Raising children can be therapy
When my daughter was born I was not present during the delivery. I could not hold her like most parents after their newborn is brought into this world.
Here I was in Canada, and she was born in Nepal. At five months, she arrived at Charlottetown airport. I did not hug her first, because her mother who had warned me on Skype: ‘Don’t suddenly hug your daughter, she gets spooked easily.’
She is a beautiful baby and I can see myself spending a lot of time with her as she grows up, as I dream about what kind of person I want her to be.
Why become a parent? The evolutionary reason for it is that you want to leave your genes after you pass on. But that idea is wrong. Parenthood, as Andrew Solomon says in his book Far From the Tree , is an act of production rather than reproduction. Seeing ourselves in our progeny is a profound mistake.
Parenting is anything but normal. What you are doing in becoming a parent is sacrificing your life to a being, while not knowing how they will turn out. It is a fulltime job for which there are no wages.
In The Gardener and Carpenter, psychologist Allison Gopnik has problems with the current model of parenting. Parents, instead of thinking themselves as guardians of their children and trying to mould them into what they want them to be, should instead let them flourish as they are, she says.
To build such a relationship with children is the key to becoming a parent. It is especially important for parents with mental illness, like me. The stereotypical view is that parents with mental illness are not good at their job. Admittedly that has been supported by some studies, which show that parenting can indeed lead to more stress for fathers and mothers with mental illness.
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However, there have also been several studies to show that raising children can actually bring about short and long-term change in the hormones in the parents' brains. The attachment between mother and child, for instance, is stimulated by the production of the hormone oxytocin in the brain. Oxytocin levels in fathers also seems to increase following the birth of a child and during interactions with infants.
Similarly, testosterone in the brain of a father decreases after a child is born and following interaction with children, although it may help in protective response, for example, when the child is threatened by a predator.
Parenting can also be a therapeutic tool for patients with mental diseases like schizophrenia, who are under antipsychotic medications that block the receptors of dopamine. However, although antipsychotics can treat symptoms of schizophrenia (like hallucinations and delusions) it is ineffective in treating other symptoms like lack of motivation.
Oxytocin, on the other hand, is involved in the process of attachment. The hormone can be used as a therapeutic agent to reduce some symptoms of schizophrenia. And since it is produced also in fathers and mothers when they interact with their children, parenting could be an antidote to the disorder.
The most important thing for parents with mental disease like schizophrenia is not to be too anxious about how their children are going to turn out as they grow up, but look to develop lasting relationships with them.
Parenting can be stressful, but is a blessing. Developing good parenting skills to build good relationships with our children (without trying to mould them) can be an effective tool for handling mental disease.
I have schizophrenia, and one of the things that I do to reduce relapse is interact with my daughter as much as possible and also build a positive approach to my parenting job.
Ketan Dulal is a PhD candidate at the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada.
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