Unfortunately, there is little information or support out there to help the child of bipolar parents. The reason for this is that the primary focus is on the individual with bipolar disorder. This leaves little to no information to help those that have suffered the chaos and emotional desertion and other trying experiences that comes to the child that is raised by a bipolar parent. It is those experiences that shape the child and too often result in challenges for them as adults.
A child of a bipolar parent is going to undergo some challenges when growing up, and this is because the parenting style of a bipolar individual is going to be much different than an average parent. The child is going to experience extreme conditions that will shape the person they are to become. These conditions are varied and range according to the state the parent is undergoing at the time.
Discipline is going to be inconsistent in a household where there is a bipolar parent. For example, one day it will be okay for the child to do something, and the next they will get punished for the same thing. This will send confusing messages to the child who will grow up having a problem distinguishing between right and wrong. You will be likely to see some criminal activity in adolescents and young adults with bipolar parents, more than you would in the general population.
The parent is also going to have a lot of “projects” on the go as these are things that will be initiated during the manic phase of the disorder. The projects will be started and consequently abandoned once the cycling continues and the depression state hits. The child will recognize that mom or dad has high-energy periods on some days, and then on other days when they were unable to get out of bed.
Some children are actualized enough to realize that mom or dad is sick, but this quality when growing up is going to present some problems when it comes to the child learning about task completion and work ethic.
The child will also learn to grow up in a state of almost paranoia. This is because the cycling between states is very unpredictable, and children will not know what mood their parents will be in from one day to the next. This will force the child ultimately to feel that they are responsible for their own physical and emotional needs.
The child will have difficulty getting and maintaining their parent’s attention and they will ultimately learn how to become independent on their own. The converse to this will be learned helplessness in which children will give up and refuse to take responsibility for their parent’s inactivity in their life. This child will need a little more coaxing in school and social settings, and with the right guidance will eventually be able to overcome the helplessness, even if they do not become completely independent.
Being a child of a bipolar parent is not an easy task, and is very similar to a child of a single parent, or of one where abuse or alcoholism, or drug use is present. In either situation, the needs of the child always need to be paramount in the household, and the child or children are going to require therapy and support groups for coping mechanisms as much as the parent will for their disorder.