Archive for the ‘Being Bipolar and a Parent: The Extra Step’ Category

Being Bipolar and a Parent: The Extra Step   1 comment

A few weeks ago we took my girlfriend’s 5 and 7 year old daughters out for pasta on a Saturday night.  As young children do, before their food came they spent a lot of time squirming in their seats, disappearing under the table and bemoaning their food was taking so long to come out like a couple of starving children from Ethiopia.   When the food finally came the older girl proceeded to eat her pasta by sticking her face in the bowl and slurping the tomato sauce stained  pasta directly into her mouth like a cattle eating out of a feed bag.  The younger one just fidgeted in her chair and intermittently blasted out some ear piercing shrieks  like she was being operated on without anesthesia.  Then she went into a tearful diatribe about not liking her pasta and wanting ice cream instead.

If the girls were my younger brother and I, we wouldn’t have gotten past the seat squirming.  My father’s hand would have quickly and silently shot across the table like a python snake snapping out its tongue and cracked us both in the head “Three Stooges style,” telling us to “cut it the fuck out and sit quietly or there is going to be a war!”   And if one of us dared to be a kid and creatively ate our pasta, or spaghetti as it was erroneously called in the 1970’s,  my dad’s lighting arm would make another appearance and connect with my head once again, this time even harder.  “Goddamn it, use your manners.  Don’t eat like a fucking slob!” he would sharply whisper now with the venom of a python.  If my father had these girls as daughters, they’d be “scared straight.”

At thirteen, my own daughter can be extremely sassy.  Now and then she’ll call me by my first name, scream at me to wake up early on a Saturday morning because she is bored and disappears into the ladies room for the better part of a half hour when we go out to dinner to text her friends.  If I did any of this at thirteen  to my father,  no matter where I was going,  his foot would have helped me get there faster.  And he’d scream at me so loud dogs in the neighborhood would start barking or an entire restaurant would grow silent and  just stare at the purple-faced man at our table.

I always vowed to myself mid-head-cracking or ass-kicking that I would never lay a hand on my children no matter what they did, unless they did something unforgivable like spill their milk.  And I’m proud to say that I stuck to this policy, but I found being bipolar made it a lot more challenging.  There were a lot of times I wanted to grab my daughter and “shake some respect for me” into her.  Or, snatch my girlfriend’s seven year old’s pasta and say “Stop eating like a goddamn slob or go take the bus home.”  And, tell the little one in a matter of fact voice “Now it’s no ice cream for a week whether you eat dinner or not.  As a matter of fact, no food for a week.  How-do-ya like that?”   To a five year old you might as well tell them they are going to an orphanage run by bears.

But I knew this was not appropriate parenting,  And patting myself on my back for never hitting the kids isn’t a great accomplishment either.  It’s expected.    However being bipolar and dealing with my own related issues does make it harder for me to curb my emotions.  And I’m sure there are others reading this out there just like me.

Often times I may be depressed and want to sleep all day but promised to do something with my daughter or my girlfriend’s daughters.  My head is already in a bad place going into this activity.  Then kids being kids, burn down the shopping mall we’re visiting.  I want to explode and put the fear of my father into them with everything going on in my head.  But that is when I have to force myself to take an extra step, realize they are just kids playing with the flame thrower, and tell them this kind of behavior is not ok and stop napalming Abercrombie and Finche.

I find this approach usually works.  It just takes the self discipline to put your depression, anxiety or whatever else you may be experiencing aside for a moment and rationally deal with the children.  And I derive personal satisfaction for parenting the right way and not adding another layer of misbehavior on which to second guess myself about in my already over-burdened bipolar mind.

The thing to remember is that kids are kids.  Babies will cry incessantly for seemingly no reason.  Kids start out life eating like slobs.  Teenagers will be disrespectful to their parents.  It’s all part of growing up and out of child-like behaviors.  But kids are immature until we as adults show them the right way to act.  No matter how annoying it can be, you can’t get mad at them for being kids.  And when you’re bipolar and in a bad way, you have to work a little harder to remind yourself of this instead of adding your inability to parent to the list of things currently torturing your obsessive mind.

This is in no way easy.  (I have slipped up and yelled at my daughter on a handful of occasions.  As an overly-dramatic thirteen year old, she’ll contend I yell at her all the time.  I told her to go spend some time with her grandfather and then get back to me on that).  But it can be done.  However, as with everything else, raising children is harder when you’re bipolar.  It’s difficult enough to take care of ourselves,  little yet needy children.  But it can also be the greatest accomplishment of our lives.