Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldeman sat down for a talk with the Takeaway about Ayelet’s bipolar disorder, and how it affects their family life.
Chabon and Waldeman try to treat her mental illness like any illness: something the family deals with together, without shame or guilt.
Waldeman wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder until after she became a mom. In the course of trying to figure out how to have a smooth, loving relationship as a family, they realized together as a couple that Ayelet wasn’t just “really moody.” She was sick, and could get treatment.
“The reason I get treatment is for my family,” Ayelet says.
Their top priority in communicating with the kids about it is always to make sure the kids don’t feel responsible for Mom’s mental health. They focus on making sure the kids know this is not their problem. The kids didn’t cause it, they didn’t do it, it’s not their problem to deal with.
“It’s just sort of a topic for conversation in the family,” Michael said. When Ayelet is having a mood swing, both parents encourage the kids to talk honestly with their father. They know they can tell him, “Mom is being mean”, and that he’ll be comforting and supportive rather than harsh.
Mental illness remains a topic of stigma in this country. It’s often invisible, and can be hard to distinguish from simply problematic behavior. Where is the tipping point between “moody” and bipolar? Psychologists have metrics for that, but for struggling families these can be murky waters.
Do you or your coparent live with mental illness? How do you manage the ways your illness touches your children’s lives?
Photo: Dean’s Life