Families With A Mentally Ill Child Can Use A Break

September 16, 2010 Angela McClanahan

Bob’s biological father and I are not together, so my husband and I occasionally find ourselves “Bob-less” when he is spending time with dear ol’ Dad. No thanks to a legal loophole, Bob is away from our home nearly every weekend during the summer break.

These Bob-free times are bittersweet for me. I miss him terribly when he’s gone. Because he has bipolar disorder and ADHD, I worry about whether he’s getting enough sleep, or drinking enough water, or being given his medications properly. I worry about what sort of ridiculously dangerous activities he might be taking part in, and how he’s getting along with his father. I wonder if he’s missing us, and while I hope he is, I hope not too much.

Relieving the Pressure of Raising A Bipolar Child

suitcaseBut I’d be lying if I said our house doesn’t give a collective sigh of relief when he leaves. There’s a sort of tension that wraps around us all when he’s home, even during the better times. Particularly for me.

Because he spends so little time with us during the summer, I feel like when he’s home, it’s my personal duty to make sure he has The Most Fun Possible. It’s easy to forget sometimes that what would be most fun for him would be to just relax with us, hanging out in the family room or playing catch in the backyard.

It’s also hard to deal with the shifting dynamic that accompanies his split schedule--our house is rather different from Dad’s, with different rules, different schedules, different personalities. It’s an adjustment every time he returns, and this is a kid who doesn’t embrace change. Even now, with him as stable as he’s ever been, his moods can still turn on a dime, which puts everyone on edge.

So yes, I guiltily admit, we kind of enjoy it a little when he’s gone. We sleep late (he’s an early riser and none too quiet). We go places and do things Bob doesn’t like to do because of noise, crowds, etc. We relax a little because we’re not anticipating a blowup or an argument.

familyBut after a few days, the void becomes more apparent, and we all really start to look forward to his return. I can’t really express the feeling I get when I see my toddler’s face light up when Bob enters the house. We may be slightly less carefree when he’s back, but our home feels whole again.

We have such a love-hate relationship with these kids, don't we? We love them. We hate their mental illness and what it does to them and to us. Ultimately, they are forever a part of us, and part of our families. Sometimes a little break helps us to remember that.

APA Reference
McClanahan, A. (2010, September 16). Families With A Mentally Ill Child Can Use A Break, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 28 from

Author: Angela McClanahan

September, 16 2010 at 9:03 am

Yes, Angela, is that not bittersweet?
Once a month my son goes away to respite for 36 hours. We can all feel normal, not be looking over our shoulders, tensing up when we hear his footsteps because we know every movement/sound we make will agitate him and we are once again his whipping boys, being bullied, while trying to set limits he cannot manage because his too cognitively impaired (autistic) to comprehend.
And I miss him so terribly when he's gone those few hours, feel so sad for him - when my 10 year is away, I don't miss her, because I know she is well and enjoying herself.
Then my son comes back 30 minutes earlier than expected, I'm once again put down and insulted, my hours of peace disappeared in a puff of smoke, and I am once again in tears, livid because I feel robbed of the extra 30 minutes I thought I could be abuse free. What a cruel joke.
Incidentally, he is ill today with the flu. For some reason when he is ill, he is loving towards me, forgets to abuse me and his sister, is not kind to her, but at least he ignores and tolerates her.

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