I have a very dear friend who is going through a rough time right now. She has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder as well as PTSD and anxiety. She is an amazing mother; there is no question about that. One of her children has a diagnosis of ADHD and he’s also going through a rough time right now. She’s finding that the two of them are clashing a bit, and each one is a trigger for the other at the moment. This is obviously a very difficult situation for them both and has brought up a number of issues for my friend. Parenting is tough and I think that we all question whether or not we are screwing up our kids, but parenting when you have a mental illness can be overwhelming to say the least. Author and Psych Central Blogger, Rebecca Moore has a great blog with some really good strategies.
I have expressed my own frustrations that I sometimes experience being a Mom who has bipolar disorder and in doing this I’ve come across people who visit my page and say the most hurtful, and downright ignorant things, such as this
“You chose to have kids, deal with it. They didn’t ask to be born.”
“Do you really think you’re capable of being a good Mom? I doubt it.”
The kicker was this one, something that I know a lot of you struggle with, and I’m about to try and clear that up for you now.
Don’t you feel guilty for having kids when you knew that you had bipolar disorder? What if you’ve passed it onto them?” How can you live with that?”
I’m going to be honest with you and tell you that while I usually shake off these ridiculous statements and questions, that last one stuck. Instead of addressing the issue on my page, I responded on my personal blog, and it went a little something like this.
“You Can’t Have Kids, You’re Bipolar”
Do I feel guilty for having children when I knew I had bipolar disorder? The answer is an unflinching and resounding no; I do not feel guilty. My children are a blessing and I, despite my illness or maybe even because of it, am a great mother.
But what if they are diagnosed with bipolar disorder or some other mental illness?
Well if that’s the case then I had better blaze the best trail possible for them to follow. I now not only have myself to think of while trying to live my best and healthiest life. I have two beautiful daughters who learn by example, my example. I refuse to allow the anxiety and worry regarding what-if’s to take over my life. Trust me when I say that I catastrophize enough stuff, this is a non-issue.
If in time my children are diagnosed with bipolar or any other mental illness we will deal with it. Because I have walked the path that I have I know if they are ever faced with a diagnosis, we as a family, will all be better prepared for what lies ahead.
But what happens when your moods and health issues come before your children?
I admit that this part does leave me with a little bit of guilt; it’s has happened a few times now. I’ve had to leave them in the care of their loving and supportive father to go inpatient on a couple of different occasions. And do you know what happened then? I came out healthier, stronger and more capable of handling my swings. I’m not perfect. I’ve yelled and cried in front of them. I always come back and apologize; not saying that makes it right, but for someone to demand guilt from me by having my gorgeous girls is ridiculous.
I work on my health and my well being on a daily basis, and sometimes those days aren’t good days. Sometimes this does require a day, maybe even two, in bed. It sucks but it’s the truth. But are my children missing out? No, they certainly are not, and here’s why.
My children are not sheltered from my illness; I don’t believe that’s in their best interest. My children are six and eight now and while they don’t understand all of it, they understand more than most adults I know. They are kind, compassionate, empathetic, happy kids, whose reality is just a bit different from some of their peers. Their mom gets sick sometimes, that’s just the way it goes. Their mom also gets really awesome sometimes too. Their Mom encourages them to stand up for themselves as well as for others who have no one to stand for them. Their Mom has taught them about stigma and how sometimes people are just cruel and ignorant. Because of my illness, and what I do as an advocate, my children have been exposed to awareness and hope. Yes, they’ve seen the dirty end of the stick as well, and we’ve used that as a learning tool on what not to do next time.
Look no one is a perfect parent, but telling me to feel guilty for having the most amazing and brilliant children on the face of the earth just shows me how much farther we have to go to combat ignorance. I am completely aware of the what-if and the could-be situations, but that is not going to stop me from being the best Mom that I can be. Educating my children on mental illness is actually doing you all a service. I have two little warriors already doing what they can to combat stigma. My oldest just recently made a poster for her class that said, “mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of”, drew a green ribbon for bipolar awareness, and had her entire class sign it. Her teacher now proudly displays it on their classroom wall. This led to a discussion about mental illness, mental wellness and the fact that it’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
We all have our ups and our downs when it comes to being parents, but being parents with a mental illness can be exceptionally challenging. We don’t need people piping up to voice their concerns over whether or not we should feel guilty.
Look, if you choose to have children or not, that’s your call. I wish you all the best. But if you are a person who would shame someone for having an illness and children, I would ask that you educate yourself a little before making those assumptions.
When people react the way that I’ve just described it puts doubt into the minds of some amazing parents. The friend that I talked about at the beginning of this blog is a steadfast and compassionate Mother. During this time while things aren’t at their best, she has called in help. Her son responds well to other family members that are present and engaging and supportive. She has found a brilliant therapist for her son, while continuing therapy for herself. She is proactive, smart and full of support and love. She is a shining example of what a parent really is, and her sons are no doubt going to grow into healthy well-adjusted young men. She can understand them on a level that others couldn’t.
If you think of judging someone on something as meaningful as parenting, remember that old saying, “it takes a village.” Show people compassion; be open to perhaps learning something about parenting and illness before passing judgment. Your words, misleading as they may be, still have an impact. We’re here to lift people up not push them down, and we don’t always accomplish that, we’re human we make mistakes.
If you’re a parent who struggles with these feelings you are not alone. It’s okay to ask for help, it’s encouraged. Remember to look after yourself. If you aren’t healthy it’s difficult to take care of anyone else. Everyone messes up, acknowledge, accept, make amends and learn from those mistakes. Sometimes we white knuckle parenting, everyone does illness or no illness. You are not better or worse than anyone else. Talk it out, get some help and look for resources. You’re going to be okay, and so are your kids.