Family Hx of Mental Illness-does This Effect Your Decision to Have More Kids???

Updated on May 03, 2012
A.B. asks from Madison, WI
16 answers

A little background...My father-in-law has bipolar disorder and probably my brother-in-law too, and significant hx of alcoholism in my family and husband's family. Besides some anxiety in myself, overall my husband and I (both in early 30s) are doing well (i.e. no other diagnosable mental health probs). We have 2 boys (4 and 1). I have always envisioned myself to have at least 3 kids, but I'm having some reservations now. And I have to admit, I think one of my biggest reasons is because of my father in law's bipolar disorder. Overall, he functions "ok" and is medicated, but still struggles w/ manic and depressive episodes. I work in the area of mental health and know how terribly serious mental illness can effect a person and family's life, as well as how genetically linked bipolar disorder is. I know that if any of my children develop mental illness, I won't love them any less, but I just worry about bringing another child into this world with that high risk of developing it. I hope this isn't sounding like I'm placing people with mental illness below those without those struggles because I'm definitely an adovocate within my career for those w/ mental illness. But, I worry about the struggles my kids would go through throughout their life and I would hate to see that. My husband's answer to my worries is... "that is just part of life.." :) he does a nice job of keeping my anxiety in check:)
Anyone have similar experience/thoughts and how did you decide about how many children to have?

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

Featured Answers


answers from Phoenix on

Honestly, you already have 2 kids, so what difference in this scenario does a 3rd make? I understand having this conversation BEFORE you have ANY kids, but not after you already have 2. Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Kalamazoo on

There is a ton of bipolar in my husbands family, OCD in mine and alcoholism on both sides. Oh and half my husbands family has diabetes. It didnt affect me wanting to have my kids, but I do worry for them.

1 mom found this helpful

More Answers


answers from Orlando on

My son is bipolar. When he was diagnosed I was sure I wouldn't have more kids because his dr said there was a chance another would be too. Especially because of my son being diagnosed so young. But even with as hard as it is dealing with him somedays there's always a bright side. He is the best big brother to his baby sister and I wouldn't change anything about him. I know it's a little off topic but having a bipolar child isn't the end of the world...

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

Heck if we all did this, there would be no more children.

Our families both have family members on the mental illness scale in different ways. I have even suffered with depression.

Alcoholism is the biggest offender in our families.

I agree awareness will help. Teaching your children about different situations will also help. We also had rules and expectations of behaviors.

Our daughter did not drink alcoholic beverages until she was 21.. This means had her own drink in hand.

We had offered her sip of champagne on New Years, but she never cared for it.

The most important part of us deciding to even have a child was that we had a very stable marriage. We had been married long enough that we knew we were stable in our relationship. We could speak about the hard subjects and not attack each other. We knew we loved each other and were confident in the stability, that even if for the next 18 years, we hardly had time for each other, we still loved each other and supported each other.

Of course what actually happened was that there were stretches of time we both worked full time and our daughter needed our total attention that we hardly had a conversation with each other for weeks, But we could sit across from each other and just smile at each other, or wink at each other and know we were going to be fine.

The goal is to raise a happy, healthy intelligent and kind children, while keeping the marriage strong and being able to trust and all depend on each other.

Our daughter will graduate from College this year. We are very proud of her and we have never all loved each other more. We accept who each of us is and what we each need. We are always honest and try not to change the other but to support and encourage each other. .

If you have a strong marriage and each want a child. Sit down and have an honest discussion about what it will take. Financially, emotionally and time wise.

Speak about support you each feel you will need. Speak about worst case scenarios and also the best case scenarios. Talk about WHY you want children. I think people forget to speak about this.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

My name is Dad on Purpose, and I am an alcoholic.

My wife and I discussed this, as I was very reluctant about having kids for fear that they might inherit my 'gift'. She pointed out that they might....but that was out of my control. (god i love that woman!)

Anyway, she also pointed out that I had overcome it, and the kids would certainly have a leg up to be on the lookout for addictions.

