These parents have gone through it—whether it’s raising kids with bipolar, anxiety or ADHD—and they are offering up some words to the wise:
Acknowledge and accept
“None of us signed up for this journey. I know I didn’t and neither did my son,” says one mother of a son with bipolar disorder. “However, it is the hand we were dealt and I intend to play it to the best of my ability. I want to be my child’s strongest advocate, his caregiver when necessary, and be there to celebrate all of his life’s special moments.”
Don’t be afraid to speak up
No one knows a child better than his parent, so if there is something that is off, it’s necessary to insist someone listens, says one mom. “I have learned to trust the professionals during treatment, but to also know when to intervene if I don’t think my son is getting the level of care I know he needs and should be receiving.” Says another parent: “Don’t be afraid to make your voice heard by asking questions. And If you don’t think the treatment is working tell your medical provider(s).”
Find the right therapist/psychiatrist
Keep looking for a therapist/psychiatrist that will work with your family. “They should do more than write a prescription. Good ones will help advocate for your child, help you find solutions and encourage a full, independent life for your child.” Also, if you are not satisfied with your child’s medical provider(s) then find someone else, say parents. You have the final say in your child’s treatment.
Trust your gut
If you have a feeling there’s something more than kid/teen behavior then investigate. Says one mom: “I wish I had known that it was much more than a typical teenager acting out and making poor decisions. I could have questioned the rapid change in his behavior, how much time he spent with bad friends, the aggression and anger, and the bouts of intoxication that I didn’t know what to do with.”
Relevant information isn’t always presented to us; we have to sometimes research and ask deeper questions to learn more about what the various symptoms can indicate. “I was astounded that my child with so many issues was actually “normal”—“normal” for someone with bipolar that is,” says one mother. “We should have been better informed right from the start–that way we could understand that our annoyances weren’t with the person, but with his illness.”
Take small bites
Being a parent of a child with mental health challenges will add so many more things to your plate, especially in terms of advocacy, reaching out to others and research on your own. “Sometimes my to-do list on my son’s behalf is so long,” says this mother. “It gets wearying to have to get a hold of so many people (doctors, counselors, social workers, etc.) when often they don’t respond back. For every person I contact, I rejoice! I did something positive for my son and I count it!”
Don’t lose yourself!
Look after yourself! Easy to say, but it truly is essential to follow this important piece of advice. Sleep is at the top of the list (which should apply to the entire family), because without sleep, no one is any good to anyone else. Also, surround yourself with positive good friends who really understand and accept you. And, as one parent advises: “Keep as much of your own life and dreams as you can and don’t let [what you’re dealing with] take over your life.”
Consider sharing your story
We all have our own comfort levels in what we share to others about our personal lives. But it can be comforting to read or hear about others going through something similar. It says we are not alone. Says one mother of a child with bipolar: “I share certain things on social media, and I’ve had a few friends come up to me to share that they too have a family member who has bipolar. Without my openness, we never would have known that we have that in common! It feels good to know that I’m not alone in this; other families struggle with the very same issues.”
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