Where do I find peace? I often ask myself those questions. Peace may not come in large doses but learning to cherish and hold onto the times when it appears is like sanity-in-a-jar. It’s the quiet moments when riding in a car and everyone is laughing at something said, heard, or did. It’s in the moments when your child says, “Mom, I have to tell you something” or “Mom, this medicine doesn’t feel so good.” Those are moments when they are not fighting you but coming for the help they often cannot ask for. Peace comes when you finally convinced them to try something they said they would hate and you actual see them having a good time. Peace is in the days you did not argue, fuss or fight with them. It’s in the question of “What did you tell me to do?” because they are being compliant for a change. Peace is in the time when they have finally fallen asleep and everything is quiet.
Sometimes, we have to chase after peace and give it to ourselves in the form of an afternoon of window shopping, hanging out with friends, or taking a brief vacation. Our children constantly need our attention but if we fail to attend to ourselves, we fail to give them what they need. Having patience comes out of those quiet, sometimes stolen moments of peace. Embrace those moments. Chase those moments. You will find the love for not only yourself but for those whose illnesses often makes you wonder where the love has gone. Peace, it’s everywhere, it we look for it.
Tough love is a term that is often used when parents treats their children in ways that some might call harsh, with the sole intent to help them in the long run. The use of tough love has been scrutinized by many as nothing more than reasons to be unnecessarily harsh and punitive towards kids who are already suffering. I believe we can use tough love with kids who have mental illnesses. This form of tough love means loving them enough to set tighter boundaries and allowing them to experience natural consequences. When our children are mean or act poorly with others who then reject them, we have to love them enough to not only let them feel the pain of that rejection but to talk with them about how their behaviors puts others off. When they don’t do their homework and we are stressed out by arguing with them, communicating with their teachers, and frustrated by keeping up with their assignments, then we have to be tough enough to let them live with the consequences of their actions, even if its a failing grade. Life’s experiences will begin to help us motivate them to understand their own illnesses and to work with us to help them not only manage their symptoms but also to manage their complete lives. Tough love means not always avoiding the tantrums, tears, and rages. It means holding tight the boundaries that not only we have set but those set by society because our children will have to live by those boundaries someday without us. Tough love means we stop making so many adjustments to keep them happy because we feel bad that their friends didn’t call or they missed out on a school trip because of their behavior. And yes, it means letting them fail a grade or even letting them leave your house when they reach a certain age. Sure, it will be hard to watch them falter, fall, and sometimes fail. With our guidance life can be a great teacher if we use its experiences to teach our children. It will be tough, but we have to love them enough to help them succeed by not holding their hands and feelings so afraid for them. We have to be tough enough and love them enough to let them go so they can stand on their own two feet.
When we give birth and take our first look at our child, we have hopes. When we take them home and watch them sleep, we have hopes. So when we begin to see the behaviors that fall out of the norm, we hope its just a phase. When our child cries longer, laughs louder, and plays rougher than the other children, we hope it will change with time. When the little tantrums become big tantrums, we hope we can get them under control. When the alarm goes off in the morning, we hope it will be a good day. When we come home at the end of the day, we hope it will be a good evening. We hope the teachers will have patience and will work with us. When people begin to tell us that something is wrong, we hope they are wrong. We hope the doctors will have answers. We hope our family will not turn their backs on us, that our friends will still want to hang out with us and that our child will have friends and grow up to be productive citizens. At the end of the day, all we can really do is take it moment by moment, day by day. We can stop relying on hope and deal with the reality that our children’s challenges will be just that, challenges. With hard work and perseverance on our part and in partnership with our kids, our children can achieve not just our hopes but their own dreams.
Parenting a bipolar child is one of the most difficult and lonely jobs one has to do. Understanding what is happening to your child and learning to live with the behaviors that wreak havoc with your life is incredibly challenging. The mood swings, the shouting, the tantrums, the broken furniture, the depressed mood, the threats to harm oneself, the tears, the screams, and the difficulty getting them out of their bed, their room, the house….is just one part of the picture. On the other side, are the voices who say they don’t understand, that question why you are doing what you are doing, the statements that your child is just bad, disrespectful, argumentative, headed for jail or worst, dead. Many words come from friends, teachers, administrators, family, and worst, your spouse or partner. People see the behaviors but fail to acknowledge the mental illness. They have no interest in learning about disorder. Then, when there is an episode, they are quick to judge and to wash their hands of your child and possibly you. These people keep their distance. They are friendly and provide sympathetic looks but often they judge and have strong opinions about what is happening. They keep their distance. They fail to help. They stand back. They give very little tangible support. Most often we are left to our own defenses. We struggle to find information and strategies to manage our children. We guess, we read, we ask questions but fail to get many answers. When we do find strategies that work, we are questioned about the appropriateness of our strategy or told that what we are doing is just plain wrong, doesn’t make sense or that we should just punish our kids. In the end, we are left alone and without support. What would be nice is to hear that someone knows it’s hard for you. That they want to help and aren’t afraid of the behaviors. We want to have someone take our child and just spend some time with them, talking, laughing hanging out. We want to know that someone else loves our child and while they may not be able to be there for us all the time, they will do what they can, when they can, even if it’s just to listen.