It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing a two-month hiatus for The Bipolar Parent. For the past eleven weeks, I have been working on personal projects, and have lost all motivation to work on the blog.
I have high hopes that a two-month hiatus–one month to rest and take the pressure off, another to get back into the swing of things–will help me recharge my batteries.
I appreciate all of you as readers. Thanks in advance for your understanding. Please stay safe in quarantine, and tend to your families.
Do you have a new father in your life? Read how to support him and his family on this post by the Bipolar Parent!
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Most everyone has heard of postpartum depression, the devastating mental health condition that affects many mothers after giving birth. But did you know that some researchers estimate that up to 25% of new fathers suffer depression in the first year after their child’s birth? And the number jumps to 50% if mom is also depressed.
We hear quite a bit about women’s transition to new motherhood, but very little about men’s transition to fatherhood. While supporting maternal mental health is a worthy goal and should continue, we need to support paternal mental health as well.
Immediately following Father’s Day on June 21st, 2020, is International Father’s Mental Health Day. Founded by Postpartum Support International’s Dr. Daniel Singley as well as paternal postpartum depression survivor Mark Williams, the awareness day aims to create social media buzz about the mental health of dads.
New Fatherhood Has Its Own Changes and Challenges
Having a new baby doesn’t just change the biology of women. Men undergo massive hormonal and biological changes as well. Testosterone goes down, prolactin goes up, and entire areas of a man’s brain grow. This equips the father to care for his newborn.
And aside from biological and hormonal changes, fatherhood brings its own unique stresses.
First, the partnership between the parents have changed. Sex is off the table, at least for a while, and sleep deprivation makes handling conflicts over parenting, finances, and other issues more difficult to handle–right when the conflicts ramp up.
The lack of emotional and physical intimacy, especially for men who depend entirely on their partner for emotional closeness, is a bitter pill to swallow for many new fathers.
Speaking of finances, a mother who has just given birth needs at least six weeks to recover, maybe more if she’s had a C-section. She will be out of work for at least that time. Since parental leave in the US is so abysmal, and new parents have very little support on a state and federal level, the stress for keeping the family afloat while the mother is recovering falls to the other parent.
The father may also feel that his bond with the new baby is not as strong as the mother’s bond, so he may feel left out of building a relationship with his newborn.
In addition, there are psychological stresses to parenting. The new dad must resolve conflicts about his own childhood and his own father, looking for a model for his own parenthood. If the new dad has a bad relationship with his own father, he may have to seek role models elsewhere–something few people do before impending fatherhood.
All of these stresses and conflicts impact a new dad’s mental health. As I said in the first paragraph, up to 25% of new fathers suffer depression in the first year of their baby’s life.
How to Support Our Fathers
The mental health of our fathers matters, and not just for the father himself.
If the father of the household is emotionally healthy, he can better respond to a newborn’s cries and model emotional resilience to his children. When a father is emotionally supported, he can be a better partner, and maternal mental health improves.
But a dad, especially a new dad, should not be supported just because his mental health impacts others. The father is a human being with his own unique struggles who needs help from not only the people around him, but state and federal governments.
If you have a new dad in your life, offer him and his parenting partner a meal. Check in with the parents on a regular basis, especially after the first two months, when most support around them has usually dried up. Offer an ear to the new father (and mother) if your relationship is close–and even if it isn’t.
Join organizations such as Postpartum Support International, and see what you can do to advocate for new parents, especially fathers, who are often left out of mental health conversations. Include new dads in these conversations as much as possible.
As for the governmental level, write your senator or representative to insist on paternal leave policies in your state. There are many benefits to paternity leave:
Fathers who stay home with their newborns develop a greater bond with their babies, which lasts long into the child’s life.
Children whose dads stayed home with them have better mental health and cognitive test scores than those children whose fathers stayed away.
And the mental and physical health of mothers whose parenting partners stayed with them–and set up an equal parenting relationship–was greatly improved.
Paid parental leave policies are crucial for the mental health of both parents and their children.
Washington state has just passed a state-wide policy requiring three months of paid leave for fathers who work at large companies, occurring any time within the first year of infancy.
My brother-in-law, a new dad himself, is taking two months off of work in June and July to spend time with his wife and baby. (He took one off earlier, when the policy was less robust.)
My sister told me that having her husband work at home during the coronavirus outbreak was wonderful for their little family. He helped her cook and clean, bonded with their baby, and supported her mental health by opening up communication on tough issues they’d been facing in their relationship.
Paid paternity leave is a wonderful way to support our new fathers.
Our dads, especially new dads, need our help. Society has neglected them and told them that in order to remain strong, they must stuff their anxiety and depression. This does a disservice to the men in our lives.
The benefits to emotionally supporting a father are numerous. Fathers need support not only on a personal level, but also governmental. We need to advocate for them and include them in mental health conversations.
With a concentrated effort, we may be able to lower the incidence rate of depression among new fathers.
This is true always, but is especially true as a parent stuck at home during self-quarantine for the coronavirus pandemic.
But what is self-care? A lot of people think self-care ideas are limited to bubble baths and painting their nails. But that’s just not true.
Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it.
There are 7 types of self-care: physical, emotional, relational, social, intellectual, spiritual, and safety and security self-care.
Read on for self-care ideas you can do while stuck at home that cover all 7 of these areas.
Make notes of the ideas that apply to your life or that you want to try, and see which ones you can incorporate your children into. Put a C by those ideas. Next, put an I by those ideas that you need independent me-time for. We’ll come back to this later.
Some of these ideas are taken from a sheet given to me by the teachers at Lake Washington Toddler Group.
Physical Self-Care Ideas
Physical needs are usually the most insistent. When we’re hungry, we feel it in our bellies and throats. Here are some ideas on how to meet our physical needs. Some of these are done alone, and some are best done with others:
Go on a long walk outside with your child in the stroller or sling.
Drink plenty of water.
If you do get sick, call your medical providers and let them know, to see if you need to come in to their offices.
Emotional Self-Care Ideas
Emotional self-care is ensuring that you are emotionally and mentally healthy. You need to express a range of feelings in order to take care of yourself emotionally. Here are some ideas to meet your emotional needs:
Prioritize the activities that make you happy.
Spend time alone each day.
Check in with your therapist if they offer virtual visits.
Indulge in a good, cleansing cry.
Listen to a comedy show.
Watch a movie that you love.
Say no to extra responsibilities.
Relational Self-Care Ideas
Relational self-care is ensuring your relationships with your family members are strong. Familial relationships are critical for good mental health, as without them you may feel alone and unsupported. And with all the time you’re spending with your family during the coronavirus crisis, you can deepen your relationships with them. Relational self-care ideas include:
Cuddle, kiss, and hug your children.
Make love to your partner, if you have one and you have a sexual relationship.
Play a game with your family.
Play a game specifically with your partner, after your kids have gone to bed.
Establish healthy boundaries around alone time for everyone, and respect those boundaries.
Social self-care is strengthening relationships with those outside your immediate family. Socialization is so important to your mental health, even if you’re an introvert. It’s part of the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid. Ideas for social self-care include:
Check in with family and friends via Facetime, Skype, phone calls, or texts.
Ask friends and family to remind you that things will be okay, and that what you’re feeling is temporary.
Cuddle with your immediate family or a pet.
Schedule time each day to talk to another adult.
Intentionally reconnect with someone you’ve lost touch with or have unresolved conflict with.
Leave a funny voicemail for someone you care about.
Intellectual self-care is looking after your intellectual pursuits and critical thinking skills. One of the best ways to develop your intellectual self-care repitoire is to engage in creative pursuits. Here are some intellectual self-care ideas while you’re stuck at home:
Check your library’s website for their online catalog, and check out some books to read on your phone or ereader.
Read books slightly above your child’s grade level to them.
Listen to podcasts or audio books while you work.
If your child is doing an art project, sit down with them and create your own art.
Write something, be it a blog, stories, or a personal journal.
Watch documentaries on TV, from the library, or on a streaming service.
Identify a project that would be challenging and rewarding, and then plan to do it.
Return to old hobbies that you may not have pursued since the birth of your children.
Spiritual Self-Care Ideas
Spiritual self-care is not synonymous with religion, though it can take the form of attending church services and praying to a higher power. It’s a search for purpose and understanding in the universe, and expressing values that are important to us. Spiritual self-care ideas include:
Pray or meditate, especially in front of your children.
Volunteer to pick up groceries for an elderly friend or neighbor.
Write in a journal to reflect upon your new life.
Be open to inspiration and awe.
Contribute to causes you believe in.
Spend time outside in your front yard or on your balcony.
Attend religious services online.
Safety and Security Self-Care Ideas
Safety and security self-care involves having health insurance and being smart about your personal safety. Understanding the financial sphere falls under this type of self-care. Many people wait to evaluate their safety or finances until they’re in trouble. Don’t do that. Make sure you have contingency plans. Here are some ideas for safety and security self-care that you can do while stuck at home:
Check out an ebook from the library on investing, and read it.
Read backlogs of articles on personal finance sites.
Double-check your locks. Change them if someone might have a key that you don’t want to.
Order a locking mailbox on Amazon and install it when it arrives.
Change your internet passwords.
Call your insurance company and find out if they cover virtual medical appointments.
Go through your credit card statements line by line and see if there are any charges that you don’t recognize.
Examine your bills (utilities, cell phone, internet, streaming services). Find out if there are any fees you don’t want, and call the companies to see if those fees can be waived.
Self-care isn’t complex. But it can be difficult to think of ideas to do, especially while you’re stuck at home with your kids due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Review your list to see which ideas you can incorporate your children into and which ideas you need me-time for.
If you’ve placed a C next to the ones you can do with your children and an I for ones you need independent time for, then pick out one or two that you can do tomorrow.
Start with the C ideas. Once you’ve performed some self-care alongside your children, find some time to work on the I ideas.
(For a post on how to find time for self-care as a parent stuck at home, click here.)
Self-care, especially independent self-care, can make you feel better. You may soon see the rewards–for yourself and for your family–of a little bit of me-time.
