As a mother with bipolar disorder, when I first saw this question, I got quite angry. I thought to myself, “How could anyone be so callous and ignorant?!” I can honestly say that I am a good mother. However, upon further reflection, I remembered that I myself have asked the same question. I was afraid. Deeply afraid. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after having my first child, after a particularly severe case of post-partum depression. After my diagnosis I went through many different emotions, including relief; I wasn’t crazy. Or rather, I was, but it now had a name and treatment. After learning about and dealing with what having bipolar disorder meant for me, I wondered what would happen to my kids. What if I got so depressed that I couldn’t get out of bed? What would happen if I went into a violent rage? How will they be affected if I have to be hospitalized? And one of my worst fears: what will happen if they end up with bipolar disorder too? Will this disorder ruin their lives? If so, in what way? The scariest question that must be asked is, “What happens if I get suicidally depressed?” It is downright irresponsible to not ask these questions and have an answer. These questions should be asked and answered honestly by any parent with bipolar disorder and any other mental illness, including the very common unipolar depression. If you don’t have an answer to these questions, it’s very likely that when these episodes manifest, your children will
suffer. The answers to the questions will vary person to person, but the important thing is that they are answered.
It’s true that there have been ups and downs, and I believe that I have had to work harder than “normal” people to be a good mother. My kids have been victim to my mercurial moods, and my promises made in hypo-manic states that are unable to be kept in “real life”. They have lived in a terribly messy house for weeks at a time when I get depressed and missed out on family game night, or going to the park on a beautiful day when I just couldn’t do it. They have even experienced the irritability that comes with depression and mania when I overreact to little mistakes they have made.
But kids with non-bipolar parents miss out on things too. Their parents also snap at them when they are overstressed. Some kids have parents who care more about their work then seeing their child’s swim meet, baseball game or play. Some parents are too busy being authoritarians or dictators to express love and affection appropriately. Many parents don’t teach their kids how to read or write, their colors, numbers or shapes before entering kindergarten-expecting the schools to teach their kids everything. No one has a perfect parent. We all have something we do badly as a parent, what matters is what we do to make it up, that the good outweighs the bad and that we do not ever abuse our children.
So what good could possibly come of my bipolar disorder? At times I am extremely creative and inspirational, motivating my children to express themselves in unique and interesting ways. I enthusiastically play board games, do art projects, make up new games, dance impulsively around the living room, talk to them about religion, spirituality and philosophy, listen to them intently and show spontaneous, enthusiastic, giggly, silly, physical affection. At Christmas, instead of buying them all their toys, I play Santa’s elf and make handmade wooden toys that look like they come from Santa’s workshop. I throw the most awesome kid’s party. I run through piles of leaves in fall with them, and when I get giddy and excited I jump on the bed shrieking with joy-with or without them!
The most important gift that I have given my children is not all the silly, creative, giddy hypo-manic fun that I have with them. While those are good memories that help to counteract the negative, the most important gift I have ever given them is teaching them that bipolar disorder does not have to ruin your life. They have seen first-hand that with the use of conventional treatments, a strong spiritual foundation and daily gratitude work you can recover yourself. You may even become a better person for it. I have taught them how to be self aware and how to create healthy emotional boundaries, and how to enforce them. I have taught them that they are strong powerful beings that can overcome any obstacle. This is especially important for my daughter, who has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder herself. Through me and with me, she has learned to be realistic about her limits, how to express herself-even when she feels like what she is thinking is crazy and she knows that I truly and deeply understand her suffering.
The idea that a bipolar woman cannot be a good mother is inherently false.