Child abuse comes in many forms: physical abuse, emotional abuse, medical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. When we’re suffering from depression and dealing with the inability to take care of ourselves, we are at risk of neglecting our children. This risk must be mitigated in order to prevent seriously harming our kids.
It’s all well and good to say so, but how does one prevent child abuse when they have depression? Here are 4 crucial tips to parenting with depression.
Tip #1: Practice Self-care
You’ve heard the analogy of the oxygen mask on the airplane. Before you tend to your children, you must put your oxygen mask on first.
Self-care is that oxygen mask.
Self-care may seem like just another item on the to-do list. But it’s actually crucial for you to function. Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. If you don’t perform some self-care on a daily basis, you’ll not only neglect yourself, you may start to neglect your kids as well because you’re burnt out.
Some people think self-care is limited to bubble baths and painting your nails. That’s not true. Taking your medications and attending therapy are forms of self-care. So is getting enough sleep, target=”_blank”>eating well, and drinking enough water. Spending time outside and with other people also falls under that umbrella.
If you put your oxygen mask on and practice self-care on a daily basis, then over time you’ll be in a much better position to care for your children. Avoid burn out. Prioritize self-care.
Tip #2: Seek Professional Help for You and Your Child
When you’re a parent suffering from depression, the bond with your child may suffer. You might neglect your duties at home and spend a lot of time in bed, ignoring your babies. This is frightening and confusing to a kid, who needs you to be a consistent presence in their lives.
Before the situation gets that bad, seek professional help. Find a therapist you can trust for yourself, and talk about your feelings with him or her.
But don’t forget to find a therapist for your child as well. He or she may need help understanding why your depression affects you the way it does. Your kid needs a trusted adult to be a comforting presence. A therapist can teach your whole family coping skills.
For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.
Tip #3: Communicate with Your Child
As I’ve said before, parental depression can cause unusual behaviors in you which are scary to your child. Nip that in the bud and communicate with him or her as much as possible about your depression.
Let your kid know that your mental illness, while not going away, is not his or her fault. Explain that you have a chemical imbalance in your brain, and you’re doing your best to cope with it. If you are taking medication, tell your child that you are taking steps to circumvent the depression and its effect on him or her.
Don’t be afraid to let your kid know how you’re feeling that day, be it tired, sad, or even and especially happy. Don’t make him or her responsible for your emotions, but do share them with your child.
For a post on how to communicate with your children about your mental illness, click here.
Tip #4: Forgive Yourself for Mistakes
You cannot be the super parent every day of the week when dealing with depression. Setting too high of expectations for yourself and your children can be dangerous, because if you fail, it can trigger overwhelming feelings of despair.
Recognizing that you deserve forgiveness for mistakes, especially while suffering from depression, can be one of the hardest things you’ll do. But you must forgive yourself if you mess up, because you’re setting an example to your child to forgive you and others.
Know that “good enough” parenting is really good enough. Allow your kid some leeway when it comes to screen time. Offer them a cheese and celery and tomato plate instead of a full dinner, but only occasionally, when you really can’t cook. (For a post on 22 easy meals to make while depressed, click here.) And don’t cut back on your kid’s activities; get him or her out of the house as much as possible, so he or she can be around other people.
Parenting while suffering from depression is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. Neglecting yourself comes easily; neglecting your children is just the next logical step. Don’t get there. Practice self-care, seek professional help for you and your child, communicate with him or her, and forgive yourself for your mistakes.
These practical tips will help you foster a more positive environment for you and your kid. Eventually, if you continue taking care of yourself, your depression will lift, and you’ll be able to say that you did a good job parenting while suffering depression.
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!
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.
What does a complicated holiday like Mother’s Day mean for your mental health? Find out on CassandraStout.com!
For some of us, it is a day to celebrate the women who raised us–with flowers, chocolate, or homemade crafts. For others, it is a day of intense guilt and shame, reminding them of an abusive or neglectful parent. For those whose mothers left them or passed away, the day is a poignant reminder of what they do not have.
But what does Mother’s Day mean for your mental health?
In addition to featuring Mother’s Day, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. During May, mental health organizations strive to combat stigma about mental health conditions and educate communities and families about coping tools for mental illnesses. One thing that professionals want people to be aware of is the effect holidays, especially holidays centered around togetherness and emotions, can affect different people mentally.
Your Mother’s Effect on Your Mental Health
Your mother shaped your mental health, first as a child, and then as an adult. When you are little, your mother taught you how to handle stress, mostly by example, but also, hopefully by actively teaching you. Your mother also modeled how to manage relationships, including friendships, romance, and parenting, teaching you what to do and what not to. The types of behaviors learned, and whether they are healthy or not, can depend entirely on your relationship with your mother.