I also shared a daily schedule my toddler and I try to follow, which had room for eating, sleeping, outside time, and work, but not much else.
So how do you find the time to do self-care when you’re stuck at home with small children–and you need to work?
Here are some practical tips that you might want to try while in self-quarantine.
Tip #1: Fill Your Child’s “Tanks”
Sometimes, your kids whine and glom onto you like limpets. That’s usually when they have a physical or emotional need.
Often, before you separate from your children to perform self-care for yourself, you need to fill their physical or emotional “tanks.”
Spend a little time with your children before jetting off, and you’re less likely to be interrupted when you do go take that bubble bath.
Set them up with a snack, give them some kisses and cuddles, and play racecar driver with them. Listen to your tween’s ramblings about Minecraft for a while. You’ll be glad you did.
Generally, the happier your kids are when you leave them (provided they can be left; toddlers can’t, which I’ll cover in the next tip), the more time you’ll be able to take for yourself.
Tip #2: Preplan STEAM Projects
This follows my tip #5 from yesterday: to keep your child entertained and busy on their own with independent play, prepare STEM/Art, or STEAM projects. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering. and Math. With Art, that’s STEAM.
Yesterday, I listed several activities my 3-year-old has done and the supplies we have on our crafting shelf. I won’t list them all again here, but if you’re looking for ideas for a toddler, check them out.
As I write this, she was sorting through buttons with a clothespin, placing them into a cup. She worked on fine motor skills and shape recognition, both parts of STEAM for a toddler. She also worked on counting, as she counted the buttons, and pattern recognition as she sorted them by color.
STEAM activities are as simple as that. The last time she did this activity, she entertained herself for an hour with minimal input from me.
This time, she lasted about 20 minutes, and then we made purple playdough. She’s currently kneading and rolling out the homemade dough, then cutting it into shapes with cookie cutters. So far, she’s been entertained for 45 minutes by the playdough alone, enabling me to write.
In preplanning activities, I printed a calendar for March, and spent a couple of hours listing one activity per day. We do this project at 1pm every afternoon. The calendar has taken a lot of the pressure off of me to think of something every day.
Take a couple of hours to preplan activities and write them down on a calendar for April. You can pick up supplies at any grocery store or order them on Amazon.
Preparing STEAM projects takes a little up front work, but the payoff of more time for work–or, preferably, self-care–is worth it.
Tip #3: Prepare Meals on the Weekends
This tip is similar to tip #2: prepare meals on the weekends, also known as meal prepping. If you do as much upfront work on your meals as possible, you don’t have to make dinner during the week.
This saves a huge amount of time, some of which can be used for self-care.
Slow cooker “dump meals” are meals where you place all the ingredients in a Ziploc bag and then dump them in the slow cooker on the morning you want to cook it. The food cooks all day and smells wonderful, tastes great at night, and takes minimal prep on the weekend.
Brown all your ground beef on Saturdays. Chop all your vegetables. Bake and shred that chicken. Soak and cook those beans.
Make cooking a family activity. All hands on deck means less work for you, and the kids get to learn something, too.
There are many websites on the internet devoted to meal prepping. Type that term into your preferred browser’s search bar, and you will find sites that list recipes, meal plans, and shopping lists for a week’s meals or more.
Tip #4: Get Support from Your Partner
If you’re lucky to have a partner isolating himself or herself with you, count your blessings.
If you’re burned out and need a little bit of me-time, ask your partner for some support. Ask them to watch the kids for an hour while you take a nap.
Most partners are supportive if you ask, but sometimes we don’t know how to ask or even what we need. Figure that out before you approach your partner.
Take some time after the kids are in bed to make a list of self-care ideas that appeal to you, and the time each will take. Then figure out what is reasonable to ask of your partner.
Don’t be afraid to ask; the worst thing they can say is no, and that opens up a chance for you two to have a conversation.
Be sure to reciprocate as well. If your partner offers you an hour to yourself, offer them the same in return.
These times are stressful for everyone, especially parents with bipolar disorder who also have to work at home. You’re wearing many hats: homeschooler, partner, parent, employee, and mental illness manager.
Self-care is critical for your survival. You have to eat, sleep, and spend time by yourself so you have a chance to breathe.
Take care of yourself. Stay healthy.
I wish you well in your journey.
Tune in next week for types of self-care, as well as several self-care ideas for parents with bipolar disorder isolated at home with their kids.
Stuck at home due to coronavirus quarantining? Read on for practical tips on how to manage working at home as a parent with bipolar disorder, from this post by The Bipolar Parent!
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Panic about coronavirus has infected all of our lives. As of this writing, one in three Americans are under shelter-in-place orders. Our kids’ schools are canceled, and if you can work from home, that’s a great blessing in disguise–as well as being distracting as all get out.
So how do you survive being stuck at home as a bipolar parent, especially of young children? Read on for some practical tips from me, a woman with bipolar disorder in the trenches with an 11-year-old and a 3-year-old.
