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What We've Learned: Tips for Raising a Child with Bipolar Disorder

GJ Gregory, who has battled bipolar disorder, shares the principles he and his wife have found most important in raising a son with bipolar disorder.

My wife and I have 5 kids in various stages of growth, including a son who’s been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. When it comes to parenting, the one sure thing I’ve learned is that parenting is a challenge and we all make mistakes (and the kids take great delight in pointing out those mistakes). When you add a child with bipolar disorder into the mix, the challenge becomes a powder keg. It's not just the parents and the bipolar child who’re affected - the entire family feels the pressure and the pain. 

I am nothing without my wife and family.  My wife is the person that can take my bipolar hypomanic phases and help me to stay grounded.  She can take my depressions and help me to see light.  She does the same for our bipolar son.  She is the best wife, mother, and the wisest person I’ve ever known.  We have been married for 26 years, and for her that’s 26 years of ups, downs, and all the other typical (and not-so-typical) stuff that goes along with bipolar disorder.  I asked her once if she was sorry she married someone like me.  She gets this amazed look on her face and says “this has been a ride I wouldn’t trade for anything.”   Because my wife is such an important part of who I am, I draw on her regularly for guidance, inspiration, and wisdom.  This is one of those times.

I sat her down the other night, and we talked about parenting tips.  Not that we’re experts, but we have five kids and that at least qualifies us as “experienced”.  I have to be truthful, she is the real expert on this.  Here's a list of "rules" that have worked for my wife and I as we’ve raised our family. These are not entirely specific to bipolar children, as the entire family dynamic is critical when raising a bipolar child. The family has to work together. Your children are equal, and they need to know this. They have to love and respect each other over all else. In this way, the negative effects of bipolar disorder on the child, and the entire family, are minimized as much as possible.

1. Treat each child individually. Whether it's a report card, accomplishments, or goals, look at them individually.  Praise publicly, scold privately.  Don't compare achievements, but celebrate them.  Embrace uniqueness, but don't label one child as your bipolar child, one as your scholar, one as your athlete...

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