Parenting My Adult Son: Bipolar and Setting Boundaries

Last Updated: 8 Mar 2019

When the worst day of your life means having to tell your son to leave the home because he wasn’t respecting any boundaries.

Every day I wake up and I am hopeful that this will be the day my son wants to get better.

Sadly, today is not the day. I have been involved with support groups and going to therapy most of my son’s life. Even though this illness can wreak havoc on your life having those things in place has helped to keep me grounded. Over the past few years, my son’s bipolar has progressed into chaos. I was finding myself struggling to know what the right thing to do was. How much can I support him when he is so angry toward me? How much time do I spend listening to him spew hateful, negative things? How much time do I dedicate to someone who is unwilling to help himself?

I found that it was easier when he was younger. I used to tell people I have to lose the battles to win the wars. Whether it was a fight over wanting a toy or him wanting me to take him to McDonald’s. In my world, those battles were better off being lost. I knew I would have to stand my ground on things such as going to school or taking responsibility for his actions. Those were things I was not willing to settle on. I knew it could potentially be a war in our home, but as a mother, I knew it was my job to instill the discipline in him because eventually he would grow up and have to function in society independently.

I thought back then I couldn’t be more exhausted. There were several times when things were flying around the house that I just up and left to escape. I literally ran away from home. I would drive around for hours or park in the local grocery store lot just to cry it out and regain my strength. All the while I would hope that he would calm down and we could have a discussion about it. I wouldn’t say it worked all of the time, but sometimes it did.

As he progressed into adulthood I couldn’t run away anymore. I had to face the fact that if he and I were going to co-exist I had to lay down some BOUNDARIES. Although I am educated and I know what the word means I wasn’t exactly sure how to apply it in our lives, but I knew I needed to start finding some peace or I was going to lose myself in this illness.

I had to face the fact that if he and I were going to co-exist I had to lay down some BOUNDARIES.

A few years ago I decided that it was time to take back some of my life. I had dedicated so much time to him that I had lost myself along the way. I went back to the gym, started spending more time with friends, started dating, and I was even able to take a few mini vacations. Although I was starting to enjoy this new found me, my son didn’t like it all. The more I tried to separate myself from him the more he tried to cling on tighter. It was like a tug of war. I started to set more boundaries regarding rules in the house, behaviors that were tolerable, the use of derogatory words toward me. It was my house and my rules and as an adult, he was free to leave anytime. I wasn’t trying to be mean; I was trying to teach him how to become an adult and independent.

Sadly, at the time, I didn’t realize he had quit taking medication and started experimenting with marijuana. I knew kids experimented with it, and I half expected him to try it, I just didn’t realize the awful effect it would have on him or how quickly he would spiral out of control. I had to set new boundaries. My boundaries were no longer about respectfulness in the home but about me trying to survive.

I had to tell my son to leave our home because he wasn’t respecting any boundaries. It was the worst day of my life. I wasn’t sure of what the outcome would be but I knew I couldn’t continue to live in a world that could potentially cost me my home, my job, and maybe my life. It was now up to him to make the right decisions or live with the consequences.

About the author
Julie Joyce is a Chicago Police Officer and the mother of an adult son who suffers from bipolar disorder and ADHD. Over the years Julie has been a strong advocate and volunteer with National Alliance for Mental Illness, The Balanced Mind Foundation, and has assisted with the creation and implementation of the Advanced Juvenile Crisis Intervention training (CIT) for Chicago Police officers. She is certified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Hostage Negotiation Team as a Crisis Negotiator, has conducted presentations on mental illness for Attorney General Lisa Madigan's Office and has had the opportunity to speak to legislatures on the need for special education funding. Julie has also conducted educational presentations for DCFS on interventions for kids with mental illness. Along with her son, she was interviewed on NPR, WBEZ, for the “Out of the Shadows” series which focused on juveniles and mental illness. Currently, Julie spends her time raising awareness and advocating for people living with mental illness.
  1. I can feel every word of you story, that’s totally me, I’ve been living this hell my whole life my 25 years old son istill not ready for life and I don’t think that ever going to happen.
    Sometimes I feel hopeless and all I can do is cry . Please help

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m currently living this. My son has cost me residency and has no remorse. I’m exhausted. Today, he was having suicidal thoughts. I had to make a decision to call 911, which is scary because my son is black. The cops were patient and showed compassion during the process . Thanks for letting me know that I’m not alone.

  3. Today I read your story and it was a self image of what I am currently experiencing. My son is 26 years old and I noticed a complete change in him in his second year of college. He decided to quit school at age 21, no longer responding to my calls, start a relationship with a woman who was 10 years older than him and just disappeared. It was as if he completely fell off the face of the earth from all of his friends and family. He disappeared for 4 years. I would soon find out he had been admitted to a mental hospital twice since. I had him at home finally this year in March 2020 I was so happy. However, this was not the son I raised. He would talk to himself, say he had to speak loud to her himself above the voices in his head. I told him I loved him and we would get him all the help he needed. He agreed and was admitted into a mental health facility for 72 hours on medication. When he came out to my surprise he stopped taking his medicine, accused me of setting him up and many other accusations that did not coincide with our agreements. He would pace at all hours of the night and disappear for hours. He finally agreed to go see the therapist to prove to me he was okay. As we traveled in the car to see his therapist, he jumps out of the car and starts yelling at me and saying I was controlling him and nothing is wrong with him. However, during his hospital stay he was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. He would enter hi sisters room and wake her up at 3am to talk and she became severely afraid of him. He would express what the voices were telling him and to hurt others. I finally had to ask him to leave. He would not take his medicine, He would not work, he would not go to therapy and i was exhausted. No sleep, a daughter who was startng to have anxiety and afraid of him all the time. He wanted to leave and as of that time he is now homeless. He has had 5 jobs since than and quick all of them. He currently walked over 450 miles believing he needs to reach Alabama a christian state. He says He cant work on Sunday’s and at times speaks horrible to me of which I have no idea what he is referring to.I have called my PCP, reached out to numerous therapist and even his therapist and they all say he’s an adult and no one can make him take his medicine or force him to be admitted. Im desperate at this point. He sleeps on the sidewalk, he has lost over 60 pounds. Im afraid i cant help him/ PLEASE help

    1. I can feel every word of you story, that’s totally me, I’ve been living this hell my whole life my 25 years old son istill not ready for life and I don’t think that ever going to happen.
      Sometimes I feel hopeless and all I can do is cry

    2. Erica my heart breaks for you. My prayers are with you and your son. May God give you wisdom and him protection.

  4. My daughter has been diagnosed with bipolar depression and I have been dealing with a lot for over 10 years..mentally I am very exhausted. She is on meds but I noticed that she has started smoking marijuana. I don’t want to put her out because I worry so much about her…At this point I don’t know what to do because she is 23 years old and so angry with me when I try to help her…what can I do??? I’m stressed

  5. I am worried my child might be bibpolar. She has had many of the symptoms for a few years but recently they’ve gotten extreme. She all of the sudden decided she didn’t want to be with her husband (lost her mind over him talking to another female 2 weeks ago) but is now trying to tell me she is in a great relationship ship with some new guy (this is new guy number 2 since Dec). She is very manipulative and a compulsive liar so it’s so hard to trust her. Her behaviors seem to be getting more extreme after she tired to take pills in Jan and got set up on meds and a counselor. I think she needs a psychiatrist and to be seriously evaluated. We have tried to get help for her over the years but limited counseling and meds she refused to take. Any advice or do you think talking to her current counselor would help. I love her and don’t want her to ruin her life with her extreme behaviors.

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