Tip #1: Understand Your Kids’ Limits
Unfortunately for everyone, most children, especially toddlers, are not self-sufficient. As a parent, and especially as a parent with bipolar disorder, you need to understand their limits–and yours.
Your children need to be fed, cared for, and entertained. You don’t have to entertain them all the time–independent play is a beautiful thing–but you do need to set them up with projects or toys so you can get some work done.
Give your children–and yourself–some grace during this stressful period. The panic about coronavirus is temporary. As soon as the virus is under control, your life will largely go back to normal.
If your back is against the wall and you’re about to start snapping at your kids, it’s okay to relax your guidelines on screen time, for example, just so you can get a breather (and get some work done). This is an extraordinary time, and extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures–of patience, as well as other things.
My toddler is currently in the bath, pouring water into and out of cups and singing to herself, while I’m writing this. I’m sitting on the toilet with my laptop on my crossed legs. Do whatever you have to do to keep sane and get some time for yourself.
Tip #2: Don’t Neglect Your Mental Health
If you have medications, take them. I can’t say it any clearer than that.
This is the worst time to have a mood episode. Your children need a sane parent. You need stability to get through this. Forgetting to take your medication is not an option. Set an alarm on your phone if you have to.
I take my morning meds before I sit down for breakfast and my evening meds immediately after dinner. Find a time (or two times, if you have morning and evening meds) that you can stick to every day.
And call upon your coping skills. You need them to survive. Depression can strike at any time, especially in a time where most people are isolated from their supportive social networks.
Which leads to my next tip.
Tip #3: Practice Self-care
We all know the airplane oxygen mask metaphor. Before you help your little ones, you need to put on your own oxygen mask.
This means that self-care is crucial for you to function as a parent with bipolar disorder. Don’t neglect to take care of yourself; if you’re run down, you won’t be able to parent effectively, and you may even end up getting sick.
A lot of people think self-care ideas are limited to bubble baths and painting their nails. But that’s just not true.
Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it.
There are six big statutes of self-care which need to be practiced daily:
socializing with other people. Tap into your social network via FaceTime or Skype and ask for support during a time when you might be feeling vulnerable.
Tip #4: Create a Schedule
Kids (and adults) thrive on routine. I know creating a schedule and sticking to it are some of the most difficult suggestions to follow for parents with bipolar disorder, but if you want to remain sane while staying at home with your kids, you must. Creating a schedule is imperative.
You don’t have to plan down to the minute. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. Plan in thirty-minute or hour-long blocks. Try to have the same wake times and sleep times every day. If you can, wake up thirty minutes before your children, to get some time to center yourself (or work).
My toddler’s schedule looks like this:
8:30am – Toddler gets dressed, brushes teeth, brushes hair, comes down for breakfast
9:00am – Breakfast
10:00am – Chores
11:00am – Playing outside on the trampoline or in the kiddy pool while Mom watches (and gets some work done on her laptop or phone)
1pm – STEAM project at the kitchen table while Mom gets work done
2pm – 30 minutes of reading
2:30pm – more outside time
4:30pm – screen time while Mom makes dinner
5:30pm – dinner
6pm – Playing with toys or more STEAM projects while Mom gets work done
7pm – bath and bedtime routine
8:30pm – bed for Toddler
9:00pm – Mom gets more work done
10:30pm – Mom goes to bed
We don’t follow this schedule to a T every day–my toddler took a bath at 3:30pm today, and will take another at 7pm tonight, for example–but it’s a good basic outline.
We do a lot of STEM/Art projects, which leads me to the next tip.
Tip #5: Prepare STEM/Art Projects
STEM/Art, also known as STEAM, stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. For a toddler, these are as simple as practicing cutting a straight line. Fine motor skills, pattern recognition, and counting are all a part of STEAM.
When the cancellation of my 3-year-old’s preschool was looming, I knew I had to take action. So I looked up toddler-friendly STEAM activities on the internet (Busy Toddler and Little Bins for Little Hands are great resources) and printed a calendar off for March. I wrote one activity per day, and have been following that calendar religiously. Every day at 1pm, we do the scheduled activity on the calendar.
In doing STEAM projects, we have:
glued different-sized buttons to paper
dug blueberries out of a Tupperware-shaped ice cube with a butter knife
threaded pipe cleaners through a colander
painted landscapes and faces on construction paper with watercolors
picked up different-sized buttons with a clothespin from a bag and placed them into a cup
baked bread together.
Some of these projects, like the blueberry-ice excavation, entertained her for up to two hours. Some, like the colander threading, lasted all of one minute (that’s a rare case). Gluing and playdough lasted an hour each. These activities have been hit or miss, mostly hit.
And since we’re at the kitchen table, the mess is largely contained. I now have a crafting shelf on a bookshelf right next to the table stocked with:
watercolors and brushes
pom poms of various sizes
Today we peeled stickers off of a sticker book and stuck them to purple construction paper. Toddler activities are as simple as that, and she was entertained for 30 minutes while I cleaned the kitchen.
Take a couple of hours after the kids have gone to bed to prepare a calendar full of activities. Even one STEAM activity a day is great for their budding brains. You can purchase supplies at any grocery store or Target. (I purchased mine on Amazon before delivery slowed down.)
