The book begins like any other for children. A breakfast scene, a mother making pancakes for her daughter in a sun-filled kitchen. She helps her dress and tells her how “beautastic” she looks before sending her off to school with “a kiss and big smile.” But here, the mood shifts. Annie, the daughter, hopes that Mommy “is still smiling when [she] comes home” because “sometimes my mommy doesn’t smile at all.”
And it is no mistake that the tone and plot of the book changes with a shift in mood. Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry by Bebe Moore Campbell is the story of a child living with a mother suffering from bipolar disorder.
Indeed, when Annie returns home from school that afternoon, it is not smiling Mommy that greets her. Her mother yells at her to stop making noise, to get in the house, to ignore the neighbor’s inquires about her school day. Then she turns on the neighbor, accusing him of always spying on her.
And apparently this isn’t the first time, for once Annie gets inside, she follows a well-scripted plan. She calls her grandmother. “Mommy is yelling again,” she says. After her grandmother assures her she’s done nothing wrong, she tells her to go to the neighbor’s house until she comes to get her if she feels scared. When Annie tells her she’s not scared talking to her, she is to get her “secret snack without bothering Mommy.” But most importantly, to “think happy thoughts.”
The next day dawns much differently than the first. The rain pours down rather than sun through the windows. Annie is left to fend for herself, eating cold cereal rather than hot pancakes. But her friends help her brush out the knots she missed in her hair. They joke and laugh on their walk to school despite the raindrops.
True to her grandmother’s directive, Annie does manage to think happy thoughts. She says, “Sometimes my mommy has dark clouds inside her. I can’t stop the rain from falling, but I can find sunshine in my mind.”
How do we, as parents, ensure our child finds the sunshine in her mind – even when we simply cannot? Whether it’s from bipolar or another mental illness, how do we shield our children from the worst of the disease without also blocking out our love for them? Annie’s grandmother emphasizes that her “mother loves you even when she’s yelling.” She even goes so far as to say, “It’s okay for you to be angry. I know you love her too.” How do we teach this give and take and encourage our child’s healthy feelings in response to our unhealthy ones?
An author’s note before the story, which also provides important information on bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses, states that “the ‘village’ that supports the children of the mentally ill – the grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers and neighbors – can help foster within these fragile children a sense of security and hope that life can get better, and encourage self-esteem in the face of extremely trying situations.”
Is that how we parents support our children? By farming it out to the surrounding village when we can’t do it?
This book is directed toward the children of parents with mental illness. I’m looking at it through the lens of guilt and worry that comes from being a parent with mental illness. Perhaps I should take Grandma’s advice: have a healthy snack, look to the support of neighbors, and think happy thoughts. I feel terrible that my conditions keep me from being ‘the end all and be all’ for my children. But maybe I never was supposed to be anyway. Maybe it really does take a village.
At the very least, Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry takes on the task of telling the story of one special little girl’s resilience in the face of great difficulty. And that’s a story a lot of kids out there really need to hear.
9 thoughts on “Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry”
This is a great source for children, and as a child with a bipolar mother, I wish that I had something like this. I thought that I was alone. Thank you for giving children the ability to know that they are not.
I am glad it achieved what I think was its intended purpose. It’s hard enough as an adult to suffer through mental illness. Must be downright scary to be a child watch a parent do so. I’m so glad you found something in this. Thank you for your feedback.
I agree that you may be better off taking this as advice for yourself. I also admit I find myself very disturbed at the little snippet of the book you have relayed. It seems an incredibly inaccurate and potentially dangerous depiction of bipolar disorder, where moods don’t usually flip on a dime, it takes time for these kinds of extremes in the majority of cases. More importantly, anger is not one of the major symptoms of BD. Euphoria, depression, sometimes delusions or speech that seems disorganized, there are so many other symptoms a child would notice and be affected by before anger in most cases when dealing with bipolar disorder.
I guess I’ll have to have a look at the book myself, as I may be missing a great deal just with the little bit you’ve relayed, but the fact that the title itself focuses on anger makes me angry — and not because I’ve had a sudden bipolar mood shift.
Also, to be clear, I’m not denying the role of anger in bipolar, just trying to convey how out of proportion and completely inaccurate making anger the hallmark is.
As far as anger is concerned, I think it has a lot to do with how it manefests, however there are plently of people who have bipolar disorder whose symptoms do include anger. I do not agree that it is not a “hallmark” symptom. I have struggled with that since I first became ill and I am still struggling with it. I know other people who also struggle with this. And when I read accounts from those who have suffered from bipolar disorder and those who have lived with people who have bipolar they all mention anger as being a major symptom.
I however am not saying that your illness manefests the same way.
Perhaps there is a difference that occurs since there are several forms of bipolar disorder. bipolar 1 and 2, bipolar with psychotic features (and no that does not mean violent, it means out of touch with reality) and schizoaffective disorder.
I also want to mention that while you are correct that in a lot of cases mood swings are not sudden and fact only appear to be so because we are so good at hiding our symptoms.
However there is a condition known as a “mixed episode” in which a person cycles rapidly through depressed and manic behaviors.
Actually this was very difficult for me to read and I am glad I never had kids.
I appreciate your perspective, BD is a highly unique illness that manifests differently in every single person who experiences it, as well as across a single individual’s life-span.
What I meant by it not being a “hallmark” symptom was merely that it isn’t as much what is looked for when trying to fit diagnostic criteria to symptoms — a highly flawed business in and of itself, obviously!
Also, just to clarify, ultradian (or ultra-rapid) cycling, as you describe, is so often wrongly termed a “mixed episode”. During a mixed episode, you don’t switch back and forth between depression and mania, you actually experience symptoms of both at the same time. For my money it’s pretty much as hellish as bipolar gets — but then of course my mixed episodes are not going to feel the same as yours, just as my manias, depressions, and periods of psychosis will manifest differently.
At least you can say it’s never dull! 😉
I agree that the shift happens very swiftly – not as it might occur in real life. I think the author – and myself in this post referring to ‘mood’ in both the literary and literal sense – took liberties to fit this form of mental illness into the confines of this literary form. Picture books don’t offer much real estate in which to cover an extremely complex subject. That being said, there is a special danger in applying a didactic purpose to a text that overshadows the ability for the story unfold on its own.
The story, I believe, is meant for the specific purpose of making the child feel better. Not so much adults, I’m guessing.
“the fact that the title itself focuses on anger makes me angry — and not because I’ve had a sudden bipolar mood shift.” – love this turn of phrase.
I myself picked it up in hopes of seeing just an angry mom. Maybe a reason why I’m so angry sometimes. I am not bipolar. What’s my reason? 😉
Mary, I am sorry that this post was difficult to read, but I thank you for sharing your perspective. I am so glad that, while my post offers an imperfect and incomplete view of bipolar and the quagmire of parenting while suffering from it, it has opened dialogue concerning it. I am so grateful to you and Ruby for sharing information on a topic on which I am most certainly not an expert.