Parenting With Bipolar Disorder
You can still be a great parent, despite bipolar disorder — and you may find that you're even more motivated to keep yourself healthy.
By Malinda Gibbons-Gwyn
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Being bipolar doesn't have to end your dream of becoming a parent. While it's natural to be nervous or concerned about how well you'll be able to parent — and whether your children will have this illness too — many people with bipolar disorder have happy, healthy children and families.
Bipolar Disorder: Parenting Challenges
Being a parent is difficult for anyone. But being a bipolar parent does come with a unique set of stressors, worries, and challenges that parents without mental illness don't worry about.
Parenting with bipolar disorder can be "immensely challenging, but often a good motivation for patients to stay compliant with their medication," says Adele C. Viguera, MD, a psychiatrist and the associate director of the perinatal and reproductive psychiatry program at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
Getting good control of your bipolar disorder is important just to be able to function in everyday life, and even more so if you plan to be a parent. "Take care of yourself first, or else everything else goes by the wayside," stresses Dr. Viguera.
And don't look at your disorder as something that will prevent you from being a good parent. "Patients with bipolar disorder are perfectly fit, wonderful parents," says Viguera. "It's just a condition that has to be managed."
Bipolar Disorder: Finding Support
First and foremost, you need a great support system, says Viguera. You will need help taking care of your children — all parents do. So accept that and don't be afraid to ask for help, she adds. Ask parents, grandparents, friends, and other family members to pitch in when you need it.
Staying compliant with your medications and your doctor visits is a necessity, as well as getting good sleep, eating healthy foods, and getting regular exercise, says Viguera.
"You want to make the disease a non-issue in a way," she says. The goal is to manage bipolar disorder so well that it's really not a part of your day-to-day life.
Bipolar Disorder: Managing Challenges
But when you notice symptoms of depression or mania starting to surface, admit it, and seek help quickly. If you don't, your bipolar disorder can start to affect your parenting.
"When parents are depressed, they can feel inadequate because they recognize that they're not able to do what they're [normally] capable of doing for their child," says Viguera. "But I think it's important for them to articulate that and for them to receive the assurance that it's an episode."
Bipolar Disorder: Start With Stability
You have to feel confident in what you can do, how stable you are, and in your support system to be an effective parent with bipolar disorder, says Jennifer Keener. This 36-year-old mother of two is bipolar. Keener, who lives outside of Cleveland, became pregnant unexpectedly after a couple of good, stable years with her disease. But she was still nervous about having a baby.
"Am I doing something that's bad?" Keener says she kept thinking during her pregnancy. "I'm giving life to this child and I have this terrible illness — that was scary for me." Keener's husband is also bipolar, so she was particularly concerned about the effect that their mental illness would have on their child.
"The more I thought about it, the more I think I developed a better appreciation for life because of what I had battled and what I had overcome," she says. "I was able to live a relatively happy life, and when I had [the baby] that gave me more purpose. I found life much more enjoyable."
Bipolar Disorder: Worth the Effort
Keener knows that she has challenges, but doesn't feel that having bipolar disorder makes parenting any more difficult than it is for people without this disorder. She is aware that she must take care of herself and keep her disease well managed to be the best parent that she can. And, she says, it's well worth the effort.
"Parenting is a challenge, and if it's something that you've always wanted to do and that you really want to do, I think you put a lot of effort into it," says Keener.
What's her advice to other people with bipolar disorder who want to become parents?
"Basically, hav[e] enough confidence in yourself and know that you're pretty capable," she says.
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