Tip #6: Remember Your Priorities
Hopefully, your kids are your highest priority (after self-care, but often times for a busy parent, the kids come first). Sometimes the schedule all goes to pot and your kids are whiny, needy, and generally require a lot of attention.
That’s okay. Show your kids that you love them that day. Tomorrow will be better.
Ask your boss to give you leniency in this stressful time. Any boss worth their salt will understand the new crunch you’re under, and that this is temporary. If you can’t get work done while the kids are awake, then plan to work like a demon after they’re in bed.
But don’t pull an all-nighter, as tempting as that sounds. You need your sleep to fend off a manic or hypomanic episode. You need to keep your mental health in balance and stay stable. Prioritizing your sleep does prioritize your work and your kids, because you’re prioritizing yourself.
Without taking care of your mental health, you can’t be present as a parent or an employee. So take care of yourself (tips #2 and #3) so you can take care of your kids–and everything else on your plate.
Prioritize self-care. Prioritize your kids. Try to get your work done as much as possible, but ask for grace–and give some to yourself.
What About Older Kids?
You may have noticed that I mentioned I had a 3-year-old and an 11-year-old, but that I’ve mostly talked about working from home with a toddler. That is because my 11-year-old is mostly self-sufficient, thank goodness.
He wakes up, brushes his own teeth, pours his own cereal, calls his friends, does his homework, and puts himself to bed at night. I make him lunch and dinner.
I made a calendar of STEAM activities for him, too, but he wasn’t interested in any of them. So I ordered workbooks one grade level higher than his current grade, and told him to do 2 1/2 hours of work everyday. He likes baking, so he bakes bread and pizza–with homemade sauce, cheese, and pepperoni and olives–for himself whenever we have the yeast (the store has been out lately).
But what if your child is not that self-motivated? Well, then most of the toddler tips still apply. Create a schedule together, and scale up the STEAM activities to their age level. STEM Activities for Kids is a great resource for older kids.
Fortunately, independent play is much easier to set up for an 8- or 9-year-old, as they can generally be trusted with a bottle of glue without spilling it. And even if they do, they can clean the mess up themselves.
This tip applies only to older kids: If you are fortunate enough to have a home office or even your own bedroom, communicate with your kids that Mom or Dad has “office hours” for 1-2 hours at a time every day, or however long you feel comfortable leaving them to unsupervised play. Then set them up with a STEAM activity and let them have at it.
Tell your kids not to interrupt you unless someone’s hurt or have set something on fire. Set your office hours to the times when you’ll have conference calls, and hopefully you’ll be able to attend that virtual meeting without kiddos joining in.
Also, kids, especially older ones, are allowed to be bored. It’s a good time to let them find (safe) ways to amuse themselves. Reading is always a good idea; my son’s school requires 30 minutes of reading a day, and I extend that to the weekends to give me 30 minutes of peace on Saturdays and Sundays.
I’m not saying my schedule will work for everyone. You don’t even have to do multiple STEAM activities in a day like we do. But do try to make a schedule, and try to let your children loose with glue and paints once in a while. Let the kids be kids.
If this sounds like a lot of extra work, well, it is. Parenting is hard work; always has been, always will be. And working from home when you have children with you is the pinnacle of parenting.
But you can handle this. You are self-quarantining only temporarily. This, too, will pass.
Understand your kids’ limits (and your own), don’t neglect your mental health, practice self-care, create a schedule, prepare STEM/Art projects, and remember your priorities.
As a parent with bipolar disorder, you might worry about the effects of your unchecked mental illness on your loved ones, especially your children. The devastating mood swings of bipolar disorder–ranging from manic “highs” to depressive “lows” and everything in between–can cause instability for your kids. One example, a 2014 study, showed teenaged children of parents with bipolar disorder are more susceptible to risky sexual behavior and emotional problems than young adults who do not have parents with bipolar disorder. As has been seen in many other cases, dysfunction in the home causes dysfunction in the child. This is equally true in cases of children with parents who suffer from mental illness, like bipolar disorder.
But there is good news. You can learn how to shield your children from the effects of your psychiatric condition. How? Let’s dig in.
Treat Your Disorder Properly
One of the most effective ways to shield your children from your bipolar disorder is to treat the disease properly. Try to eat a healthy diet and work exercise into your life. Adequate sleep is another requirement to keep you healthy and keep things from spiraling out of control. Make sure you get your forty winks, and if you have trouble, talk to your doctor. Taking medication regularly and working through emotional problems through therapy will help you manage your disorder and aid you in positively impacting your kids.
If your disorder is treatment-resistant, don’t give up hope. Dyane Harwood, author of Birth of a New Brain: Healing From Postpartum Bipolar Disorder, thought she’d exhausted all of her options to treat her bipolar depression, including electroconvulsive therapy. Then her doctor prescribed a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). The drug worked, and Harwood is now engaged with her children and husband, living life the way she wants to.
