Ugly Mommy in the Morning – A Parenting with Bipolar Moment

I wonder if this sounds at all familiar to you.

In the mornings, as I work hard accomplishing all the tasks necessary to get everyone out the door on time for school, I feel the pressure of the time crunch. And in someone with a normal temperament this crunch can be enough to spur some raised voices or irritable remarks. But with someone who deals with the fluctuating moods and irritability that accompany Bipolar Disorder, this time crunch becomes an arch nemesis.

The problem with this particular nemesis is that it is sneaky. You can be floating along your morning feeling as though things are on track. But as the time you need to be out the door approaches and the remaining minutes you have left dwindle, the ugly nemesis creeps in, proudly perching himself in his most perfect of spots – your shoulder. This puts him in position to choose just the right moment to make his move. Perhaps your son has ignored all of your calm and polite requests to go and brush his teeth and your patience is wearing thin. Or your youngest has decided to dig in his heels and is insisting he should bring his über expensive handheld gaming system to school. His insistence has caused his whining to go ultrasonic and even your dog is covering his ears.

It is exactly at moments like these, when you are a time bomb waiting to go off, that the time crunch nemesis chooses his words wisely. He leans in and whispers in that super annoying mocking singsong tone “you’re going to be laaate.”

Five simple words, delivered at precisely the right moment, in just the right tone, spells ugly mommy.

The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

You find yourself glancing at the clock, performing a speedy mental math computation realizing the window is closing until the bus squeaks to its regular stop down the road. Time to brush teeth plus hair plus the requisite amount of time needed to coral children and fidget with boots and coats and hats and mitts and the monster snow pants that just won’t do up. The math isn’t adding up. You feel your temperature rising.

Finally ugly mommy can’t take the pressure any more. She cracks through your calm demeanour and rears her nasty head. “It’s time to get these children in line!” she proclaims.

Kind requests to keep up with the morning routine turn into barked orders and empty threats. On a dime the mood in the house has changed. All the while, the time crunch nemesis stands with his back against the wall, arms crossed in front of his chest chuckling with his own smug self-satisfaction. Aaaa! You could just punch him in his smarmy face!

And perhaps this is a similar ritual in all households. To some degree every mom (or dad) beats herself up when she explodes or yells without proper reason. After all, we as parents are super heroes when it comes to self-deprecation.

But the regularity with which it happens to someone who deals with a mood disorder just twists the dagger of self-reprisal and guilt a little deeper each subsequent time. More than once I have found myself in tears after dropping my children at the bus, cloaked in guilt at my inability to control my ugly mommy moods.

I ask myself regularly, how can I use these emotions productively? How can I move forward from here and do better next time? What do I do in the heat of the moment when ugly mommy has got the best of me?

Some helpful ways to prevent ugly mommy:

1.     Set yourself up for success: Hands down the morning is the toughest time of the day for me.

When I take strong anti-psychotic medication before bed every night, there is zero chance that I will wake up refreshed and ready to start the day. I routinely feel like I have been hit by a MACK truck when I awake. Just preparing to stand up is a belaboured process.

If this is true for you too, there are a few things you can do to help make your start to the day more successful:

  • Set your alarm to wake up before your children. This gives you time to ease quietly into your day as the drugs wear off. And it gives you more time to prevent the time crunch.
  • Help your family understand that the mornings are difficult. Ask for their patience and compassion. Explain that some quiet private time when you wake is very important.
  • Go to bed as close to the same time every night as possible, and take your nighttime medications at the same time each night. A consistent bedtime and medication routine has been shown to be helpful at mitigating mood swings.
  • Talk to your doctor about trying a medication that counteracts the downer effects of the anti-psychotic meds (e.g. Modafinil) and helps to bring you to a wakeful state without being habit-forming like caffeine.

2.     Follow a morning routine: Let’s face it, kids love routine. When they know what to expect next they often have an easier time transitioning to another activity or task.

Kids also love to have a say. To determine which morning routine is the most successful for your family, don’t forget to ask your kids for their ideas! Sit them down and make a list of all the things that need to happen every morning before a school day. They will likely surprise you with some things that are important for them to accomplish too. When we listen and include our children’s ideas we are showing them respect. In the end that helps our cause (and theirs).

Then post everyone’s ideas together. Consider making a morning routine chart that your kids can add stickers or checkmarks to. See some examples at  

 3.     Enlist fun as your motivator: Be mindful of the great many things we ask children to do in a day. Wherever possible, make these repetitive tasks fun!

Some ideas:

  • Give your kids responsibility for Tommy the Timer! When they want time to play in the morning, give them a mutually-agreed upon amount of time and set a hand-held timer that one of them is assigned to keep an eye on.
  • Make getting dressed at the front door a race. Whoever beats daddy (or mommy), wins!
  • Use the teeth police. Choose an Officer Clean Teeth (e.g. stuffed animal). Explain to your kids that they will get one reminder to brush their teeth in the morning. Then at some random point after that, the teeth police will show up (you place them surreptitiously in the room they are playing in) to check to see if they have done their duty.

4.     Problem solve with your children: When all else fails, ask your kids for help. Sit down together as a family and make a list of all of the issues that are keeping you from having a successful morning. Then come up with solutions to the problems – together. Every idea is a good idea, so be sure to write down everything your kids say – even when you don’t agree. Then as a family decide which solutions you think are going to bring about the most success. Post your ideas where everyone can see them so that you can refer to them regularly.

 5.     Celebrate good mornings: When things have gone smoothly and everyone is in good spirits, be sure to say “I really appreciate your cooperation today. Good job!” Then don’t forget to tell yourself “good job” too. It may be a small thing, but it helps put the bad days in perspective if we recognize that not every day is a bad day.

Found this helpful? Look for my next post where I share some ideas for diffusing ugly mommy (or daddy).

Liked this? Try reading My Story.


5 responses to “Ugly Mommy in the Morning – A Parenting with Bipolar Moment

    • It’s true – some days are worse than others. It’s those days that I curse this illness and blame it for robbing me of my best laid plans for myself as a mother. Then other days I am proud of the things I overcome to parent my children well. We keep an open dialogue in our house about my illness. My children are learning right alongside me how best to manage this illness. I pray they will be more resilient and grounded as a result. Thanks for reading!

  1. I take a whole “cocktail” of medications, but I had my antipsychotic switched to a 24 hour release tab to curb the morning drowsiness and prevent the daily afternoon panic attack. Might be something to look into.

    • Yes -finding the right meds is so often a struggle for people with Bipolar. I feel so lucky to only have one med to take at night. I will ask my doctor about what you have suggested. Thanks!

  2. Such a great post, Sarah!! I love that you gave tips and tricks at the end. My favorite one is getting up before your kids. I try my best to get up around 6:15 each morning to allow myself time for a cup of coffee and a little writing work. It always starts my morning off right when I do this.

    I actually wrote an essay for’s blog, and it was live this week. It was just a reflection on those days when everything does go right. 🙂

    Love your blog! Glad we found each other via Twitter. 🙂

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