Even those whose mothers abandoned them as children or passed away taught them something by their absence.
And people with mothers who suffer from mental illness, especially if it is untreated, have another entire layer–and sometimes multiple layers–of complexity to their parental relationships.
What if You’re a Mother?
For those of us who are mothers ourselves, we’re walking a tightrope of societal expectations. Many of us suffer from postnatal depression, and a few of us have more severe cases of postpartum psychosis–including delusions, irritability, and hallucinations–all while facing a lack of resources and support from the community at large.
Facing down Mother’s Day as a mother can dredge up complicated feelings, ranging from happiness at the relationship you have with your children, to exhaustion from facing another day, bowing under the pressure of being a mother.
How to Handle Such a Complicated Holiday
All of this makes Mother’s Day a complicated, and at times, triggering day on the calendar. We may feel joy celebrating our mothers, but we may also feel pressure to do so in spite of our feelings. And we also can feel intense guilt or shame at our perceived failings as mothers and as daughters.
So how can you handle Mother’s Day, which is so fraught with emotion?
First, practice self-care. A lot of women think self-care is limited to having 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.
Try to get enough sleep during the week, eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of water, exercise, and spend some time outside and with other people, as much as social distancing would allow. Tap into your social network and ask for support during a time when you might be feeling vulnerable.
Secondly, give yourself space to experience your feelings. Mother’s Day is a complicated holiday, but you yourself are a complicated human being, capable of feeling all manner of emotions at any given time. Letting yourself experience your feasr or sorrows privately can help you get through the public times more easily.
Write down your impressions of Mother’s Day. If you are angry with your mother, write a letter expressing yourself. (Then burn it. This is only for you.) Keep a journal just for you about your complex feelings surrounding motherhood.
If you have a wonderful relationship with your mother and want to celebrate her, then by all means do so, and also celebrate your friendship! If you have a neglectful or abusive parent, then do what you can to take care of yourself in this time–if that means skipping the holiday, then don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for doing so.
If you have a daughter this Mother’s Day, try to be patient with her during this complicated holiday. She is likely struggling with some of the same issues you have with your own mother. Give her the grace you would want your own mother–or your daughter yourself–to give you.
Mothers shape our mental health. They teach us how to take care of ourselves, and how to prioritize our own well-being. Or, as is so often the case, how not to do that.
Our mothers taught us so many things, good and bad, and Mother’s Day is a way to acknowledge our mothers’ effects on us–without drowning. Motherhood is a complex and difficult challenge, and as long as we try our best, we are good parents.
You can handle this complicated holiday. You are stronger than we know.
Get practical tips to help you support your child with bipolar disorder on The Bipolar Parent!
Parenting a child with bipolar disorder is a unique challenge. There are medications to manage, mood swings to endure, and the many times your child will surprise you with their capacity for rage–or empathy.
National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is observed annual on the first Thursday of May. Thursday, May 7th, 2020, is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day in the United States.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) created the day over a decade ago to better support families who struggle with mental health challenges in their children. The purpose of the awareness day is to shine a spotlight on the needs of children with serious mental illness and to encourage communities to get these children the help they need.
If your child suffers from bipolar disorder, don’t lose hope. You can rise to the challenge of parenting a child with mental illness.
Here are 5 ways to support a child with bipolar disorder.
1. Accept Your Child’s Limits
People with bipolar disorder often have mood swings that they cannot control. Your child will sometimes have terrible depression or manic energy that they won’t be able to rein in. They might laugh inappropriately, get into trouble at school, or be completely incapable of taking care of themselves, especially while depressed.
Accept your child’s limits. Be patient with your kid, letting them know that you will always be there for them and that your house is a no-judgment zone.
That doesn’t mean to not hold them accountable for putting in the effort to do chores or homework, but it does mean to give them a little leeway when they’re dealing with depression especially. If they are making inappropriate jokes due to a manic episode, call them on it, and ask them if they really feel those things are appropriate.
2. Validate Your Child’s Feelings
Validate your child’s feelings. Let them know that whatever they’re feeling, be it euphoria, frustration, rage, or the deepest pit of despair, is real. Tell them that you’re not judging them for having these feelings, and guide your child in ways that are appropriate to express their emotions.
Above all, don’t tell them to “stop acting crazy” if they get riled up. If they’re manic, they might be excessively goofy or silly, or have delusions of grandeur (including claims of superpowers). They can’t help themselves.
3. Communicate Honestly and Openly with Your Child
Communication is key to supporting your child with bipolar disorder. When your child approaches you, turn off your electronic devices and really listen. Even if you don’t understand how they feel, take in all that they say.
