Schizophrenia and Parenting: Step In or Let Go?

A message comes to me via social media, along with an invitation to connect. It simply says, “My 27 year old child has schizophrenia, but will not get treatment.”  Oh boy, can I relate to that. Unfortunately, this is a major dilemma facing all of us who deal with mental illness in our families.

Parenting is always about the precarious balance between stepping in to help, and letting go to allow learning from experience. From a child’s first steps to his or her first relationship, car,  job, apartment…when to give advice? When to help? When to step back and watch them sink or swim?

For the parents of a child without a physical or mental illness, this process is difficult enough; for those who are dealing with illness in our children, it’s that much harder. The consequences of stepping aside, of letting go, could be disastrous: poverty, hospitalization, an arrest, flight, or even – tragically – suicide.

Schizophrenia and Freedom Can Be A Scary Combination

Back when a hug was all it took...

Back when a hug was all it took...

My own son, Ben, 29, has just moved from seven years in a group home (24 hour staffing) to his own apartment. There is some support – a caseworker, medication supervision – but also a new lack of structure. No required group meetings. No chores scheduled. No one – except the roaches – to know if he washed the dishes or not.

Am I excited for him? Of course. Am I concerned? You bet I am. Is there much I can do? Only some things. He could crash, he could cheek his meds, he could oversleep and miss an appointment, he could become lonely and isolated. But if I call to see how he is, he sees right through me. “Mom, I’m fine. I’ll get to work on time. Of course I’ m taking my meds. I’m fine in the apartment all alone on my day off. Yes, I”ll unpack  soon.”

So I let him live. Alone. And I watch from the wings, ready to alert his caseworkers if I see any warning signs. Three days ago I saw the unmistakable (to me) signs that Ben had missed a day of meds – so I sounded the alarm to all new staff members who donot know his tricks yet. And now he’s okay again – so far.

Now I only see him on family occasions, or  on rainy days when he can’t take his bike to work. Could he wind up in the hospital again if I am not there to witness symptoms? Yes, of course. And I hate that. But we have only so much control.

My Adult Son with Schizophrenia: We Hope for the Best

As always, we do what we can and then hope for the best. Keep an eye out for trouble, and our hearts in a place of faith in Ben and his ability to make the adjustments to this new life.  Scary? Oh yes. We do the best we can for our loved ones -secretly or openly – and then sometimes all that’s left is to take care of ourselves and the rest of our family.

My mantra at these times? “Whatever happens, we will handle it somehow.”

I don’t always know how, but I know that we’ve managed before, and will again. And I ask for help when I need it.

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217 Responses to Schizophrenia and Parenting: Step In or Let Go?

  1. Shannon Stowell says:

    my son began exhibiting signs when he was 22. i heard stories of how a satanic group took his soul-and followed him everywhere-through the telephone and media lines- cable and tv. he also has full blown aids-because he wasn’t lucid when they offered the medicine. he thought they were trying to poison him-and he was an adult! what a nightmare-i could do nothing. i had to bend rules and make friends just to keep him alive. now he resents me-im overprotective-i dont even recognize him as the child i raised-its like watching your loved one die. he sees a psyche and is on meds-but not the right combination. any input i try to give is not acceptable-hes an adult. meanwhile i have to pick up all the pieces when things go wrong- and he tells me to stay the **** out of his business. i dont know how to tell him life is worthwhile. now he has colon cancer and hepatitis c. his days are numbered. lately i just drink-because i know i will bury him- and i remember when he was so sharp and full of life-ready to take the world by its tail. i have two other boys and-honestly this has taken away from them what i couldve given. i feel like nothing i do will be right…and its very hard to keep plugging-every day. every hour. every minute. im so glad i found you guys. its such a relief to know im not alone. thank you so very much.

  2. Shannon Stowell says:

    my son was 22 when he began exhibiting signs of schizophrenia. he was far from home- and i heard tales of some kind of cult that stole his soul and follow him everywhere. he beleives this to this day and his doctors say he may just live with it and do the best he can. even with his meds he will sometimes be very afraid of the computor or cable receiver. in addition after he spent two months in the state hospital-he came down with spinal meningitus-and was found to have full blown aids. in addition he has colon cancer-w 3 surgeries scheduled- and hepatitis c. hes very young and was excited about taking the world by the tail. now-hes given up- and i dont know what to tell him. he takes his anger out on me in the most hurtful ways. i cant completely talk to his doctors-they have to break a few rules just so i can keep a schedule. im so very grateful to have found this site. its good to know im not alone.its good to know WE’RE not alone. let’s keep talking.

