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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.

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

  1. My Son is 25 and has been homeless for 8 months slowly we have been making steps towards treatment. He told me he was ready to see a doctor take meds or whatever he needed to do. We signed up for ssi he agreed to an evaluation was honest about his symptoms and now he refuses the meds. I live out of state and have been financially physically drained putting him up in hotels because finding housing is difficult with his behaviors he was kicked out of his last place after attacking a neighbor. I feel like I have brought him to the water but can’t make him drink. No matter how much I do and progress we make, i feel like I should be doing more. We have offered him to live with us if he gets on meds which has to be a caveat due to his aggression and other behaviors. When do we let go?

    1. Oh, Lisa, isn’t that the million dollar question? I’m so sorry to hear how difficult things are with your son right now. I went through a period where my daughter, too, was homeless, violent and resistant to therapy/meds. It is every parent’s nightmare. While we, as parents, always want to do more and want to believe we can “fix” whatever is wrong in our children’s lives, it sounds to me like you are doing all you can. Unfortunately, we can’t get our kids the help they need until they are willing to step up and accept it. I think that may be the hardest part of this–knowing you’re standing there with a life-preserver while you child thrashes around in the water and refuses to reach for it. Have you considered contacting NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) to see if they have family meetings or a support group? It might help to be able to talk to other parents sharing your difficult journey. HealthyPlace.com has links to NAMI on the Resource page. For me, I needed to change my words when my daughter was most at risk. Instead of saying I “let go” (because do we ever really?) I told myself I was “stepping back” so I could be strong and ready when she came home. I consistently offered the help but also insisted she take her meds so she wasn’t violent to other family members. But, I came to realize that I could not force her to want to get well…only wait, and hope, and pray that she would find her way. You are doing all you can do. You are doing everything right. I hope you can find solace and strength in that knowledge. And I wish you the best for your son, and your family.

  2. My son is schitzophrinic , and is 22 years old. He just bought a plane ticket to Alaska, and has not been on meds for more than a month. How can I stop him?

    1. Hi, John! I’m sorry to hear this is happening. It’s scary as a parent to watch it, especially as there’s not a lot we CAN do when someone is legally an adult. My only thought would be to find out where he’s going in Alaska and see if they have mobile crisis services there. They’ve been known to meet people at airports to assess if they’re safe. You could try to provide crisis info to your son, too, so he could reach out for help when needed. Maybe you can google local psychiatrist to see if he’s willing to see one. As long as he’s willing to tell you where exactly he is, that gives you a tool for where to send help when he needs it.

  3. We need a mental health change my 31 year old daughter has bipolar disorder and last year they told her she’s schizophrenia but don’t except the schizophrenia and refuse the meds in the past 2yrs she’s been admitted in the hospital like 10 times and she will continue to she throws everything food detergents etc. And repeats buying cause she says they poison, staff poison her stuff in her apt she wipe out her apt she’s almost in debt she calls me every to wks or more to see if I could put money in her account she stay broke from her ssi like a gambleler but am disabled to and I get ssi to she wants my money constantly I pay her phone so I could hear her voice but when I can’t help her am a bad mother to her that I don’t care not realizing what she’s doing she’s not managing her money well am afraid she loses her supporting housing she’s out of control and right now she’s admitted again I don’t understand why if she’s in danger and don’t except her schizophrenia and refuse meds why they don’t put her in a long term residential before she hurts some one or somebody will kill her cause she’s very aggressive what about my quality of life am disabled to am desperate can some help me she’s has the ACT TEAM and the AOT somebody is not doing there freakin job.

    1. Can you tell me a little more about the services that your daughter is getting and where I can find them please. What is AOT? I need to find services for my daughter urgently.

    2. Omg, it’s like I just wrote this post about my daughter. She does the same things and has been just admitted to the hospital again, the 4th time this week. I’m so stressed out dealing with all this. You must feel the same.

      1. All too familiar. There is a tremendous lack of understanding the needs of the mentally ill in our country, and the lack of available facilities for this population puts everyone at risk. There is no place to get support when they refuse their meds and spin out on family and the public. My 30 yo daughter just upended her current living situation and was admitted to psyche. They medicate, give her a clinic appt. and turn her back out to the streets. There is no safe place for them to be, and no family willing to house severely ill people due to destructive risks. It is unconscionable how we care for our mentally ill under the guise of ‘protecting their rights as an adult’. It is no different than allowing a dementia patient to make sound decisions for their care. She has been kicked out of every place she has lived, or run away to an alternate that didn’t pan out and wound up in the streets, abused, raped, robbed, left for dead. I try to let go, and then get the call in the middle of the night and the cycle starts over. Authorities reach out for your help when the person is on the edge or in trouble, wanting you to somehow fix it, but they don’t give you the resources to do anything and you can’t take charge without alot of money, attorneys and court costs to prove they are incompetent. It is a tiresome, vicious cycle.

      2. YES..my 21 yr old son has been in and out of jail and hospital…too many times to keep count and I’m losing my mind trying to figure out how I can help him…he too is aggressive and won’t take meds but is receiving a monthly shot

  4. I have been reading several books about this problem: no one cares about crazy people, by ron powers; out of the shadows by torey fuller; i’m not sick, I don’t need help by Xavier Amador. also there’s a movie : healing voices but I haven’t seen it yet. there’s a lot of good books; the day the voices stopped by ken steele… he is an excellent writer about what it was like in the 1950s going in and out of psyche hospitals… he writes about self… he writes about several gay experiences though and that might upset some but that was his story.

  5. I have a 33 year old Granddaughter that is schizophrenic and bi-polar, and is exactly like how Julie and Ruby describes their. I’m worried for my daughter and great grandson with her being this way. It seems like no one cares. She’s been put into the psyche ward at the hospital several times but they will only keep them for 3 days, and most of the time she walks out before time is up because she wants a cigarette and can’t smoke at the hospital. Once or twice a month she finds meth and drinks, then she sees snakes all over herself. She hears voices constantly. She is so disruptive to my daughter’s household they don’t get any sleep because she keeps them all up all night. She has threatened my daughter and has told her: “You don’t know how much I want to kill you”. Cops and ambulance has been there so so many times. It seems as if they just don’t care. When the cops get there she turns on a switch in her head and lies to them saying everything is fine, don’t know what the fuss is” and so they just tell her to go back to her room and they leave. She refuses to admit she needs help, she takes meds for awhile then goes off of them, she doesn’t take them long enough to see if they’ll even help.
    My daughter’s health isn’t good either, her blood pressure is so high I’m afraid for her having to deal with her daughter on a daily basis. My granddaughter needs to be in a long-term, in-house psychiatric facility, but they have no money. Granddaughter and daughter’s boyfriend each get SSI and my daughter has been fighting for 10 years trying to get hers. So if they lose granddaughters income, they’ll be on the street. I don’t know where to turn. But we have got to get her out of that household before she harms herself or my daughter or her son. Can my daughter to to court and have her declared incompetent and sent to the state mental hospital?

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