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3 Ways Bipolar Disorder Makes Me a Better Parent to My Kids With Complex Needs

Bipolar disorder impacts our lives in many ways. As a parent, it impairs my ability to take care of my kids at times, and I often need to rely on my partner to step in when my illness becomes too much. But there are some positive aspects my illness has given me that I’d like to share with other parents who are dealing with bipolar disorder. After all, there is a stereotype that people with mental illness should not have children, and I would like to set the record straight that people with mental illness can successfully raise healthy and happy children.

Before I get into the details, I need to give readers a sense of the responsibilities I face as a parent. I have three children, ages 10, 4, and 2. Two of the children were adopted from foster care and bring a number of unique parenting challenges. Between the three children, the following diagnoses are represented: attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), fetal alcohol syndrome, cerebral palsy, developmental delays and more. Each child has required some combination of therapy (psychotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and/or physical therapy) and medications, which is reminiscent of my treatment for bipolar disorder. Parenting is my hardest job, but the rewards of raising my three children far outweigh any of the negative aspects. In my house, we work together to support each other the best we can.

So here are some of the things that my bipolar has taught me that I apply to my parenting every day.

1. Everyone deserves an opportunity to find happiness and fulfillment in life.

For adults, this might apply to finding meaningful work and/or service, similar to the ideals put forth in the Clubhouse movement. For children, this means access to a fair education and extracurricular activities. Because of my children’s learning impairments, I spend countless hours in meetings with teachers, administrators, psychologists and social workers to negotiate 504 plans and individualized education plans (IEPs) that meet my children where they are. There is no shame in seeking accommodations for my children because of their disabilities, and this is something that I had to learn through my own impairments with bipolar disorder.

2. There is nothing wrong with needing medications and/or therapy to function.

When I first sought treatment for my bipolar disorder, I had to overcome a lot of stigma. I had always been told that people with mental illness are weak, that medications for mental illness are the easy way out, and that therapy was pointless. It took me months to realize that these things simply are not true. People with mental illness are some of the most resilient people I have met, and medications and therapy are necessary for fighting the illness, just as they are for physical illnesses. All three of my children have needed some form of therapy and medication to overcome their conditions. I take it in stride as a parent, and while it means a lot of appointments, my wife and I make it work.

3. Everyone is deserving of forgiveness.

As a person with bipolar disorder, I sometimes say or do things that I don’t actually mean. For example, when I am extremely irritable, I may shout in a way that is uncharacteristic of me. When I am in the presence of my kids, I am quick to catch myself and rely heavily on my wife to step in and take over in these moments. When I regain my composure, I talk with my kids about what happened, why it happened, and how I will try to do better the next time. My children have outbursts as well, and because of my own experience with bipolar disorder, I do not overreact. When one of my children says something hateful, I understand that they don’t really mean it, and instead of grounding them or putting them in timeout, I give them space to cool down and then we talk about what happened. Everyone in my family is deserving of forgiveness, and we always try to do a better job the next time.

To be honest, parenting while having bipolar disorder isn’t easy. But I think it would be incredibly hard to meet the challenges that my unique parenting situation presents me without having had the experience of having bipolar disorder. I have more compassion, and I am ready to do the work to give my children the best experiences that I can. There’s no denying that my house is filled with love, and that is what matters the most.

Photo by Tim Cooper on Unsplash