Parenting after Traumatic Brain Injury

Posted on April 3, 2021

Brain injuries can happen to anyone, anytime, which may include many people with children. After the initial traumatic experience, the emphasis is on rehabilitation, finding ways to overcome memory problems or fatigue, learning to walk or talk again. However, returning to parenting responsibilities is often tricky as their ability to carry out parenting roles is affected by their injury, and the relationship with their children changes. 

Significant problems that parents with brain injury face include:

  • Irritability and poor tolerance: Brain-injured parents find it difficult to exercise patience and find themselves getting irritated and annoyed by their children. They complain that they tend to get angry quickly and find themselves shouting more than they mean to. Changing a decision that is important to the child without offering an explanation. 
  • Lack of confidence and self-esteem: Following a brain injury, many brain injury victims lose faith in their abilities to perform physically and mentally. Brain-injured parents may have little or nothing to offer their children because of their disabilities. 
  • Feeling guilty: Parenting can become complicated, and they may feel guilty as they do not take as much interest in children as they used to. This may be because of their emotional problems or because of their physical issues and fatigue. Being unable to run and play with children, become too tired to drive and take children out shopping or on trips. 
  • Lack of multitasking abilities: After a brain injury, it can be challenging to juggle different commitments. This may include dealing with children of different ages or being able to cook and help a child with his/her homework simultaneously.
  • Changes in physical appearance: Inability to walk, facial muscle weakness, visual problems, and other disfiguring changes can make parents feel that they are not as lovable and that their children seem to be embarrassed about their physical appearance. There may be times where children are afraid of the changes and may react differently at first. 
  • Being focused on recovery: A TBI or ABI victim struggles with trying to speak, move, think and remember, and relearning specific skills. This takes up a lot of their time and energy; as a result, children suffer due to a lack of attention and family time. 
  • Changes in children’s behavior: Children who have been separated from their parents due to prolonged hospitalization find it difficult to readjust to the parent coming home. The physical and mental hurdles can make parents feel that their children are sidelining or surpassing them or take advantage of them due to their poor memory. 
  • Changing family roles: Following a brain injury, the whole family dynamics, and routine changes, the parent may lose their job and become a full-time carer for the children. Also, the affected partner may require help and support in practical tasks such as dressing, washing, financial matters, and this may change the partner's attitude towards them, which can affect their parenting role. 
  • Emotional problems: Feeling anxious and depressed will inevitably affect the relationship with children. Brain injury can make you feel low on energy and confidence levels. Lack of motivation along with physical barriers can make parenting responsibilities burdensome. 
  • Memory problems: The most significant hurdle brain-injured patients face is memory issues. It can be challenging to remember names, memories, and remember what happened a few days earlier, and share memories with the rest of the family. 

Parenting after brain injury changes as the affected person may have physical, behavioral, or cognitive changes as a direct result of the injury, which affects their parenting ability. Also, after a brain injury, family patterns may change or get disrupted. The parent may have spent a prolonged period in the hospital, the children may also be recovering from PTSD, or both parents may be involved in the trauma.