Strategies for a Father of a Child with Bipolar

It’s common practice these days to assume women and men are the same.  Gender neutrality is a timely topic and in many areas of life, I do agree with the concept. In work, women and men should have and do need the same benefits.

But, when it comes to helping a mother or a father deal with the reality of a child who has bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder or schizophrenia, I have experienced enormous and I do mean enormous gender differences when I work with my parent coaching clients.

(If you’re new to my work, I will give you some background.  I have directly coached parents of children with bipolar, schizoaffective and schizophrenia for the past ten years. I am not a therapist, instead I help parents get a correct diagnosis for a child and come up with a plan for the absolute best treatment and management. It’s never easy, but my system works.  Using very conservative estimates, I would say I’ve worked with with tens of thousands of men and women in parenting situations since 2002 through coaching, public speaking and online communication.)

In 99% of  the cases, the following information is what I find true regarding the differences between fathers and mothers.

These differences in my opinion are hormonal and societal. It’s a mixture. It is not about sexual orientation, as many of my clients are in same sex relationships and have the same behaviors depending on if they are a father or a mother. I am not as interested in the why of all of this as that is a question for a sociologist, instead I want to know …. how do we best help dads who have a kid with bipolar or another serious mental health disorder?

Here is my opinion…

Fathers need different strategies than mothers. Fathers need health care professionals who understand the needs of a man who has a child. Dads are simply different than mothers….

  1. Dads talk to me about security first and feelings later. I hear the following questions from almost every dad,

How will my son support himself? 

How is she going to afford an apartment? 

What kind of job will he be able to do? 

What will it be like for her when she tries to live alone?

How will he pay the bills? 

I rarely hear these questions from mom until much later in the discussion.

This is not a sexist view. This is my reality from many years in this business.

And here are the next questions and they are ones a dad is not proud of…

Will I have to support my child for the rest of his life?

Will I have to pay for everything when she leaves home?

I also hear this from my older clients (people my own age).

I have worked all of my life to create a retirement plan and now I have to take care of an adult child? I am not ready for this! I didn’t plan on this! 

Brutal honestly is needed in coaching. I tell my clients they are safe to say what they feel and SO many fathers feel this and say this to me.

It is not said out of unkindness or anger. It is fear and worry. And it is real. If we assume that men are selfish for having these kinds of thoughts, we will not meet their needs. I want to meet the needs of the fathers who read my work.

The second biggest difference I see between fathers and mothers is the way that the dads communicate as compared to the moms.

2. Fathers take a LOT longer to answer a question than mothers. This might be socialization. This might be testosterone. This might be anything. All I know is that after thousands of hours on the phone and in person with parents, men simply take longer to answer than women. Period. I have learned to ask a question directly to fathers and to ask mothers to wait until the man answers my question. Women I work with often talk first.  They ask more questions. They are more concerned about the emotional side of things and they talk quickly. It might sound sexist, but this is not my intention. It is my intention to help mothers and fathers get their needs met through my work.

Fathers feel the same as mothers. They have the same worries and feel the same loss that mothers. But how they express it all is different.

If you’re a dad with a child who has bipolar, schizoaffective or schizophrenia and you are seeing help, make sure that you are heard. Make sure that the person you are working with listens to you.

If you’re a health care professional who wants to help parents, especially in a world where HIPAA ties our hands, please make sure you turn to the dad and ask specific questions about his needs. Then, be ready to wait for a thoughtful answer.

You will get one.

Are you a dad? Here is my advice. It’s ok to worry about the financial and work reality of bipolar. Someone needs to! It is ok to feel anger and grief and upset that you might have to spend your hard earned money on a kid who seems not to care. All of this is ok. I want you to be heard and I want you to know that you don’t have to act like other people. You can be yourself.

Looking for resources? Start with Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder and go from there. There is help for you and you can get it in the way you need. If you are new to my work, please join me on my closed Facebook group The Stable Table.

Thank you,


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