Bipolar in the family needs a whole family solution. The entire household needs to learn coping skills to handle a parent’s disorder. Ask your therapist for ways to teach your partner and children to deal with the ups and downs of your bipolar disorder. If your children start showing symptoms of emotional problems, such as anxiety, phobias, or intolerance to frustration, find a child behavioral psychologist or a therapist willing to see children. Make a list of the symptoms you’ve seen in your kids, and be sure to include your family history as well.
Cultivate a Support Network
One aspect of getting help is relying on a support system of healthy adults. They can spot you when you’re feeling too up or too down. They can offer your children a more stable environment during manic or depressive episodes by taking the children to a different place, like your friends’ homes, or coming over to yours. Your kids need adults they can consistently rely on, even if you can’t provide that reliability sometimes. Try to develop that support if you don’t have it. When you are well, cultivate reciprocal friendships with other adults you can trust with your children. Easier said than done, of course, but try to be a reliable source of childcare for your parent friends, so they will pitch in when you need them.
Prepare Your Kids
Shielding your kids from bipolar disorder doesn’t mean hiding the illness from them. Preparing your children to accept what’s happening around them can be difficult, but it is worthwhile. Communication with your children is crucial when managing their understanding of bipolar disorder. You might think explaining your disease to them is wrong. There’s an instinct to hide uncomfortable situations from your children, but kids are intuitive. They will know if someone in the family is suffering, even if they can’t put their finger on why. If the problem isn’t explained to them, they may assume the worst, even to the point where they think it’s their fault. Letting your children know up front what to expect if you’re suffering from a mood episode will help your kids roll with the punches. Keep the explanation simple, and be ready to revisit the conversation anytime your children have questions.
When explaining your bipolar disorder to your children, stress that this disease is not your kids’ fault. Also stress that taking care of a parent suffering from mental illness is not their job. They will probably appreciate your candor and feel more secure in their relationship with you and their place in the world. If things don’t go well, talk to your therapist for ways to help your children understand bipolar disorder and their relationship with you as a parent with a mental illness.
If your older children are concerned about developing bipolar disorder themselves, tell your preteens honestly that they are not destined to have the disease. Studies put the inheritance rate at about 30% with a single parent affected by bipolar disorder, and around 60% for both. You don’t need to quote the statistics to a younger child, but a teen might be interested. Because of the instinct to hide uncomfortable situations from your children, you might want to keep this from your children. But knowing even uncomfortable statistics, like the 30%, is better than the unknown.
When you suffer from mental illness, taking care of yourself is a tall order. Taking care of a child as a parent with bipolar disorder adds additional complications, but it’s worth it. You can shield your children from bipolar disorder in several ways. Make sure that you treat your disease with professional help. Cultivate a support system. And it’s paramount that you communicate with your children about your disorder, so they know what to expect and what their place is.
Communicating with your children about your bipolar disorder is crucial for managing their relationship with your and your mental illness. In part I, we looked at common pitfalls, including your kids being too young and disrespecting your children’s boundaries. Read on for one more common pitfall of communicating about your psychiatric condition.
Waiting Too Long
On the flipside of your kids being too young, you might have put off having this discussion until your kids are teens. Then your kids might be too old to listen to you properly. Some teens think they know everything, and refuse to hear out their parents or other authority figures, however well-meaning.
A friend of mine, a mother of four, related her experience of being rebuffed by her teenagers when she brought up serious subjects, and what she did to handle that. She said to them, “Just let me do the ‘mom thing’ for thirty seconds, and then I’ll let you go, okay?” She said they’d roll their eyes, but acquiesce to listen to whatever she had to tell them.
Tips For Communicating With Your Kids About Your Bipolar Disorder
You might not know where to start the conversation when speaking to your kids for the first time about mental illness. That’s okay. You can simply say something like, “you may have noticed that I have been erratic lately. I have a disease, bipolar disorder, which causes me to have different mood episodes, called mania and depression.” As long as you have their attention, be concrete and pragmatic.
If you’ve waited until your children are teenagers to talk to them about your bipolar disorder, there is a danger of their being angry, especially if the discussion arises from comments on your behavior, and not by your choice. If this is what happened, you haven’t ruined anything, but do expect to deal with your children’s anger. The best way to handle that is to prepare for it, by thinking about what they might say ahead of time, and making sure to listen to what they actually do say. Chances are, your kids already know about your bipolar disorder. You want to make sure that what they know is the truth, and not whatever desperate version they’ve decided on.
Some teens can benefit from statistics. For example, your kids are between 15-30% likely to develop bipolar disorder if one parent suffers from the disease, whereas they’re 45-60% likely if both parents do. You might be tempted to hide this information, so as not to freak them out. But knowing accurate facts about mental illness helps them to understand you better, and possibly themselves.
Knowledge, even uncomfortable knowledge, is better than the unknown. In addition, if they know common symptoms of bipolar disorder, they can be on the lookout for those symptoms in themselves and their friends, and understand you when you’re experiencing mood episodes.
