do difficult things.

I apologize to all of those Moms I once judged. I am sorry!

My ignorance got in the way.

Until you try to walk in someone else’s shoes, you have no ideaI applaud all you parents out there struggling on that first day back to school. I encourage you to keep pushing, keep learning new skills and keep fighting for what is best for your child.

So when the stares from others begin, the judgments fly, and the shame starts to rise – 
I know change can be hard for anyone, but add mental health issues and the first day back to school can be excruciating. It can catch you off guard.
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So maybe today you didn’t use your skills or handle it well, don’t beat yourself up. I am sure you will have more opportunities to try again at helping your child through the changes that they don’t want.

If you are not a mom that struggles with getting a child to school, seek out that mom that is struggling. Find a way to help her. Offer encouragement instead of judgment and advice.

What struggles have you experienced in starting back to school with your child?


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The First Day of School for the Mom of a Child With a Mental Illness was first published on The Mighty on 8/29/16 and on Embracing the Unexpected as Back To School with Mental Health Issues – The Pain is Real on 8/18/16. This post has been revised for today’s publication.


  1. Reply

    Becky Hastings

    Oh friend, Mental illness is so complicated and misunderstood, even by those close to it. I pray you have found people who are brave enough to sit with you in the hard places and walk it out with you and your daughter.

    My 14 year old brother is currently in a residential program for mental illness. Hard is not the word. Knowing he is safe makes it easier, but it is still so hard.

    Praying for grace in the hard places and love that sees through the diagnosis.

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Becky – Thank you for sharing. I am praying for your brother and you right now. Yes, it is hard, and you are right that word doesn’t even fit. I am so glad he is getting the help he needs. I hope you and your family are too. I believe mental health challenges need to be tackled as a family. It impacts everyone.

      Yes, I do have brave people to walk alongside me. It was one of the first things I did. I do life with teams. Then after I got my feet wet I extended that support to others through this blog, a support ministry at our church, and teaching classes to families. Please do not hesitate ever to send me a private email if I can be of any help or support. Email is

      Prayers for your family,


  2. Reply

    Beth Willis Miller

    What wonderfully wise words from a mom who has walked the walk. May we all put ourselves in the shoes of the child and the mom experiencing stress and provide comfort. Many blessings to you!

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee


      Thank you for your beautiful words. We just have no idea what another is going through or what it feels like to be in their shoes, but we must try. May you have a blessed day today. Maree

  3. Reply


    Parenting is such a great learning tool. God gives each of us different little souls to watch over and teach us different lessons. Some women who choose not to or cannot have children will learn another way of God’s choosing. I have learned more love than I thought possible, patience beyond measure and so much more. An older friend of mine was laughing just the other day. I was discussing some of the difficulty of having a teen daughter and some of the arguments we had. She was almost in tears laughing. I finally said, “what is so funny?’ She replied, “and here I thought it was bad my son wants to help weed the flowers at 4 am before the deer arrive and walk in them. that’s the kind of things we argued about as I tried to rush him back to bed. Here you are arguing about homework, sports, college, and choosing good friends.” She continued laughing as though suddenly she realized that because her son would likely always live with her, she was never going to have those arguments and a part of her was sad, but a part of her very grateful. She said, I never had to worry where my son was at 4 am. If he wasn’t in his bed, he was out picking my weeds and flowers!

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee


      Thank you for sharing your story. It made me laugh and reminded me to stop and take a moment right now to count my blessings even in the midst of difficulties. Blessings to you, Maree

  4. Reply


    Beautiful words Maree. I have a dear friend who needs prayer with her child that suffers from mental illness. Her struggles are real. Your words remind me of Luke: 1:78-80 (GW), “A new day will dawn on us from above because our God is loving and merciful. He will give light to those who live in the dark and in death’s shadow.
    He will guide us into the way of peace.”

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Robin – I am praying for your dear friend right now as I send this comment back to you. She is blessed to have you for a friend that will lift her up in prayer. Please do not hesitate to give her my email if she ever wants another friend that will lift her too in prayer or just someone to chat with that understands the struggle. Blessings, Maree

      Love the verse you picked – I am going to post it right now on my Instagram. Thank you!

  5. Reply


    Maree Dee, I really can’t believe how similar we are. This post could have been written by me. “You love and care for your child in a way that most will never know or understand.” Truth!

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Stephanie – Spoken from a mom that gets it. You might enjoy my post this Thursday. It has nothing to do with mental health challenges but a story about when my baby went to Kindergarten. I fiercely love every one of my children. Hope you have a blessed week, Maree

  6. Reply


    Thank you for this article! Any suggestions on how a teacher can help this process when things are difficult saying goodbye at the classroom door?

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      You are so sweet to ask. I should write a post on just that. Yes, I do have suggestions. For the child: Push beyond their tough exterior. If they are pushing you away, keep trying. They could be so afraid you will never like them. So scared of rejection that they attempt to reject you first. For the Momma reassurance that you will not stop trying with their kiddo. Validate, Validate Validate both the momma and the child. Thank you for stopping by. I have no doubt you are an amazing teacher. Maree

  7. Reply

    Unmasking the Mess

    Maree- We start back on the 5th of Sept and everyone has butterflies in their stomachs! Thank you for explaining the feelings and what surrounds going back to school for those with special needs kids.
    I’m appreciative of your advice to encourage and help other moms who look like they needs some TLC.
    Visiting from #ChasingCommunity

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee


      Yes, starting back to school can create a flurry of butterflies for everyone. I am sure any mom would be blessed to have a little encouragement from you. Sending prayers as I hit reply for a successful start to the new school year for your family.

  8. Reply

    Kristen Walker

    My little starts back to school in a little over a week. He is nervous about the first grade, poor baby. I keep telling him that it will be alright, but I think I will approach it a little differently today when I see him. Thanks for the sweet reminder. Lovely read!

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Kristen – You are so welcome. Praying for your little as he starts school next week. I hope the new approach work. I have found in life we all just want to be heard.

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