We're now planning a large family. And I talk to my 14 month old son about my history with alcohol - so that I can practice being open and informative about it.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Cleveland on

Yes - it most definitely did factor into my decision. My husband is more of an optimist... I realize anything can happen in life so I didn't let my in-laws issues with mental illness in their family stop me from having kids at all but it was part of the reason I wanted to stop at 2. My view is if one or both of my children do eventually suffer from a mental illness, I don't want to be spread too thin. Obviously, it would take a lot of time, energy and money to cope. Also, as a parent, I would feel it's mainly my responsibility vs putting it all on society to fund as my inlaws have done. My husband also gets a bit ignored bc of his ill siblings. I want to be practical about our limitations and not take on too much. And I just hope I've lessened the odds by only having 2 children... Sucks doesn't it. :)

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

My family has a long history of mental illness (depression, bi-polar, anxiety), and my husband's family has some history of depression. We have 3 kids. I would like one more, but my husband is done. The original "plan" was to have 4 kids. We have taken it one child at a time. We wanted to have a child, we prayed about it, we felt good about it, so we proceeded. Repeat 2 more times. Right now my husband feels he has reached his limit and I am respecting that, while remaining hopeful. I have a degree in psychology and worked for many years with people affected by various mental health issues. I can honestly say I had no hesitations due to the potential for mental illness. I'm of your husband's mindset. There are couples with minimal mental illness in the family history who have children with a major mental illness. There are couples who have serious mental illness, whose children are the picture of mental health. It is what it is, we can't control it. Same as a physical disability. The bottom line is, do you want another child, come what may? I choose not to let my life choices be dictated by fear. There are a million "what ifs" in this life (especially in the development of a baby), but I like to focus on one...what if it all turns out just fine?

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

I'm thinking awareness is a big part of any challenges that *might* come up.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Hartford on

Just something to keep in mind is that your FIL and BIL might have such a history with alcoholism because it's a common method that many people with bipolar disorder use in an attempt to self-medicate themselves, especially if they're not being treated by a doctor/on some sort of treatment plan. If bi-polar runs in the family that could explain what seems like inherited alcoholism.

A good friend of mine has Bi-Polar II and she's only 27 or so. She's being treated but still has her manic episodes. She made the decision early on that she doesn't want to have children either biologically or through adoption nor any other course because she can't guarantee how good of a mother she would be, she would have to go off her meds while pregnant, and she doesn't want to pass on the disorder. Her case is pretty bad. I don't blame her for her decision but if she decided to have children I wouldn't blame her either.

I have friends in other similar positions, each making different choices for various reasons. It's such a personal choice and depends entirely on your personal situation.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Omaha on

I'm bipolar 1.

More than likely my father was and my grandmother was. My brother seems to have problems but he just deals with it in unconventional ways that work for him. No alcoholism in my family or drug use though at all in my family.

I guess it came down to I KNOW what life is like being a bipolar person. Sure it's different for you and for my husband and my mother for example than it is for the actual person suffering from it. I've been on nearly every single mood stabilizer, anti pscyh, I've had ECT's, been hospitalized. I'm been on both extremes of the spectrum and experienced psychosis even. I think that was harder on my husband than me.... well because I wasn't "present" so to speak. But I wake up ever morning in this reality.

Anyways, I'm glad my mom had me. I'm sick sure. I get that. I can't hold a job..... My children have higher risks of having it as well but it's part of who I am. I don't' think my husband would have loved me had I not been bipolar. Sure he didn't know what I had but it is part of my personality. It is part of who I am. Some get it worse than me and others get much better prognosis than me but I still don't go say to my mom "god dam you for having me!" Had she not my beautiful children wouldn't exist and just because I'm mentally ill doesn't make me worthless. I don't measure my worth by the job I can't have or anything else like that. I am me. Mental illness and all.

Life is a gift and we surely are all going to be given some sort of torch to bear. That is just part of life. Your husband is right. I wouldn't let the thought of what could be rule my life. . . It's no life to live. I can't live every day thinking tomorrow I could go back into psychosis and maybe never come back out. It's no way to live. I'm a person not my mental illness anyways.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

Well, I am seriously curious why you are just now debating this in your mind. You already have 2 children so it has not bothered you before.

If you are in a psychological area of employment you know that many psychologist believe that nature may have set up a trigger that will lead down the path to mental illness and that if those triggers are never activated they will never develop the illness. It's the old debate of nature verses nurture.

