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Schizophrenia and Parenting: Step In or Let Go?

I have an adult child with schizophrenia. Parenting is about the precarious balance between stepping in to help - especially where mental illness is concerned.

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 Without Parents

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.

Parenting My Adult Son with Schizophrenia

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.

256 thoughts on “Schizophrenia and Parenting: Step In or Let Go?”

  1. Hi Jennifer, We have similar problems with a relative. He took medications for 5 years and developed a bad case of suicidal ideation, irritability, sound sensitivity and head hitting as side effects from antipsychotics. Due to these problems his medications were reduced about 8 months ago and we are experiencing some out-of-control behavior. I was wondering if your daughter took medications in the past. Withdrawal brings about some severe problems.

  2. I too have a 32 year old daughter that has been diagnosed, our therapist is telling us NOT to tell Sarah (our daughter) of the diagnosis in “hopes” that Sarah will come to find this on her own…in the meantime, Sarah has stopped going to therapy, what do you suggest, as a mother, do I tell my daughter she has a mental disorder?

    1. Hi Jessica Jane Forst,
      As the mother of two mentally ill adult daughters, I couldn’t disagree with your therapist more. (Mind you, I’m strictly speaking for my own experience.) Would you withhold a diabetes diagnosis? Would you withhold a cancer diagnosis? This is another serious illness that needs to be addressed. When your daughter finds out that she has a mental illness and you knew and didn’t tell her, she’ll feel betrayed. Instead, I would research your daughter’s diagnosis, find out celebrities or other famous people who share your daughter’s disorder and are thriving in their lives, see if you can find info on successful new treatments, then sit down with her and discuss how her behaviors are linked to the diagnosis but here are the things we can provide as tools to overcome your challenges. Chances are she’ll have a personal “ah-ha” moment when she realizes the diagnosis makes things make sense. Empower your daughter with hope that, now that she understands what’s happening to her, she can use the tools available through medication and counseling, to achieve her highest potential. It won’t be easy, a mental illness diagnosis can feel devastating, but by empowering your daughter with knowledge, you can allow her to take control of her life and her disease. Check out NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) for both of you. You can find the number of your local chapter on the Resources page of the HealthyPlace.com website. They have group meetings for your daughter and family-to-family support groups for you. Good luck to both of you.

  3. Also, she lacks the insight of her illness, therefore she doesn’t seek help nor is she on anti-psychotic meds. She really needs. Eds, treatment and therapy. She had refused all – due to a government conspiracy and she also claims shes psychic, has special abilities and is an empath. This enables her to be able to talk to dead people, and other people who aren’t even in the same vicinity as her. She loathes her grandmother (my mom), because apparently my mom tried to poison and kill her. Its just one thing after another. I am told nothing can be done, unless she’s brandishing a weapon znd threatening to use it on herself or someone else. So i sit idly and “wait” for something terrifying to happen in order for her to “possibly” get the help she needs. All the while living in a oppressive and unstable environment as my health goes down the tubes. God please help us all.

    1. Oh Jennifer,
      I wish I could tell you that everything will be okay, or offer some sage advice that will fix the problem. But, you and I both know there’s no magic bullet out there that will fix this. All of your choices are “bad.” And, I’m so sorry. You are right, however, in doing all you can to take care of yourself. You need to do this for yourself, and for your daughter in case there comes a time when she wants help. Do you have friends or family that you can turn to? Or, even just someone to go out and have coffee with to fill your own soul? In the meantime, it sounds like you’ve done all you can and have really stepped forth to be a good mom. That’s all you can do. Take care of yourself.