When your kid is struggling with their mood swings, or guilt, or other strong feelings, offer your child emotional support. Be patient, and validate what they feel (tip #2).
If you, too, have bipolar disorder, tell your child that you suffer the same kinds of mood swings that they do. Be honest with your children in an age-appropriate way.
(For a post on the differences between bipolar disorder in children and bipolar disorder in adults, click here.)
4. Set up a Routine
Children thrive on routine. You want to plan out your child’s days and weeks, and be consistent from day to day and week to week. Make sure your kid takes their medication at the same time everyday.
If necessary, talk to the guidance counselors and principal at your child’s school to set up an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. This plan will enable accommodations to be made for your kid, including breaks from homework during difficult times, time outs during the school day, and longer times to take tests.
Parenting a child with a mental illness is a difficult, but doable challenge. If your child has bipolar disorder, there will be times when they feel utterly depressed or riled up with delusions of grandeur.
You can rise to this challenge. Use these five practical tips to help you.
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!
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.
Hello, hello! Welcome to the Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: The Future Edition! Thanks for stopping by.
How are you doing this week? What parenting challenges have you been facing? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you practicing self-care? How has the coronavirus affected your life lately? I hope you don’t have it! Let me know in the comments; I genuinely want to know about you and your struggles.
My (Two) Weeks — And the Future of The Bipolar Parent
I didn’t update last week, and for that I apologize. I was waiting on some news that was time-sensitive.
But now I can share it: I have a job! My friend and frequent commenter, author and mental health blogger Dyane Harwood, was approached by an editor at Verywell. Part of Dotdash (previously About.com), Verywell is a website focused on health and medicine that boasts 17 million unique visitors per month.
Dyane was told by the editor that Verywell needed a contributing writer for their articles re: bipolar disorder. Dyane, bless her, said she was overextended, and passed my contact information and blog onto the editor.
The editor contacted me, and asked if I would be willing to blog for them on a regular basis. After discussing the challenges of being a working parent with my husband, I agreed to take the job.
I am so excited! This is a wonderful opportunity to expand my writing resume and add feathers to my cap. A million thank yous to Dyane!
All of this means there will be some changes to The Bipolar Parent, my personal blog. I will be writing four articles per month for Verywell, and I don’t know if I will be able to continue blogging here as frequently.
My children will be out of school for the summer, and my husband is not comfortable with drop-in daycare for either of them. Rather than writing blog posts while they are in school, I will be writing in my very limited free time after the kids go to bed.
That being said, I need to discontinue the Saturday Morning Mental Health Check ins. I apologize in advance, but I already know that I won’t be able to keep posting on Saturday on The Bipolar Parent while writing for Verywell.
I hope to continue posting on Fridays, but I am uncertain if I will be able to keep up the quantity of quality posts while blogging four times a month for the other site.
I will check in with myself in April (next month) and make an honest decision. After that, whatever I decide, I will check in again in August, three months later, and see if I need to reevaluate my ability to post to both sites.
Whatever happens to The Bipolar Parent, I plan to continue blogging for the International Bipolar Foundation, so you can see me both there and at Verywell. If I’m not producing original content here, I will be linking to both my Verywell posts and my IBPF posts.
I appreciate that you’ve all supported me in my writing. The journey from beginning blogger to contributing writer at IBPF and Verywell has been long, but you all have been there for me. Thank you so much.
How are you? What have you been struggling with? Let me know!
Hello! Welcome to the Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Apathy Edition!
How are you? Have you been keeping up with your self-care? How’s parenting going? What have you been struggling with lately? What’s been good in your life? Let me know!
I’ve just been going through the motions this week. There’s been a serious disconnect between me and everything going on around me.
Except for the basics like pre-scheduled playdates and making dinner, I’ve done literally nothing but sit on the couch and play on my phone, and I’m not even enjoying that. No housework. Not enough engagement with my kids. I’ve had the doldrums lately.
I’ve also engaged in a lot of negative self-talk about my body. I’ve been on my menstrual cycle this week, which didn’t help my mood, and made me feel fat and gross. I’ve put myself down for being about 50 pounds overweight all week, and now I’m putting a stop to that. Negative self-talk has no benefit, and doesn’t help me want to lose weight at all. It just makes me feel bad.
I’ve scheduled an appointment to talk to my therapist on Monday. I called a warmline Friday evening, and the operator I talked to has bipolar disorder, which was very helpful. I could tell she understood bipolar depression, because she’s lived it. I’ll be meeting with my psychiatrist in March, though I might want to call his office and ask for an earlier appointment. We shall see.
So I’m taking steps to address this soul-sucking pit of depression that I’ve found myself in. Please keep me in your prayers.