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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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208 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.

    Blessings,
    Taylor

  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 benbehindthevoices.com can help you more. She has written a book on her experiences with her son.

    Good luck to you.
    Blessings,
    Taylor

  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 ..

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