Parenting can be messy, beautiful, fun, and—at times—really difficult. Because my “bipolar brain chemistry” can complicate the way I interact with the world, I turn to the wisdom of science, others’ lived experiences, and my own intuition when it comes to being a mom with bipolar.
Parenting with Bipolar Disorder
Having “bipolar brain chemistry” can complicate the way we interact with the world around us—and that includes our own offspring. As a parent of three precocious preschoolers, I assure you: interaction is already complicated enough as it is!
By looking to the available resources, as well as my own understanding of bipolar itself—its drawbacks and benefits, especially how they show up in my own life—I’ve come up with a way to try to balance influence and impact when it comes to my mood episodes and my children’s exposure to them.
I occasionally wonder whether my children will develop bipolar disorder like me. There isn’t any clear-cut answer to this question; both nature and nurture play a role in its presentation in an individual’s life. And although the finer details of the disorder’s genesis may be shrouded in mystery, one thing is clear: it sure as hell is not up to me.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T (Find Out What It Means to Me)
What Does the Latest Research Say about Bipolar’s Impact on Children?
I do know that growing up with a parent who has a mood disorder increases one’s likelihood of developing one also. Many studies, such as this one, published in Psychological Medicine, state it quite plainly:
And even though that is very difficult for me to read (much less acknowledge), I have to respect the science. Science is my only trustworthy beacon of light in navigating this life-storm of a bipolar experience; it is the only objective perspective to which I have access. Scientific research is always there for us in black-and-white—summarized, cited, and peer-reviewed. I find comfort in that and lean into it always.
“There’s been too much silence around this issue, too much hush-hush, too much stigma. I want to cause conversations to happen, so people realize that having a mental illness is just like having heart disease or any other health condition—it’s not anything to be ashamed of.”
Creating Guidelines Based on Science and Experience
Weaving the science together with the emotional input from Michelle helps me to set guidelines for the way I want to interact with my children. It’s not complicated at all, thank goodness; I simply follow an avoidance/exposure dichotomy.
How I Try to Limit Bipolar’s Impact on My Children
Avoid Projecting the “Bad Stuff”
I try to keep my “weird bipolar energy” to myself. I’ve learned that it’s too destructive and inconsistent to safely direct it at my kids. As such, I try to keep these things away from them:
I try to be communicative with my kids and to carefully expose them to some of my mood swings by being honest with them about how I feel. They are learning to recognize feelings in—and empathize with—others. I’m proud of that. As such, I try to amplify these things with my kids:
Parenting (With or Without Bipolar) Is a Work in Progress
This framework I’ve developed gives me confidence in parenting, but I still have plenty of concerns: Am I properly demonstrating self-care? Will my kids mimic the way I flit from one project to the next? Do they feel as important to me as they are? So, I will continue leaning into science and reading the experiences of others in hopes of finding further insights about how to safely and productively share my journey with my children.
My heart breaks to know that Michelle and her mom didn’t get a chance to talk through their experiences more fully; and I respect her advice that “the more we talk about it, the more people will get the help they need for loved ones or themselves.” I like to believe that with more openness, they would have been able to forge a deeper and more meaningful bond with each other. And that’s all I’m aiming for, actually—deep, open, and meaningful bonds with my children. There isn’t any science anywhere that says I can’t have that.
… And if any crops up, I’ll be here to prove it wrong.
*I often get mentally bombarded with a certain song or musical style when I’m writing, and I’ve come to embrace it—so these are my musical muses for the post. Please note, I’m sharing links to the songs for convenience of listening—it’s not about the video element at all.
Brooke Baron has a BA in English, a minor in philosophy, and a lifelong obsession with language. She is the author of A Beginner's Guide to Being Bipolar.
Although born and raised in Alabama, she has been a proud California resident for 10+ years. During a professional stint in Silicon Valley—in both the corporate and private business sectors—she handled internal and external communications, office design and construction, photography and graphic design, executive assistance, and functioning on very little sleep.
Brooke now specializes in "New Human Orientation" from her home in the suburbs. She has a young, loving, growing family of five and is fueled by that love and coffee.
In addition to caring for the rest of Team Baron, she enjoys writing, reading, researching miscellaneous topics, and funneling manic energy into creative projects. With so many balls in the air—including bipolar II disorder—balancing her life is like balancing two kangaroos on a see-saw. She offers consulting services for the bipolar community at Better Bipolar Balance.
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