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Mara McWilliams
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Bipolar Parenting

by Mara McWilliams

As a mother who is also bipolar, I have searched the Internet for web sites geared toward helping parents diagnosed with bipolar disorder; I have yet to find one. I believe it would make a big difference if one existed. We all have found, over the years, that sharing our experiences with those who are or have experienced the same thing is healing and therapeutic for all parties involved. The first Twelve Step program was founded on that basic principle. In this situation, it would be one bipolar parent helping another, and so on.

I know that as a person raised in a co-dependent, oppressive environment, I don't want to raise my child in a similar atmosphere. It is important that I raise an independent, responsible, brave young woman who is aware of her boundaries. I am aware that my daughter might be prone to assume the role of caretaker or codependent. It is my responsibility, regardless of my diagnosis, to make sure that doesn't happen. My child is not the parent; I am.

According to current statistics, my daughter has between a 15-30% chance of inheriting bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, I cannot protect her from developing this illness, but I can properly prepare her to deal with life and the curve balls it will throw at her. I can teach her to live honestly, to live with compassion in her heart, and to act in kind to all inhabitants on this planet. I can teach her to claim responsibility for her actions and accept the consequences of her decisions gracefully. I can teach her that love comes in all different shapes and sizes and isn't limited to traditional concepts of marriage, tradition and commitment.

I'm not naïve. I know my illness has an effect on my child. What kind of effect, I'm not sure; time will tell. I am honest with my daughter. We have discussed my illness many times: how it is called a brain disorder because there is a chemical imbalance in the brain. She knows that my illness is called Bipolar Disorder and that I take medication to treat it. She has experienced my moods changing from happy to sad within hours of each other, and she knows that my moods are not a result of something she did. She knows this because we have an open line of communication that is based on honesty and trust.

My child knows it is not her responsibility to change my feelings or make me feel better. I have explained to her that my feelings and moods are my responsibility. Occasionally, when I am feeling blue, she will come up to me, give me a hug and say, "It's going to be ok Mommy, I love you." And then she will run off and play with her friends, just like any other 8 year old kid. Because of my illness, my child has learned how to be empathetic without becoming codependent. In today's world, that is a very valuable lesson.

We all have to play the hand we've been dealt. I was dealt bipolar disorder. My child was dealt a bipolar parent. It's the coping tools we develop to deal with our cards that are invaluable.

We invite our daughter to share with us not only her experiences during the day, but her feelings about her day. She is encouraged to express her feelings, including anger. We are teaching her to express her angry feelings in a positive way. Children want to be loved and it is the parent's job to love, nurture, and guide them. I remind myself that my child's life is her own and not my experience.

I believe that because of my bipolar disorder and my recovery process, my child will grow up in a house that is focused on mental wellness.



Mara McWilliams resides peacefully in Northern California with her daughter and her wife, Renee. She has dedicated her life to raising her daughter; volunteering, preserving her mental health, and helping others improve themselves whenever she can. She expresses herself through painting, drawing, and writing.

Mara is the author of Outta My Head and In Your Face. The poetry and artwork of Mara McWilliams reflects a journey that led her through the darkest depths of mental illness, to a place where she more often experiences a peace that is the result of tremendous hard work and dedication to a better, balanced, life. This book of selected poems and paintings by Mara McWilliams chronicles that journey. She hopes to give the reader a view into the tortured mind of the undiagnosed mentally ill, as well as to give hope to those whose lives have been touched by mental illness, that a full and beautiful life is possible.


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