What does it take to be a good mother? Boy that’s a loaded question. Everyone has an opinion and they aren’t all the same.
Breastfeeding v. formula, the circumcision debate, spanking or attachment parenting … the battle lines are being drawn everywhere, among families, across generations and online. No matter what you do, you will find both friends and foes.
The point is it’s hard enough being a mom and knowing what’s right for your children. Having Bipolar Disorder and being a mother makes everything twice as hard. To further complicate things for us, we are judged harshly for having children at all. Nobody even bothers to think twice about reminding us that the illness is hereditary – like we have never been privy to that nugget of information.
Because we have a mental illness, people assume we are not capable of making the right decisions when it comes to the well-being and emotional development of our children. Well, we all know what happens when you assume. They may be right in some cases but more often than not, they are dead wrong.
Individuals with Bipolar Disorder feel every emotion deeper and more intensely than the norm. The love for our children is no exception to that rule. Speaking for myself, I know that I would move mountains to make sure my children have the best chance at being successful in what ever they chose to do in life. It’s my responsibility to love and nurture their hearts. It’s also my duty to prepare them mentally them for what they will encounter now, and as adults. As a mother with Bipolar Disorder, I must be mindful daily that my illness does not interfere with their development.
That is both a motivator and a fear for me. Simply said, I know what I must do but sometimes I fear screwing it up. I suppose it’s a common feeling for all mothers – not just those living with Bipolar.
“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. It’s just a condition that has to be managed”, says Adele C. Viguera, MD, a psychiatrist and the associate director of the perinatal and reproductive psychiatry program at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
What does she mean by a “condition that must be managed”? She’s speaking about careful adherence to your schedule of medications as well as your ability to recognize triggers and warning signs of mood shifts. In a nutshell, she means we must take care of ourselves with as much intensity as we care for our children. That’s a hard pill to swallow for a mother because society tells us we must be last in all things. But we must not let Bipolar Disorder control us. We must fight to control it.
We have to stay devoted to our recovery. Since becoming a mother in September 2008, my entire view of the world and myself shifted. I went from being totally naive and self centered to putting someone else first in all things. My oldest son was my first love. It is the devotion that I have for him, and his little brother, that keep me focused so intensely on my own mental well-being.
It is for them that I track my moods and take my medications because they deserve the best of everything. Without stability for myself, I can’t provide the same for them.
My advice to new mothers diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder is this:
Don’t ever let anyone inside your head and make you doubt your ability to be a great mother!
Automatically being labeled a bad mother because you have a mental illness is just another stigma. It’s just another stereotype.
Don’t worry about the squabbling at home and online about what it means to be a good mother. Don’t let the little debates distract you from your ultimate goals.
Make sure you have a healthy support system at home. It can be made up of a spouse, family or friends. Whoever they are, make sure they are positive influences on you and your children.
Don’t include those who constantly make you doubt your parenting abilities because those are ultimately the people who perpetuate the stereotype of you not being capable of being a good mother due to your mental illness. That mindset will rub off on you.
These people can do more harm than good and can often be a hindrance to your mental health. They can be toxic to your recovery.
Remember, that being a mother is difficult sometimes but there’s also nothing in life that will ever be more rewarding. There are no words to describe the feeling that washes over you when your child is placed in your arms for the first time.
Stay focused on what matters most – your children and your mental stability. Everything else will fall into place.
Lastly, I know that you are courageous. You wrestle with an invisible illness everyday of your life, but you can do this. When you become a mother, you transform from a cub to a mother grizzly bear. Not even Bipolar Disorder can go 10 rounds with her.