Caring for a Parent with a Mental Illness





Meet: Tara
Caregiver Connection: Tara wrote for 31 days about living as the daughter of a mother with a mental illness.
Blog: Praying on the Prairie
Who she cares for: Her mother, who suffers from a mental illness.
Favorite Bible verse: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13 (NIV)


I am the oldest daughter of a woman who daily lives and struggles with a mental illness. My mom had a nervous breakdown shortly after my younger sister was born. Growing up, we didn’t know anything different. Mental illness was and continues to be a part of our story.

In approximately 2002, my sister and I became legal guardians for our mom. I remember the day as if it were yesterday. Sitting on a blanket, sprawled out on the grass, in the courtyard of Wartburg Seminary, I sat talking with my dear friends about my Mom. My grandpa had just passed away that August and Grandma was beginning to show early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Since my parent’s divorce, Mom’s parents had kept a pulse on Mom’s medical needs, but now we were at a crossroads. My sister and I knew that Grandma and Grandpa wouldn’t be around forever and Mom still needed to be cared for. We needed to make a decision.

So sitting on that blanket, my friends shared with me their thoughts on the situation after many of them had just complete Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) during the summer months. After much discussion and tons of prayer, it became pretty apparent to my sister and I that we needed to make the decision to become Mom’s legal guardians. In 2001, Mom’s lithium level had gotten too high which had caused her kidney’s to shut down. We weren’t sure she was going to make it. She pulled through, but the illness aged her a lot. Since that time, Mom has been living in a nursing home.

I honestly never thought that my sister and I would have to care for a parent at such a young age. I was 24 years old when my sister and I became Mom’s legal guardians. Yet being Mom’s caregivers has become a huge part of our story!

Since neither my sister nor I live in the same community as the nursing home Mom is in, it can be extremely stressful at times. And it is at those times that my sister and I are surrounded by dear friends and family who support us and walk this journey with us. They have carried us at times when we were too tired to carry ourselves.

Earlier this summer, Mom had a setback and had to be taken to the hospital. Luckily they brought her to my town—which is about 45 minutes away—and a friend and I were able to meet them at the hospital.

It is also stressful trying to make boundaries. I love my mom tremendously. But now that I have moved closer, I have to set boundaries so she doesn’t expect that I will be able to come all the time. Yes, I do my very best to attend her events, but there are times when my job gets in the way of that. It also is extremely important that my sister and I take care of ourselves so that we can be the best caregivers we can be for Mom!

My faith has played a huge part in our journey of mental illness. In fact, my mom is one of the faith-filled women that I know. I swear she would give the shirt off her back without a second thought. Mom, along with Dad, nurtured my sister and I in our faith. And without that faith, I don’t know where I would be. It is my faith that gets me through on the good days and the bad days. It is my faith that reminds me to trust in God who promises to never leave us or forsake us—because through the waters of Baptism, God has called and claimed us each as God’s children.MCC-Tara

“But now, God’s Message, the God who made you in the first place, Jacob, the One who got you started, Israel: ‘Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—Because I am God, your personal God, the Holy of Israel, your Savior. I paid a huge price for you: all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in! That’s how much you mean to me! That’s how much I love you!’ “—Isaiah 43: 1-4 (The Message Translation)

What’s YOUR story?  Come celebrate National Family Caregivers Month and share your story and spread some hope. (tweet this)

If you have a story you’d like to share as part of this series, email us at

Here’s an interesting article about helping people with dementia and Alzheimer’s feel accomplished.

Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a ‘recovering cancer caregiver’ who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • Tara, thank you for sharing your story! I love that Isaiah scripture at the end…our choir sang an anthem recently with those very words (well, maybe not those from the Message translation – which I LOVE!!). I am still working on my story…it IS difficult when the “child” becomes the caregiver to the “parent”…I found myself in that same role with my mother – but that is a different story; mine is my journey with my husband! Take care and I am continuing to follow your blog!
    Barbara London recently posted…All Saints DayMy Profile

    • Barbara, thank you for continuing to follow my blog. I love that verse and only recently heard it in the Message translation. I LOVE that version of this Isaiah text. Blessings on your journey as you care for your husband.
      Tara recently posted…My First Ever Guest PostMy Profile

  • You have a great perspective! I don’t see how people can face challenges like this without faith. God is so good to give us what we need, and it looks like he’s blessed you with plenty of wisdom, Godly friends, and even a mother with a strong faith to help you through this.

    Thanks for the encouragement today!
    Lynnae McCoy recently posted…School Lunch on a Stick – Because Everything is Better on a Stick!My Profile

    • Lynnae, thank you for reading! I too don’t see how people can journey through life without faith. ” Do not be discouraged or dismayed. I will be with you wherever you go.” God has indeed blessed me with Godly friends and an amazing faith-filled mother. I have never seen myself as wise but your comment has made me realize there was wisdom in our decision to care for Mom! 🙂

  • I have never experienced this situation personally, but I have friends who have. What an amazing act of love and courage to be able to take legal guardianship of your mother at such a young age! I love that verse at the end too. So powerful.
    Messy Mom recently posted…What Now?My Profile

  • Awesome post!! Prayers for you and your family, Tara! Being a caregiver can be very difficult… as a nurse, I see the stress that families go through. Take care of yourself… I like what you wrote about setting boundaries. Tha’s important.
    What a beautiful testimony! Thanks for sharing!

    • Lauren, I have learned how essential it is to set boundaries…especially as a single woman. Thank you for your kind words! And the prayers are much appreciated!
      Tara recently posted…My First Ever Guest PostMy Profile

  • It is really hard when we reverse roles and become the caregivers of our parents. Both sides miss out on so much. But you seem to have a positive handle on it. Bless you for being there for her and for sharing your story
    paula recently posted…My Simple Woman’s Daybook-Edition November 3My Profile

  • Thank you for sharing your story, I care for my Mom at home (she has dementia) thanks for the reminder to remember to care for ourselves as well, boundaries are hard sometimes, but necessary for survival..LOL Love the verse in Isaiah.

    • Tobi, it is so important to care for YOU too! That is something that took me a little while to learn but so very important. I pray that you find time to take care of you too. It is so hard to care for someone we love. Blessings on your journey. And I LOVE that Isaiah verse too!!!
      Tara recently posted…My First Ever Guest PostMy Profile

  • I sit here at awe of your story Tara! Thank you for sharing right from your heart…both the mountain tops and the valleys. Praying for you friend!
    Bethany Boring recently posted…Don’t Forget Your RootsMy Profile

    • Bethany, that means a lot to me; that you are in awe of my story! Thank you! I do my very best to share from my heart; the highest highs and the lowest lows…no need to sugar coat it! Thanks for the prayers. I appreciate them so much!
      Tara recently posted…My First Ever Guest PostMy Profile

  • Donne

    Having any family member who has a mental illness is difficult; I can only imagine how much more painful it must have been as a young person, having to take on the role of caregiver to your own mother. Thank God that you have wonderful, supportive friends and that your feet were firmly placed in a foundation of faith early on. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • I can’t imagine taking on that kind of responsibility at 24. Its so hard when you have to take care of your parents when you are in the season that they should be taking care of you.
    Melissa recently posted…Finding FocusMy Profile

    • It definitely wasn’t a responsibility that I ever thought that I would have to take on especially at 24. You are right especially when I should be taking care of me. That’s why the boundaries have become so important. How do I take care of me? How do I find time to look for my Mr. Right and my future family? How do I spend time with family etc? It’s amazing to look back and realize I have been Mom’s legal guardian for 12 years!
      Tara recently posted…My First Ever Guest PostMy Profile

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