Try not to hide information from your kids, especially teenagers. If you don’t inform them about your mental illness, they’ll probably turn to friends to ask why their mom or dad is acting strange. Or they might hide the dysfunction entirely, blaming themselves and growing up in a culture of shame. Reassure your kids that you will always love them, regardless of how your bipolar disorder makes you feel in the moment. And above all, be honest.
Hello! And welcome to part II of How to Clean Your House with Bipolar Disorder and a Toddler! In part I, I described overall strategies for working through your house with a toddler tagging along. In this part II, I’ll give you a guide to tackle each room. The main strategy is to give your toddler a job, so she is helping you, not distracting you. Let’s get started!
Room-by-Room Cleaning Guide
Cleaning the bathroom is easier than you might think. When I clean my bathroom with my two-year-old, I place her in the bathtub barefoot. I then spray down the walls of the tub with a non-toxic cleaner, hand her a sponge, and let her go to town. She keeps happily entertained, and I’m able to quickly whip my bathroom into shape, including counters, sink, and floor. I must remind her several times to keep squeegeeing while I’m scrubbing the toilet, but the process works for us.
If you’re looking for a non-toxic cleaner, try mixing vinegar and water in a spray bottle at a ratio of 1:1 along with two squirts of dish soap.
The kitchen is just like the bathroom. Give your child a sponge and a pot to keep them occupied, so you can clean the rest of the kitchen. If you have surfaces within reach that your toddler can clean–like a stainless steel fridge–give them a spray bottle of a non-toxic cleaner and a rag. When doing dishes, pull up a chair to the sink and let your kid get their hands soapy. Or have him sweep with a child-sized broom.
Or… You get the picture. There’s any number of ways to keep a toddler entertained in the kitchen while you get the rest of it clean. You take care of the hard cleaning, and let your kiddo tidy what he can reach.
The living room is more difficult than kitchens or bathrooms, but you can still keep your child working. Keep your child occupied while cleaning the living room by letting them help you pick up her toys. I keep my daughter’s toys in the living room, inside a leather ottoman. Getting her to pick up her toys requires me to stand over her and hand her blocks or puzzle pieces while telling her, “Put it back! Put it back! Yay! Good job!” The process takes effort, and time, and lots of praise.
If you don’t store the toys in the living room, corral your kids’ stuff in baskets to take to their bedrooms, or have him or her put the toys away in the living room in covered bins. If you have ceiling-to-floor windows in the living room, offer your toddler a spray bottle of non-toxic cleaner and a rag, so you can vacuum.
The bedroom is like the living room. There’s not a whole lot you can do to keep a kid entertained while cleaning a bedroom, but the feat isn’t impossible. Engage him in picking up the clothes on the floor, if there are any (there always are at my house). Toddlers are very good at putting clothes into laundry baskets. Go ahead and do a load of laundry if it needs to be done and you have the appliances in the house.
Ask your toddler to help you make the bed. Help your toddler put the books away. And if you own a pet, try to encourage the toddler to keep the animal calm while you’re vacuuming. This way, you can get the bedroom relatively tidy while keeping your child occupied.
The Bottom Line
Two common themes of cleaning the house with a toddler and bipolar disorder are patience and effort. That’s true anytime you tidy any home, but even more so with a child tagging along. But don’t get discouraged! Your babies won’t be babies forever, and you’ll soon be able to delegate chores to them that they can do on their own. Just today, my ten-year-old volunteered to clean the shower, and he did a bang-up job. As your kids grow older and more independent, cleaning the house will be much, much easier.
People with bipolar disorder often have overwhelmingly messy houses, and it’s arguably more difficult to clean when you suffer from mental illness. When we’re depressed, cleaning up is a herculean effort. When we’re manic, we’re usually too busy turning in circles to worry about tidying.
I previously posted a three–partseries titled “How to Clean Your House When Your Brain is a Mess.” In it, I explained how executive dysfunction–the inability to set and meet goals and self-monitor–interferes with the ability to keep a clean house. I suggested a game plan for tidying, including tracking where your time goes and seeing if you can squeeze in a ten-minute burst of laundry duty.
Yes, there are strategies for scrubbing, but what if you not only need to clean the house with bipolar disorder, but you have a toddler to look after? Read on for tips and tricks to get your house tidy while dealing with both bipolar and a young child.
Strategy #1: How to Manage Your Own Expectations and Limits
Revisit your definition of tidy. I’m sure you’ve noticed, but when you have a toddler in the house, things just don’t stay where you’ve put them. Toys wind up everywhere, baby food jars stink up the coffee table, and fingerprints cover the windows. That’s all okay. Your kids are only little once, so enjoy them rather than constantly trying for damage control. While you may feel like your house will never be company ready, I guarantee people who like you aren’t judging you on the state of your house. As long as those baby food jars don’t have mold on them, it’s all good.
Set a time limit to avoid getting overwhelmed. I use the 20/10 method, popularized by the profane cleaning site, Unf*ck Your Habitat. Set a timer for twenty minutes of focused cleaning, and one for a ten-minute break following. With my toddler around, I rarely manage a whole twenty minutes. Sometimes our ten-minute break is more of an hour and a half of outside play. But some time cleaning is better than none. My hope is that my daughter will start to respect the timer, though I suspect I’ll have to wait a bit longer for her to really understand why the oven timer is beeping and what that means for her.
