A Parent’s Perspective: Putting Your Emotions Aside

Last Updated: 24 Feb 2019

When you have an adult child living with bipolar and who’s in crisis it’s easy to get caught up in the emotions of the moment.


I am far from a perfect parent. I have yelled at my son, called him names, and even thrown my own temper tantrum. These are things that I am not proud of, but no one gives you a handbook on how to raise a child with bipolar.

We have been in therapy since my son was around five years old. Having experienced different therapists, it has really given me valuable tools to use when dealing with my son or other people in crisis. There are many things you learn going to therapy: how to not just listen but hear what the person is saying. To pause before responding. To use a lot of “I statements.” To be more empathetic towards one another. All of these have been valuable tools over the years and probably helped keep my own sanity.

One of the greatest gifts raising a son with bipolar and going to therapy has taught me is to be a very selfless person. As I have mentioned before, bipolar is extremely selfish. It took a lot of introspection to get to this place. I am never going to win the proverbial tug-of-war with this diagnosis. I had to learn to let go of all those ideologies I thought would make me a great parent and start listening to my instincts.

I learned that getting caught up in these emotions only brings more pain. This is not to say I don’t feel anything. I am human. I still get angry, I still feel sadness, and I still cry; but if I am in the midst of a crisis I have to be able to keep my head above water or I will drown.

Think about it this way: As a police officer, IF every time I responded to a crisis call and I started to cry because I was injecting my own personal issues into it, how would that outcome be? People would probably think I was unfit for duty and should be removed from the street.

My job is to calm a person down, make them feel safe, and get them to treatment. Of course, in a lot of these situations, I do reference my own life because I am aware it helps the person understand that I can relate to their struggles, but I have to avoid the emotional part if I want the outcome to be successful.

A lot of those skills apply to my own personal life. I have to learn to change hats as a parent. During a crisis I can’t always be his friend, I can’t always agree, I can’t always placate him. I have to take an unbiased approach to what is best for him.

I have called the police on my son a few times. There isn’t a worse experience than when you are the police and you have to call the police. It can cause emotional turmoil. I didn’t want to ask for help, but I knew I couldn’t handle it on my own. Are my own colleagues going to handle this situation well? Are they going to judge me? Will they be talking about us in the locker room? There is definitely a lot that went through my mind as I picked up the phone and dialed 911.

I also knew there was a risk that he would fight them. I had to tell them to do whatever they had to so they could protect themselves. Thankfully he didn’t fight them. I love my son and I was heartbroken watching them put him into a wagon and take him to the hospital but I knew that I was saving his life.

For those moments I was very robotic. Not because I had to be to save face but I knew if I brought all the emotion that was flooding into my brain into it I would not have been able to function to get him the help he needed. There is always plenty of time left to cry later.

I can feel later but in the midst of a crisis, I need to put my emotions to the side.

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 also knew there was a risk that he would fight them. I had to tell them to do whatever they had to so they could protect themselves.”

    No. Just no.

  2. I’ve never been able to understand how my mother has been able to put herself aside to advocate for me when I was younger, and to be able to distinguish what was me being a teenager and what was the ugliness this illness can sometimes bring into our lives. As to how can someone stop taking their meds? They may feel worse on them, they may be paranoid about taking them (that they’ll turn them into another person), or they did such a good job that at some point they felt they didn’t need them anymore. Granted the non-intentional non-compliance of “bi-polar brain” as I call it, (forgetting a lot regularly) can happen too. Your families will be in my thoughts, they often are. I realize how lucky I’ve been to have had the support that I do, and to be flourishing in mental health recovery. It’s taken a lot. A lot of hard turns,bad choices, & things I’d rather not live through again. It can be a savage disease.

  3. Hi. I have had to call the police on another person three times in my life. In each case it was because they were a danger to themselves (suicidal or drugs) or to others (me)….It’s not much fun. I’ve had bipolar over two decades and I’ve had the police called on my behalf twice. That was really not much fun. Thanks for your introspection as a parent and an officer of the law. Thank you for keeping us safe. Allison

  4. Anyone dealing with an adult son in prison?

    1. yes i am he gets out tommrow

  5. My daughter is bipolar, and has been she was 13 now 30. It’s like a roller coaster the last 4 months. A lot of crying for sure. And I myself had to called the police. The last 72 hours has been hell. Because she 30 I really don’t have a say so I been told . But my daughter is in trouble and I had to do something. Off her meds since May23rd. I still don’t understand why she want take her meds. In the last few days my mind was in overload with worry. Didn’t know if she was die or alive , living on the streets ( I Assume ) not for sure. She walk out of the hospital because she was fine. ( Not) but in her mind. Today I stood in a court room relived they are holding her over the weekend. Until we can try to get her back in the hospital on court order. My life is always on hold in her manic episodes . Please keep my family in your prayers as we face the unknown future. Because the laws with mental illness sucks. A very frustrated mom .

    1. Oh God. What a nightmare. You and your daughter are in my prayers.

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