  3. Shannon,
    Do you have anyone to talk to about this? Have you looked for a support group in your area? You are not all alone, and there are groups all over that are there to support family members struggling the way you are. You need support. No one can do this on their own. Try NAMI, Fresh Hope, and Mental Health Grace Alliance to see if there is a group in your area. I’m so sorry for all you, your son, and your family have been through.


  4. Cathy says:

    I want help live in eastern pa by scranton. My Son has had skitsofrenic long time. Started when he was 13 niw37 all have deserted him my ex his father and family. All he has is me and my new husband of 4 months never felt with mental illness.NAMI WANTED MONEY. MY HEART ACHES FOR HIM. HE JUST WANTS TO KILL HIMSELF. MY MOM HAD ScizOFRENIA ALSO I DID NOT KNOW THEM AT 10 now I am in my 60 it is a horrible mental illness.

  5. Marilyn says:

    My sixteen years old has aspergers but also at 14 showed signs of scitzophrenia thinking he had a microphone on his head. He only mentioned that once. Medication has helped but it seems his disordered thinking is hindering him to be able to do his homework.
    How much are you supposed to push him. He is so smart. Now he is 16 and I worry about his future. Do they hide what they are thinking because they worry about us thinking they are crazy? Not sure how to help him.

  6. Marilyn,

    Have you read the “The Center Cannot Hold” by Ellyn Saks? She has schizophrenia and has been very successful. Every person is different, but many people with severe mental illnesses are finding a way in the world. Randy at can help you more. She has written a book on her experiences with her son.

    Good luck to you.

  7. carol says:

    Shannon stowell, I’m praying for you! This message probably won’t get posted, I don’t know why but everything I try to do gets thwarted. My heart goes out to you, and I’m also drinking lot because I know I’ll bury my son… and the worst thing is, I almost want to. I’m so tired of the mayhem and nightmare of worrying and trying to keep things from spiraling out of control. As it is, when the police come to our house, I know them by name. I’m actually glad my sweet parents died in 2008 and 2009, because they don’t have to know about this. I love all the families of the mentally ill, because we’re in this struggle together, as corny as that sounds. God bless you. Read the Psalms, they do help. And I fervently believe that beyond this life, we’ll see our kids again and they won’t be mentally ill.

  8. Debbie Pietro says:

    My son has paranoia and mental health issues extremely bad time and fights every day to stay alive he lives on the streets or anywhere he can stay he cannot focus on one thing he has been trying We need help and not sure where to go he has been toCMHA and they place him in places he cannot stay due to his paranoia he has a worker who helps people on sthe streets but he does not keep in touch due to his illness and misses all kinds of apts what can I do Mom desperately seeking help for my son ..

  9. Donald Pena says:

    Have you tried MHMR services with in your county.

  10. Eileen says:

    My son has schizophrenia ,I am so tired of no answers I have done everything I can I finally got a restraining order and he was on the streets ,homeless shelters,lived in the woods also,I felt bad and let him back home…sometimes he is ok then other times he will do bizarre things calls me terrible names won’t take meds put rat poison in the dog dish,I can’t have friends over because of the way he acts, he had bottles of gasoline in his room and said he was making his own medication,do I sacrifice my life so he can live here or put him out he is 30..What is the answer

  11. Randye Kaye says:

    Oh, Eileen. My heart goes out to you. Our son still lives with us, and it’s no picnic, but we can see the results of our support in that he now can work, and also has some friends. This is because we stay up every single night to supervise his medication, which he takes with great reluctance and a fleeting look of what looks like hatred (for a moment) in his eyes. But our mutually uncomfortable moment buys us another 24 hours of his having much of his life back.

    We live on that tightrope, with danger always visible below us. But since Ben is in treatment, our current fears are nowhere near what yours are. Our sacrifices right now are smaller. You are living in fear, for your son and for yourself.

    This is no life.

    Unfortunately, we all know how unsupportive the system is. Still, you must reach out and get help for yourself. There are some excellent suggestions in comments above, as well as in my book, Ben Behind His Voices. But right now I suggest you get to a NAMI family to family class, and learn about your son’s illness and also self-care. This is an investment in time, so take the course while also asking around about alternative living arrangements for your son. The best time to get help is if he is in the hospital. In my book I describe how I had to declare Ben homeless to get him a bed somewhere else. The guilt ate at me but it was the best thing for all concerned.

  12. J says:

    My son has suffered with this since 12 years old, now 25. He is so extremely angry half the time & takes it out on me. (He believes I “injected” him with it.) I have no doubt he could kill me or someone else one day. At 25, I feel I need to let go & step away. I love him so much, but he just drinks, refuses treatment, & lashes out. This is the first post I’ve done on this. Any advice?