I truly believe that some mental illnesses can be triggered by life's struggles. I have a friend who was diagnoses Bi-polar. She took Lithium and was a zombie. She divorced the hubby and found after a year or so that she felt normal all the time. Nothing in her new lifestyle trigger her to swing and go nuts like she had with him.

There are of course those illnesses that happen no matter what. They come on and life changes. It happens every day. Think back to the ER episode where Lucy Knight and John Carter are stabbed by the student who had a psychotic break because of stress. It happens in real life too.

My college roommate has a dad who came out of the closet late in life and who also has schizophrenia but it's very manageable. He is not on many meds or in therapy of any kind. My roommates brother also had schizophrenia and my friend had some OC stuff going on. But with all the markers they had in their family for mental illness it is pretty tame. They all work, are married and have kids, friend is married to his long time boyfriend so he doesn't have any kids biological to him. The kids are all fine so far.

Your life style and stress management is much more the influence that will effect your children. You are the one that will be teaching them coping skills, how to handle stress and bad times. You will be the one who will be that Nurture part of their life. If they do have that tag in their body to be mentally ill then by working hard to always remember teaching them to make good choices is a wonderful way to prepare them for that trial.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Sioux Falls on

My paternal grandmother and my sister had both been put in institutions for mental illness. My third son began showing signs of mental illness at age 17, which is the normal age it shows up. I never even thought about mental illness being hereditary. Also, if there is this illness on both sides of the family, that increases the chances of the child becoming mentally ill.

It depends partly on the severity of the illness, and your understanding of it. Also, your willingness to have a child that may always depend on you. For me, it's painful to witness all the pain my child has gone through, and all the medication he has to take.

Learn all you can.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Yes. For all the reasons you mentioned. I don't want to see my kids go through those same struggles.
And it is possible to start giving that some thought AFTER you have 2 kids! I never knew the extent of my mils mental illness (she was gone long before I met him and the only symptoms he ever alluded to were ocd type obsessive hand washing). Well.......after having 2 kids, I found out it went much deeper than I ever imagined. Now, I have anxiety about the 2 I have and would never have another. It's a mothers protective instinct. I even want to protect the kids I haven't had!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I will give you a few of the experiences I have and hope it helps.

I have bipolar disorder (type II), and I have two daughters and I'm 8 weeks pregnant with my third child. I am convinced that my mother is also bipolar, but she was never diagnosed. Depression runs heavily on my mother's side of the family, her grandfather even killed himself.

I function very well. I take two different medications, one as a mood stabilizer and one as an anti-depressant. As long as I take my meds every day, I do not have any manic episodes, few depressive episodes, and my mood stays stable. I have not seen any signs in my children, though I do keep an eye out, and I have had an open line of communication with my children (as they are old enough to understand) about my condition. They are aware of it and informed about it, so if it's something they end up getting, it won't be a big deal for us to take care of.

I never considered not having children. Imagine if my Mom had considered not having me.

On the flip side, I am very good friends with (well, more like take care of) a woman who has a very distinct line of mental illness in her family. Schizophrenia, bipolar, anxiety disorder, etc. She has all of the above. She is unable to work, has attempted suicide many times. Her mother is the same way. We finally got her the help she needed and on disability-- she truly cannot function in the workplace, her anxiety is so bad. She is now medicated enough to function day to day, but she has consciously decided never to have children because of the severity of the mental illnesses that run in her family.

Anyway, it is my opinion that the severity of the condition has to be weighed in your decision.

Hope that helps!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Tulsa on

My MIL and SIL have bipolar. We did let that influence having one child.
I have since come to regret not having more kids, but only after my child turned 9 and I became physically unable to carry a child.



answers from Washington DC on

If I let the history of congenital cataracts dictate whether or not I had more kids I wouldnt' have had any.
My sister has 4, 3 have cataracts
I have 4, 1 has cataracts,
my cousin has 2, 1 with cataracts

I know cataracts are not the same as bipolar, but we were told our kids could very well be born blind. Both my sister and I have them, I am blind in my right eye because of them. We chose to live with the possibility that it is what it is.
I guess I'm with your husband on this one. Since you work in mental health you know the symptoms, signs and mannerisms. You can work with these types of diagnoses.
I would not let it bother me.

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions