5 Things to Remember when Being a Parent with Bipolar Disorder

Last Updated: 21 May 2019

Your bipolar disorder wellness plan, as a parent, should take into account both you AND your children.

Young Mother and Daughter - 5 Things to Remember when Being a Parent with Bipolar Disorder

This post looks into the challenges faced by parents diagnosed with bipolar disorder and provides some insight into how to develop a recovery plan inclusive of the well-being of their children.

The bipolar disorder

Having bipolar disorder and learning to manage one’s condition is not only difficult, it is sometimes near impossible to do. Challenges we face here are insurmountable–from living a chaotic life, living undiagnosed, to finding the right diagnosis to accepting it and then to determining the right combination of medication and therapy to manage your condition. The professional team you work with consists of your therapist, psychiatrist and/or any other medical professional. These relationships need to be managed too. It forms the integral part of your treatment plan.

There’s all of that, and then dealing with bills, marriage and your partner’s needs. Work has its own set of challenges. Then to have a child?

The child

Let’s be honest, raising a child is no joke. Some days are wonderful, others are bearable and sometimes, for some, they’re impossible. It is for most, on the best days, the greatest challenge that gives the ultimate joy one can never really be able to explain in words. There are so many complications which can arise when raising a child, whether it’s your own child or not, but being responsible for the upbringing of an individual, a life, can be stressful. It’s a complicated love relationship.

A child’s needs differ across their ages; a child’s personality requires development and their minds stimulation. Take all the above into account and you’ve got one hairy, sticky situation to manage in addition to the might of your illness.

My experience

My most challenging time as a bipolar sufferer has been as a full-time parent. I was hospitalized twice in one year after deciding to be a full-time parent. Here, I thought I was doing myself a favor by being at home. But I failed to cope. As someone with bipolar disorder, I found myself suffering the full effects of a mixed episode: manic symptoms, self-loathing, poor hygiene, constant suicidal thoughts with added the bonus of aggravated scalp psoriasis and serious weight gain due to thyroid issues.

As a mother, I was exhausted or burnt out as they like to call it. I had no energy or drive to look after three children (one brand new baby) who all had different needs which I couldn’t meet in any way. These needs ranged from basic ones like being fed, to the more complex ones, like discipline and instilling values in your child. But how does one do that when you’re sitting in the pit of depression, not having any inkling when you might return? How do you parent your child when you’re manic: absent-minded on spending sprees and sexual escapades?

Yet, there are ways to make it work: by looking at a very complicated situation, one aspect at a time.

For example, I used to feel very guilty when I looked back on parenting my first child with the life I led. “My poor child. What will he remember? What will he think of me? I’m not good enough to be called his mother.” Thoughts like these clouded any positivity or joy a child could bring.

The guilt suffocated me.

But I started thinking of my life in terms of a book, with chapters and paragraphs detailing my symptoms, my decisions and the consequences. I thought of the book evolving with every chapter. I thought of the role my parents played in my life. I thought of the characters they were in my book–and it struck me. I am a mere character in my son’s book of life. There’s so much more than just me going on in his book. And even if I’m the antagonist in his life, I’m catalyst in his growth. My life, my decisions shape his book. And if I’m not that big of a character in his book, that’s also fine. The point is that he was given to me as a child as much as I, the bipolar parent, was given to him as a parent. How it impacts him, is his story to tell.

And just like that I could breathe again. The guilt dissipated.

With my next two children, I didn’t suffer from the same guilt, but I did make the mistake of making the disorder the center of my life. To be fair, I was undiagnosed with my firstborn and only came to terms with my diagnosis after baby number three. I went through a phase where everything I did, said, or dreamed about had to do with the disorder. I had various treatment plans. I was advised to stop working, find myself, get a nanny to help with the housework. I was advised to focus on getting well.

But what I didn’t realize was that while those things were good and well, they isolated me from the family, who were part of my wellness. I felt detached from their reality. I felt excluded from their upbringing. So as much as it’s important to focus on your disorder, find ways to make your treatment plan “family-friendly.” Sometimes we’re given advice that is suited to individuals who don’t have children, or don’t have financial constraints. It’s important to speak up about these issues in your therapy sessions as your recovery depends on finding and maintaining a treatment plan that works for you and your family.


1) Your child is not your crutch

Do not put your child in a position where they need to take responsibility for your health. That’s the same as putting them in a situation they can’t control, which is unfair. Your diagnosis is your responsibility. So, especially with little children, don’t make them remind you to take your pills.

2) Your child is not there to make you feel guilty

Many people feel guilty when they experience their symptoms–and feel that they’re letting their children down. Or worse, when they consider ending their lives, they’re told to “think of your children.” Guilt immediately sets in. Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain and does not reflect our love or care for those closest to us. The way you feel in your state of depression does not reflect how much you love your children. It’s an unconditional love that outshines the effects of your illness.