  13. Asta Sitkauskas says:

    I am looking for help hot my 24 year old son.He has schizoprenia since his 16.His very first symptoms was fatigue and depression and isolation.He was put on zyprexa and was doing very good in school also he was on natural treatments at Pfaiffer Center in Illinois.I don’t know what happened but me son from very fatigue became agressive,his mood from very happy loving kind person can change in a min ,he would attack us with no reason.I can’t stay with him alone ,I have to have my husband around all the time so he can protect me.My heart brakes I love my son with all my heart and I can’t be around him.He used to be so bright smart kid always with the big smile on his face.A weak ago he attacked his father at home,he say he wanted to kill his father we took him to the hospital .His psychiatrist changed all his meds .Now he is on clozaril and tegretol.He takes his meds always makes sure he won’t miss a dose but the meds are not helping him ,he wants to be normal he wants to live with us.what I should do in this situation he try his best to get help but violance never goes away.We are so afraid what will happen to us and our son.Please any advice we need helo.

  14. Janette says:

    I know how difficult it is to have a loved one who’s mentally ill.i have one my self. He’s in d hospital right now so i’l be looking for place for him to get treated.but the constant torture of worry and fear is eating us inside out…please take time to take care of yourself.
    u have to be well to take care of your love one.and Please find peace in the great promises in the bible.”Call upon Me and I will answer you” says our Lord almighty. Psalms
    cast ALL your cares uponMe and I will deliver thee…we r ask to call and trust in Him fully.Give Him thanks for He already answered r prayers…He’l see us through in all these trials…so glad to have this support.

  15. Jscared says:

    20 year old daughter diagnosed one year ago but we didn’t understand the seriousness of illness she stopped talking meds 1 month after first eppisode and seemed to be doing fine she moved from california to chicago to go to school and things were great for 9 months but we recently had to go to chicago to bring her out of a mental hospital were she spent 10 days.we were told only reason they released her cause we were bringing her back to cali and now with her back home we are trying to figure out our next steps have been taking her to doctor appointment but ordeal has tajen its toll on wife and i and beleive we need to ser someone aswell

  16. Hopeless says:

    My son is 33. He was always a smart child, he even was put in the gifted program in third grade. He was in sports, and has always been an attractive, healthy, happy son with lots of friends. 3years ago, he was at my sister’s house an came home and said she said really mean things to him an called him names, he only said hello. I have never known my sister to act this way, but had also never heard my son tell lie to anyone. A year later he was complaining that he could hear his younger brother talking on phone every night running him down, they used to be close and inseparable. Today he hears everyone saying bad things, everywhere he goes. At stores, in checkout lines, just driving down the road, if someone’s outside he claims they screamed at him. He doesn’t sleep nights, just sits up listening to myself and his brother running him down even tho we are sound asleep. He went to sleep at his dad’s, and claimed he was doing it to. So he went to sleep in his truck in the woods, and heard people in the woods yelling at him to get out of there. I took him to get help, but he told them none of it was true, that I made it all up. Now he just sits in his room starring at tv that’s turned down the whole way. He abuses the drug benadryl, claims he can’t sleep at all without it.. usually 5 to 8 50mlgrm a day. Someone please tell me what to do. He has no place else to go. The only mentally illness in the two families is dementia on his father’s side. He has tried to commit suicide, when it first started, but I found him on time. I just want my son back, and it’s killing me that the kindest person I have ever known would be dealt this horrible thing.

  17. Lisa says:

    My 7 yr old stepdaughter was just diagnosed schizophrenic with several other disorders. We went to more than one psychiatrist to be sure. She is so sweet when she decides to be, very much in control of her symptoms. But when she decides to act out on her impulses it’s so strange and scary and there’s really no help. No guidance. I found her outside naked eating trash at 6am, it was 37 degrees and she was in a trance. I knew something was terribly wrong very early, like 4-5 because she could manipulate and lie, she could act one way then later with none around just be totally hysterle and combative. She will say terribly strange things and get people in trouble if they don’t do as she wants.

    We are a large busy family and we are now experiencing child protective services getting calls from people stating this child is very strange acting and there must be a reason why? We are shattered at the dioagnosis and at the shaming people have put on our family for the diagnosis. I had no idea people actually went through this. Honestly it’s so heartbreaking for us to see her become symptomatic. The things she’s missing and trying to sort of compensate or create alternative experiences for her. It’s very isolating and very overwhelming. My heart to you all after reading and identifying with you.

    One thing is consistent, there’s no help that really helps. We have to either hang on or let go and that is the truth!

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