Toronto Star

Troubled kids need family backbone

- Tip of the day Adult children with bipolar disorder need understand­ing, support and encouragem­ent. Ellie chats at noon Wednesdays, at Email Follow @ellieadvic­e. Ellie

When I married a widower 11 years ago, his three children were 23, 19 and 16. (My three children were all in their 20s, off on their own.)

His kids wouldn’t accept me. Within six months, the oldest son moved out, followed by the middle son within the next year. The youngest, a girl, left after five years. Now the oldest son has a nice relationsh­ip with us.

However, the girl hasn’t spoken to us for three years and we don’t know why. Neither she nor her brothers will tell us.

Also, she’s been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and is on medication. She’s finished university, has a good job and maintains her own apartment. The middle son has also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Unfortunat­ely, he’s never kept a job (always caused problems, and either quit or was fired).

He started a college course but didn’t complete it, though he’s highly intelligen­t.

He started imagining people breaking into his apartment, stealing things, etc., and was admitted to hospital for several months. He’s on his own now, on medication.

He lives in squalor, never showers and can’t manage money. He’s on disability, but we’re asked for money during the month, with lots of excuses. We keep helping out but I’m getting resentful because I don’t think he’s trying.

It’s causing major issues between my husband and me. He clams up when I raise it, gets very defensive and I guess he’s feeling guilty. I’m very concerned for him and us. No Brady Bunch The past is the past. Focus on the most important current, ongoing issues — the two adult children’s mental-health disorders.

Do the research and talk to medical and behavioura­l specialist­s about bipolar disorder and its symptoms.

These can include dramatic mood swings, from extreme “high” to hopeless, with severe changes in energy and behaviour, making it hard for some sufferers to function.

It usually starts in late adolescenc­e or early adulthood.

The daughter’s managing, and perhaps being distanced is one of the ways she copes. Remember, her earlier teenage anger reflected grief that she’d lost her mother. It was a critical transition­al age, and when her illness was likely starting.

The adult children need both you and your husband to be the family backbone, with compassion and willingnes­s to help where needed.

The son asking for money is silently seeking greater help towards a functionin­g life. Act as a team on his side, and get profession­al advice together on how to support and encourage him.

I’ve previously lived recklessly and am now trying to live through honesty. I just had a baby, but my partner and I sometimes have conflicts. I don’t want to hurt my son or him with lies.

I’m a recent college graduate with little work experience, unemployed and rely on his job. Sometimes I want to break up but I’m scared of being unable to provide for my son. Fear is taking control, and it’s hard to communicat­e with my boyfriend. Need Guidance Honesty’s an important self-guide. If you fear his reactions to what you say or do, have confidence that it’s not your fault.

If fear persists, you need to contact your family or a shelter and make a safe plan to leave with your son.

Then, you can focus on trying to find work. Local community agencies and shelter workers offer services that help single moms get on their feet.

If he wants involvemen­t with his son, your partner may have to contribute to child support, depending on your legal jurisdicti­on.

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