    2. Those thoughts are coming from the illness that’s what it does to her. You need to take her to a physiatrist who knows the medication and [moderated] My son has this for 7 years now. He would not take the medicine so i had to tell him either take the medicine or live in a hospital. Also he was cheeking the medicine so i crush it up in the kitchen in a little juice and he take it while i am in the kitchen and he doesn’t have to go to the hospital. This illness is so hard to cope with because they think nothing is wrong. There thoughts are not real. Don’t pay attention to those bad things she says its the illness. She still is the lovely girl you knew. There brain is not functioning right and they know it. I have to tell my son relax your safe at home Because his thoughts are not clear. I tell its okay and find something he likes to do listen to music, play games, take pictures with his camera. Or just rest because they cant control these thoughts of things that are not real. I tried everything school, work, groups the last thing my son wants is to talk about the illness he just wants his life back. So the only thing you can do is help him take care of himself with everyday guidance. making sure he has food and care. You have to work on one thing at time. The medical community will tell you they have to take charge of there illness but my son is not there yet and i have to do it for him to live.

  4. I’m going through same sort of stuff as you all. My daughter has schitoaffective disorder. She lives with me and is 26 yrs old. She continues to digress and theres no help. Shes been in state hospital and arested 4 times. She became violent with me and I put her out of my home. She was on the streets and I took her back in. Im doubting my judgment to allow her to live with me again. There’s always some chaos going on in my home. ALWAYS!!!! Never a dull moment. Ive exhausted all means to get her help, even took nami’s family to family course. It’s affecting my health and well being. Ive ended up in urgent care twice in a month from severe stress induced hives. I am now having anxiety and depression issues. I basically live in my room, because she’s explosive and tells me I’m trying to kill her, ive ruined her life, im an f—ing b–ch! She’s extremely mean and disrespectful to me and damages my house. I have to repeatedly tell myself shes has an illness and its taken over. My body is done, but my heart is breaking. Is it time to let go??? Praying for everyone here and for their ill loved one. So much grief and pain and cant get the help she so desperately needs.

    1. Jennifer Cakus, I’m so sorry about you daughter and what you’re going through. I’ve been there done that. My son 33 lives in a locked skilled nursing facility. It is beyond heart breaking. He asked me today if he could come back and live with me. I wish I could say yes. I know it won’t work. We’ve tried it many times. And so I feel horrible not letting him and he feels rejected and abandoned. It’s an unbearable situation. And I wrong? Do we try it again? And when it doesn’t work then what?! I know he had an illness, but I can’t fix it. I’ve tried. I’ve helped and been his best advocate. I’m his guardian and he resents me and blames me. But it is his life, choices, anger, behavior. ..his path. I can’t carry him through it. He will have to find his way. Am I crazy? wrong?so so so sad.

      1. This is such a tough situation, and it’s hard to judge from an outside perspective! As an outsider (and as someone who often works with people with schizophrenia who need intensive supportive housing, like your son), I can say that it really does sound like you made the best decision for your family, but I’m not a part of your family, so that’s truly up to you all to decide ultimately. You have to weigh the pros and cons of whether being at home is better for him or not. Would he potentially stop taking meds, engage in dangerous behavior etc., if he went home? Would that be better or worse than his seeming resentment? Over time, will some of his feelings change, and he might be able to understand why you made the choice you did? Would it perhaps be helpful to find an independent professional to do the guardianship so that he doesn’t associate these decisions with you? That’s a tough decision to make, and you’ll have many questions to ask yourself. Are there step-down options for him? Could he move to a supported group home type environment or an apartment with intensive community supports in place? I don’t know a lot about the state/county you live in, but perhaps reaching out to social services for help and engaging more people in the decision making process to that you don’t feel so alone. I really hope it turns out for the best! Good luck to you both.

    2. I have a son who has schizophrenia 24 years old. i found out that caffeine is a major problem. My son was breaking everything in my house and i noticed it was when he drank caffeine. He loved those energy drinks but the caffeine rises the dopamine in his brain. Now he is 100 percent not violent. He is more controlled when he is angry. When your daughter gets violent bring her into the kitchen and crush up a clodopin medicine in a little juice in glass and walk away to let the medicine work. This will in minutes and stop the violent behavior. When my son drinks a Redbull i need 2 clodpins. He wants his caffeine and i will not give him money because he cant have the caffeine. You will be able to live with her again. What i try to help my son with is just basic living. Eating right and sleeping good and finding things to do. Once this illness hits they stay doing the same things they did before the illness. I do not put stress on him because he cant handle it. It is not normal for us to not do anything all day but for this illness there still in stress.

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