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Parenting with Bipolar Disorder Presents Unique Challenges

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Elizabeth Lindell: I am a mom with bipolar disorder -- and my daughter has bipolar disorder, too.

When Ayelet Waldman speaks of parenting with bipolar disorder this week on "The Takeaway," I am left with no doubt that she is a healthy mom who makes mistakes (as we all do). I believe that that is what we should strive to be, instead of concerning ourselves with who is a "good mom" and who is a "bad mom." All any of us needs to be is a healthy mom.

Waldman wrote a book entitled "Bad Mother" after the media labeled her one for saying that she was more in love with her husband than she was with her children. In my opinion, that is a healthy statement that promotes a healthy family climate. I applaud her for having the bravery to say that out loud.

Parenting with bipolar disorder can be a challenge. Ayelet told Time: "Because of my bipolar disorder, I tend to these mixed states, which are depressed but loud and agitated. So I can be terribly irritable. I go to cognitive behavioral therapy in order not to yell at my children." But she then concedes that everyone yells at their children.

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Ayelet tells "The Takeaway" that her kids can go to her husband, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon, and say, "Mommy's being mean" or "Mommy's being crazy" or "Mommy's in a terrible mood." Chabon tells "The Takeaway" that Ayelet is good about being forthcoming and forthright, and acknowledging afterward and apologizing.

I have bipolar disorder, too, and there was probably a point in my journey where I would have thought that being present, feeling free to discuss emotion and apologizing when you're wrong was enough when it came to parenting with this illness. That's when I had a psychiatrist. Now, I also have a family therapist who has made me realize that yelling of any kind -- whether it's directed at a child or is simply done around them -- has a serious impact on how they both live in and view the world.

Yes, the apology is reassuring; feeling like you can talk to Mom about what happened is comforting ... but nothing can erase the wild sound of Mom's voice or the look in her eyes while she was verbally purging. The right thing to do is the last thing a bipolar person wants to do in a manic or mixed state (i.e., disengage, don't indulge and isolate yourself until the wave passes).

There is a level of control with bipolar disorder, especially when a person is medicated. My daughter also has bipolar disorder, and when she's been manic, she has thrown things. But she doesn't break her television. She doesn't throw her Nintendo Wii. She throws things like her American Girl doll clothes that she hasn't played with since she was 7, because she doesn't want the things she cares about to be damaged. 

Bipolar parents need to exercise the same control. We can't damage the things we care about most.


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