Similarly, setting a time limit helps prevent me from getting too focused on chores when I’m hypomanic. If I force myself to take breaks, I’m less likely to be turning in circles by the end of the day.
Strategy #2: Include Your Kids In the Cleaning Process
Involve your children in cleaning the house according to their abilities. Training your children to clean the house with you is incredibly important for both your sanity and their future ability to keep their own houses clean as adults. You can start young, letting your toddlers help by putting away their toys or sweeping the floor with a child-sized broom.
Don’t expect great results right off the bat. Your toddler won’t have the attention span or manual dexterity to handle most chores. Just get done what you can, and try to be realistic about how much you’ll actually be able to get done, even with “help.”
Put toys away every night. Keeping your toddler’s toys corralled is a nightly endeavor. Take a little while before bed or whenever is most convenient to put toys away in covered bins (more on those later). Try to let your kiddo put away as many items as possible. If you label the bins with pictures–car pictures for the car bins, etc.–then your child can help put toys away with you.
Cut down on toy clutter. Store your child’s toys in covered bins, and make sure all the toys fit in these bins. When the toy bins are overflowing and the lid doesn’t fit anymore, donate some of them. Older children generally understand the concept of giving toys to other people who might not have them, but toddlers usually don’t. Involve your kids in the donation process at your discretion.
Don’t, don’t, don’t redo your kids’ work. Whatever you do, don’t do your child’s work over. That sends the message that what she does isn’t good enough for you, and she’ll get discouraged. If your toddler can’t fully make the bed, simply let her do as much as she can and move on.
Thank your child for his work. Make sure to show your appreciation for your toddler’s efforts, but don’t praise him insincerely for an unsatisfactory job. There is a time and a place for praise, such as when the job your kiddos complete is well done. If that’s not the case, simply thank your child.
The Bottom Line
Cleaning the house with a toddler and bipolar disorder may seem impossible. It’s not. The effort required is immense, true, and you need to be patient with your kid, but that’s similar to any other task you complete with children. You can do this.
Keep an eye out for part II, a room-by-room cleaning guide.
One of our greatest resources for memories about our childhoods is of course our parents. I asked mine for their perspectives on what my growing up bipolar was like for them. I did not have a diagnosis until I was twenty-one, but showed evidence of bipolar disorder since I was a teenager–in hindsight. Here are their responses:
What was it like raising a bipolar child?
Mom: Confusing! That about sums it up. You have an inkling that something is wrong, but where do you start looking? No professionals–teachers, doctors, social workers–no one said anything. If someone had told me, “you need to look into bipolar disorder,” I would have jumped on that. If someone had told me to read an article, I would have.
Dad: See how it’s a fluid field of study, now. There’s so much more out there than there used to be.
Mom: The first thing I read was that children turned out this way because the mother was cold. And I knew that couldn’t be right.
Dad: But being that you were our first child, you had a lot of attention given to you. Some children demand more.
Mom: Hindsight is 20-20. There’s a lot more out there, now. “Cassandra, bipolar” would have never gone together my mind. Then there’s the guilt, after you find out a diagnosis. You think you could have done something, that you should have known.
Dad: Your mother was concerned by why you weren’t tactile. We didn’t understand the hypersensitivity. But on the positive side, you would wow people with your intellectual abilities.
Mom: Going to school for you was exhausting–completely, physically, emotionally exhausting. You were putting on an act to be normal, and you’d come home and cry yourself to sleep every night.
Dad: There was a pressure to socialize.
Mom: My family and my church family would say, “There’s nothing wrong with her!” But they were completely blind to it.
Dad: Or in denial.
Mom: Yeah, that, too. But mostly blind. There’s a stigma of labeling. One thing I was not prepared for was when you were angry in high school. You were just frustrated and angry with yourself and your world, and I had no time or energy to deal with it. But your frustration was just overwhelming to you and to me. Life had completely gotten out of hand at that point. But during the end of high school and the first years of college, you had these major meltdowns of depression. You were just listless. And you weren’t feeding yourself or taking a shower–you couldn’t!
What does it feel like being the parent of a bipolar adult?
Mom: Extreme relief that you have excellent medical care. And not only that, but that you have a husband who studies and understands each symptom as they crop up. He has no qualms about raising a child with you–about raising two children with you!
Dad: [Your husband] doesn’t say much, so you can’t assume–
Mom: But I see the results. What does it feel like being the parent of a bipolar adult? I worry about you. That’s normal for any child. With all of my children who have a handicap, so to speak, I’ve lowered my expectations. So when they do achieve things, I’m surprised, even more than I am proud.
Dad: She learned that from me.
If I had had a diagnosis, would you have done anything differently?
Mom: Had I known, I would have treated you differently. And maybe that’s a bad thing. I treated you like a normal person because I didn’t know any better.
Thank you, Mom and Dad! I hope these insights will inspire other adults who suffer from mental health issues to talk to the people who raised them, if they have that kind of relationship with their caretakers.