Ask Ada: I Need Help With My Bipolar Son

Plus: COVID ruined my kid's birthday party!

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

I Need Help With My Bipolar Son

Dear Ada, 

My son has been diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder and bipolar disorder, and I am his sole caretaker. I love him deeply and would do anything for him, but it’s tough to do this alone. I recently got divorced from his father who left because he couldn’t handle parenting our son, and he signed over his custody right to me completely in the divorce. 

I wish I had more help. My son’s episodes can be scary and severe. When he was younger I thought it was hard, but now that he’s getting bigger, I’m afraid he’ll be violent with me. I feel so alone and I know I’m supposed to know what to do because I’m the parent, but I don’t. How can I help him? Who will help me?

Whoever said that parents should know what to do in any given a moment simply wasn’t a parent themselves. It’s okay to not know what to do or where to turn — you’re human. And this is an especially difficult situation.

You need to find help — both physically and emotionally. You’re going this journey alone, but that doesn’t mean you have to be the caregiver at all times. Do you have friends or family members that would be willing to help out? Their presence could be as simple as dropping off a home cooked meal or being physically present to get your son off the school bus.

What stands out to me from your question is that you’re fearful your son will become violent with you.

What stands out to me from your question is that you’re fearful your son will become violent with you. I’m hoping that this hasn’t happened in the past, but if it has, you may want to consider help from trained professionals who can come into your home and know how to deal with these situations. I assure you, if you call local mental health organizations, they will be able to point you in the right direction.

You should also consider ramping up your preventional measures so that it never comes to violence. Reach out to your son’s counselor or psychiatrist to learn about any anger management classes you can enroll your son in. Consider increasing the number of counseling sessions he has every month. Help him practice the behavior modifications he learns, or walk through scenarios with him to talk about how he can process them.

Then, pivot your efforts back to yourself. You need support for your own emotional health. Talk to a counselor. Plan for childcare so you can decompress alone for a short period of time. Invest in self care — whatever that might look like for you.

Birthday parties and social distancing don’t mix.

COVID Ruined My Kid’s Birthday Party!

Dear Ada, 

I want to throw my daughter a birthday party next month, but everyone I’ve invited in my immediate family RSVPed “no” because they’re worried about attending events during a pandemic. I’m furious. All of my friends are coming, but my family won’t? They say they want to do something special for my daughter to celebrate her birthday, but they don’t feel comfortable being in crowds. The worst part is that it’s only my mom who has an illness that could be made very sick if she caught the coronavirus. Everyone else is healthy! How can I get them to change their minds?

You can’t. You’re the person who needs to change their mind.

Your family weighed the risks of attending your daughter’s party, and as much as they likely were saddened at not being able to attend the celebration, they ultimately decided being in close proximity to a large number of people was not in their best interests.

Your mom may be the only person with an illness in your family, but what you’re not considering is that the rest of your family likely has contact with your mother, and they don’t want to jeopardize their time with her because of a social event. 

Plus, it’s not as if you’re simply asking your entire family to come together. You’ve invited friends to this event, and your family doesn’t know how these people have been enforcing social distancing during this uncomfortable time.

Your family has already told you they plan to do something for her. Let them. Leave it as that.

If you can get past your frustration over this situation, there are many ways to still make your daughter feel special and include your family. Maybe before the party — to limit the exposure — you can schedule “drop by” visits for people to visit with your daughter. Pack them up some cake and treats, and send them away with a balloon or some favors. If mini-parties don’t interest you, you could ask your family if they’d consider doing a “driveby” during the party in which they creep by slowly with decorated cars. And if they’re very sensitive about leaving their homes, have everyone send you video clips of happy birthday messages.

My best advice, regardless of whether you decide to move on from this situation quickly or slowly, is to approach their absence carefully with your daughter. It’s still her birthday, and you want her to feel special, not stressed. Your family has already told you they plan to do something for her. Let them. Leave it as that.

Lead with a positive, excited attitude, and don’t let her know you’re upset that they won’t be attending. It’s a great chance to work with your daughter on being flexible and managing disappointment. It’s also a perfect opportunity to talk about how adults can make difficult decisions with the potential to hurt someone, yet do so for good reasons, and still love each other.

Enjoy your celebrations.

Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email and tell us your problem.