I was grateful for Joan’s post, Admitting Abuse, last week. She touched on an issue that our family has struggled to address. Addressing this issue with a child is different than with a spouse. But I am so aware that how we address this issue in our son’s life will affect how he is as a husband and father one day.
I always try to look at the blessed side of an early diagnosis. It is sad for your child to have his identity wrapped up in an early diagnosis. But I have noted two specific blessings. The first is that he has grown up with meds as part of his life so I don’t fear his deciding one day in his late teens or twenties that he doesn’t need them. There is no question in his mind that he benefits from them.
The other blessing is we addressed some of the early challenges of living with bipolar disorder when he was 1/2 my size.
This particular blessing plays into the follow up to Joan’s post last week.
We confronted the issue of abuse in our home very early. Jack is the older sibling and in the early days of his journey he could get very out of control at times. Sibling rivalry is as old as the sun but the level of the exchange can be unusually heated when you throw in unmanaged bipolar disorder. So those early days when we were trying to establish medical stability were very difficult. On more than one occasion I had to physically remove this child from his younger brother when he had thrown him to the ground and was assaulting him.
I will never forget a particularly painful conversation after one of these altercations. When calm had been restored I sat down with my then eight year old son. I made absolutely clear that if he ever hurt his brother he would no longer live in our home. Period. No questions. No discussion. This was a hard, fast boundary that was immovable.
What I learned in that moment and the months to follow was the importance of that one very painful exchange. (What mother wants to ever say this to her beloved child? How will it affect his security? How will it affect his understanding of our unconditional love for him?)
The good news is this: It registered. He heard me. He understood that I was serious. And it never happened again.
Oh there were the verbal altercations but there was never another physical altercation like the one that precipitated that discussion.
I am grateful we addressed that early.
But we are still on this road. We still have to address the abuse issue. It is just verbal now.
I so agree with Joan that it is hard to know where the lines of sin and disability and choice intersect. Only God understands where those exact lines are drawn. All we can do as parents is to work to address the issues before us whether we understand all the nuances or not.
So today, we address the verbal issues… the harsh tone, the harsh words, the abrupt interruptions. These we are still working on.
I am told from other dear friends parenting teenagers that they deal with these challenges as well. It is just kicked up a notch when you throw bipolar disorder into the mix.
So here are a few thoughts for those of us parenting children with bipolar disorder and struggling to address the abuse issue in word or deed.
- Never allow physical abusiveness. Ever. You do not have to tolerate it and the child has to learn other means of expressing extreme emotions. I have known parents who had to call the police when their teenage sons became physically aggressive. That is something I have never had to do but have born in mind at moments when it looked like it might become necessary. (Keep in mind my son is no longer 1/2 my size.)
- Do not try to address these issues in the middle of a crisis moment. Be safe. Walk away if necessary. You don’t have to address every issue at the moment. But, you MUST address them in the quiet moments that eventually follow. When the remorse comes (and in our experience, it always does) use that moment to continue to teach appropriate responses in those moments of seemingly overwhelming emotion.
- Have a backup plan. Know when to seek help. We are blessed to be a couple addressing these concerns. At times I will go to my husband and let him know I need a walk or some other break. We have learned when one of us asks, it counts as tag – you are in and I am out. Know when you need to do so. If you are a single parent addressing these concerns, have a couple of people you can call who will come immediately when you do.
- Know this is a long road. I would love to say that we have figured this one out. But we are still in the process of learning and teaching. We continue to have to lean heavily into God in the moments of verbal crisis that still occur.
- Keep the end in mind. The end that constantly drives me is the awareness that I want my eventual daughter-in-law and potential grandchildren (assuming they are in our future) to bless us for having addressed this. When I am tempted to just give it a pass and avoid the conflict, I remember this young woman. I pray for her. And I pray for us as we continue to work this challenging area with our son.
I don’t have all the answers. I wish I did. But I continue to pray for wisdom for us and grace and growth for our son. God is at work in him and us. “The LORD will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O LORD, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands.” (Psalm 138:8)