3) Develop a treatment plan that takes into account your child’s schedules and well-being

Don’t develop a plan that doesn’t take into account your child’s sleeping routine, for example. If you need extra sleep, sleep when they sleep. Take your medication when they take their vitamins. Build your treatment plan into their structure so that the routine is unbroken, and both you and the child feel safe and secure.

4) Your child is an individual, with a story to tell

Yes, you have bipolar disorder but your journey is part of your child’s life as well. Your story adds to their character.

5) Use your experience in understanding the way you feel to teach your child the importance of how to communicate their feelings

Part of your therapy is understanding your mood and your triggers. You need to understand yourself. You can use these skills and teach your children to comfortably speak about their feelings and help them to be cognizant of their mental health.

About the author
Yvette Hess (nee Adams) is an expressive artist and mental health advocate based in South Africa. Her business journey started off as a therapy suggested by her psychologist, who asked her to attend a few art classes after her third major depression episode. Since then it has evolved into much more! Yes, Yvette still uses it as an outlet, but she has embraced the healing it provides and that even though she lives with mental illness, she is still empowered. Her artwork and writing can be found on her website and she can be easily found online, like in her feature for Beautiful News South Africa where she speaks openly about mental illness and addiction.
  1. I am so angry and have been suffering so much. I’d love some feedback after I make my rant. I was hoping to find something a little more helpful on this site… I So yeah, this is not helpful!!!!! This is exactly the same crap that is in every other “Parenting with Bipolar” article. There are absolutely NO resources for parents with Bipolar. Or even mental illness! I have a 2.5 year old and I suffer from rapid cycling and mixed states. Exactly a year ago my Dr put me on an SSRI and Prednisone at the same time while I was completely unmedicated for my bipolar (she knew I was bipolar) . Anyway I of course went full blown manic. After hospitalization I never fully recovered. I’m medicated but the Mixed states and rapid cycling has become my life. An agitated depression with manic energy is how I feel more of the time. I go to counseling 2x a week, a bipolar support group once a week and I practice every other bp treatment that I can. My son is having extreme tantrums lately and his behavior is uncontrollable. I am triggered by all of this so I have to immediately get up and walk away, grit my teeth until it passes, or turn on the TV. I need to be teaching him things, disciplining him, potty training him, taking him out of the house, comforting him when he is upset, helping him evolve and grow… How am supposed to do this???!! I feel like an outsider to the bipolar population just as much as everyone else now. I’m so frustrated and all I feel is guilt and shame. I can’t help his behavior because I have to control mine. I feel so alone in all this.

  2. After almost 2 years going through a fivorce it finally is done. I’m bipolar and have two boys with my now ex. The divorce was ugly and over time the trash talking to me and nasty comments by my boys is from my ex turning my boys against me. On one point I want to throw my hands up in the air and tell them that they don’t have to come for visitation. On the other hand they are my boys and I do love them. With my bipolar it’s making my life so hard that I don’t want to do anything but curl up in a ball and sleep. This isn’t good for me if I can’t be there for my boys.
    I’ve read articles where they say if you give in you prove the other parent about you. It goes on to stay to don’t give up and show your kids that you love them and that you aren’t the monster you are made out to be. I just feel that I can’t be there for my boys if I can’t take care of myself first. I just don’t know what to do.

  3. I’m a father of 5 and I’ve been dealing with BPD since I was a teen. Probably earlier than that, I started therapy and have been on meds for awhile, but it’s so hard to shake the emotional ups and downs with my meds. My missus is in the brink of leaving me after 3 years which I don’t blame her, it’s been a tough road the last 3 years, sometimes I feel like I’m worthless pos that doesn’t deserve to have children that are my entire existence. I never get to spend much time with them if I wanted to, when they’re at my house all I do is get all manic and take out what I’m stressed about on everyone. I have tried and tired to find a routine to help me when I feel my triggers kick and it’s just so fast and I’m in rage mode for reason what so ever, then I just wanna crawl into a deep dark hole and die and cry uncontrollably when I act out towards them and then try to explain what happened. My kids are gonna hate me when they grow up, which I hope not. I just feel so alone and when I rage out I get ignored by the only person I can talk to outside of my therapist. My rage and the blaming are taking its toll to where no one wants to talk to me and I get frustrated and up set, then the cycle continues.

  4. Some days, dealing with my two kids is just so hard and I am constantly angry and irritated during my depressive episodes.I feel guilty about the kids and how I rush them and sleep a lot. But then, I realised that I shouldn’t blame myself. I am sick and it happens.

    I used to harm myself as a cry for attention but haven’t done so in a while (I have been Bipolar 2 for about 15 years). That’s my proudest achievement. What good am I to myself and my my family if I give up?

  5. Thank you for sharing, Yvette. I have BPD and am the mother of a two year old. I often feel guilty while in my “dips” that he’ll feel neglected. His father is good about taking him more during those weeks so I can sleep, withdraw and wait for the dip to pass. But I worry when my son is older that he’ll notice. Your post was encouraging…

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