When parents develop the skills to lovingly insist that basic expectations are met, adult children are challenged to rise to the occasion. Even though there may be some dramatic reactions to the initial limits, some healthy part of them says, “Thank you for believing that I’m capable of more.” In our work with families at BrightQuest, we frequently encounter the following five areas where it is especially difficult for parents to set limits with loved ones suffering from mental illnesses such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, and Dual Diagnosis.
Parents sometimes struggle to say no when their adult children ask for money, even though they have consistently seen that they do not make good decisions with the funds, because fulfilling these requests provides temporary peace. With the support of therapy, parents learn skills for managing the feelings that emerge when they say no to unreasonable financial requests, thus pushing adult children to consider developmentally appropriate ways to obtain money, such as getting a part-time job.
Understandably, parents who are worried about their mentally ill loved ones continually seek to know what they are doing. Repeated hospitalizations, arrests, and generally alarming behaviors fuel the constant fear that crisis will turn to tragedy. When we interrupt this pattern by instating a temporary no-contact period, it provides breathing room for parents and children to consider what it might look like to relate differently.
Enormous amounts of parental time are devoted to managing the needs of a mentally ill adult child. Coordinating care and managing disasters become a part-time job. When parents are willing to relinquish the case manager role to our staff, they typically find freedom that is both rejuvenating and frightening. Suddenly there is additional time to fill, which can be intimidating when being a caretaker has become an integral part of a parent’s identity.
Despite the tumult caused in the home due to problematic behaviors, parents often let their adult children remain at home indefinitely. Adult children may take for granted the luxuries they enjoy, such as home-cooked meals, housekeeping, and unlimited use of electronics and other household items. In order to develop skills needed to launch, loved ones must be expected to learn to keep up their own home environment and contribute to the cost of living.
- Problem Solving:
Parents often have extensive detailed ideas about what loved ones need to do to get out of their current cycles of destruction. When parents quickly attempt to jump in and solve puzzles, prolifically giving advice, they inadvertently rob their loved ones of the opportunity to think through the dilemmas they face. Even though it may be slow and messy, allowing loved ones the space to find solutions builds confidence in their ability to figure out what they need to do.
We consistently find that when families take brave steps to try new and at times counterintuitive strategies that involve setting reasonable limits, it is remarkable to see what emerges and how capable those suffering from severe mental illness become.
“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”
– M. Scott Peck