When Do You Let Go

Baggy Bags

Active Member
My family is just starting on this journey, and as someone who has never believed in Western medicine, it has been especially challenging for me to put my child's health in the hands of psychiatrists and medications. My partner and I are learning everything we can about my son's disorder. The doctors tip-toe around his mental illness, but the deeper I look into my families' history of mental illnesses, the more I realize that he is, indeed, mentally unwell and may possibly need medication for the rest of his life. Without it, he could do very harmful things to himself and/or to others.

My question is this, with no intention of offending, and I very respectfully understand that many of you have worked very hard to detach in order to get your own lives back - how and when do I let my mentally unwell son GO. He's only 15 now, but I read your stories and realize that most people like him, once they are legally adults, are basically on their own.

How do we as parents and as society let these people be out there on their own when they are potentially dangerous to themselves and to others? How do we allow them to make their own decisions about whether or not to medicate? They obviously need help, so why do we let go? Where do our parental obligations to our unwell children end? At a certain age, even though it doesn't reflect their ability to deal with life?

Before we got a diagnosis, so many people told me to just let him loose so he could go fall on his ass, learn his lessons and come back home more appreciative. Well. Pfff. Had I done that, he might not be alive anymore, or he might be in jail. For now, at least, I feel that I must do everything I can for him, even if it kills me. He needs me. It's my job as his mother.

Before the diagnosis, it was easy to be angry at him, but now, how can I be angry? He's not entirely in control of his thoughts, let alone his words and actions. Will I just get fed up with it one day, when he's an adult, and say "okay, I've done what I can, I need my life back, go figure it out for yourself"?

How do you get there? Is it giving up? Is it because laws don't let you do more? I don't understand. Please don't take it as me judging anyone. I'm just trying to understand.


Roll With It
There has to be a balance. At least for me. Even when my son was a small child, I felt that he HAD to take some responsibility for his actions. We knew he needed help when he was 4 or 5, and more so when he was 7. Even at such an early age we believed that he had to WORK to change his behavior. It wasn't all up to the medications and the illness/disorder/syndrome/his brain. We believed that he had the option to make choices each and every day, and that he had to work to choose what kind of person he wanted to be. We always tried to be on his side, but we NEVER accepted violence toward other people unless he was defending himself or someone who could not defend himself when there was no adult or older person in charge who would step in.

Sometimes you do have to let them learn their own lessons because what you are doing is not helping them, it is helping to keep them from learning to be independent and self sufficient. At least here in the US, becoming independent and self sufficient is a major goal of child raising. If you keep excusing behavior as them not being able to do X because of their illness, and you do it for them, it can keep them from ever learning. My son had a very hard time learning social rules. Sometimes he just decided they were stupid and he would not follow them. Like bathing every day. He thought that was just a social rule that I made up in order to be mean to him. He didn't stink. I could have either kept tackling him and forcing him through showers, which would have been difficult as he got to be larger than I was. Or I could have sent him to school stinking a few times and let the kids bully him to bits, which would have gotten him into trouble because he would have gotten them back at some point. In some very ugly way. Part of it was thankfully taken out of my hands by the psychiatric hospital that he spent some time in. They had a very careful system of dealing with this that ensured no abuse could happen and that teens learned that every step must be taken. The rest of it was handled by refusing to take him to do things he wanted to do if he did not shower and wear antiperspirant.

One thing that also may be different here in the US is that many of us don't have choices about when we lose the ability to stop making our children take their medications. In some States, children as young as age 14 have the legal right to refuse psychiatric medication and they do not have to see a judge to do this. If a parent wants to force the child to take medications, the parent must have overwhelming evidence to get a court order. In states with ages as young as 14, those are incredibly hard to get (from what I have heard). In my state, after a person turns 18, NO ONE can make them take a medication they do not want to take. Even if they go to jail, they can refuse psychiatric medication no matter what. It takes a court order to force someone over 18 to take medications, even if they are in jail and are known to be mentally ill. Just be the parent who owns the house they are living in? You have a better chance of drinking tea with Satan than getting a court order to get your child to take medication. Once in a very rare while, you can get legal guardianship over your child after age 18, meaning your child is basically still your child until a date set by the judge. In that case, you can make the decision about medication for your child. But that is a very rare case. You have to have good lawyers, be a good lawyer, or have a child who is really acting out very badly. Even acting out isn't a guarantee that you will get guardianship.

With a relative older than 18, when do you give up and stop "making" them take their medications? You cannot make them take medications in the US. You cannot really ever make anyone do anything. You don't have control over anyone but yourself. That is true no matter where you live.

Detaching isn't cutting all ties with the person. I HAD to detach from my oldest child when he was 14. He would not speak to me, kept attacking me, was going to either maim or kill me and/or my daughter. We moved him to my parents house about a mile from our home. He would not speak to me or even eat at the table if I came to dinner. I HAD to get to a place where I put some emotional distance between us because it almost caused me to have a total breakdown. He had to grow up some and realize I wasn't trying to just protect his sister, I was trying to protect BOTH my kids. I was terrified my son would end up in the juvenile prison here and he isn't tough enough to cope there. I don't know what the outcome of your situation will be. Your son is so young and anything could happen. I do know that both you and he matter.

Baggy Bags

Active Member
Thanks for taking the time to write that, Susiestar.

Some of those laws seem so crazy to me.

I wonder how much of a difference it makes - in the decisions we have to make - having more than one child. In my case, I don't have other children in the house to worry about.


Well-Known Member
I continued struggling with my son through high school and enabled him until recently and he is 36. Don't do that. I agree with ss that no matter their disability they will eventually have to fend for themselves
unless they are in an institution and that is highly unlikely. While i tried for many years to get my son on medications i was unable to do so because by the time he was diagnosed at 17 he was too big for me to force him to do anything. He was misdiagnosed several times when younger and we made him take pills but because it wasn't the correct diagnosis they didn't work which made him resistant to taking medications when he was old enough to decide. I have paid rent, lent money ,bought cars ,phones helped him start a business, paid legal fees on and on. I think we blame ourselves for their not being born perfect. It is not our fault. I am now retired and need many things in my house and i can't afford to support us both so i have to detach to be fair to myself and my husband. I also can't let him live here because of his volatility i can not live in a house where i am uncomfortable all the time and afraid part of the time. I don't know how much longer i will be around so he needs to learn to fend for himself now. Your son is younger and you can save yourself a lot of grief by recognizing and working with professionals as well as support groups to help him meet that goal a lot quicker. I am sorry you have to go through this it is never easy. Also by the way I had 2 younger children who have pretty much detached from me because of him and me spending so much time with his issues.


Well-Known Member
I think the answer is yes.

Yes, this frequently continues and worsens.

Yes, we have no control.

Yes, whatever we do often does not work.

Yes, we feel we have done all we can.

Yes we give up and/or detach.

Yes, we deal with situations where their accepting treatment or not is beyond our control and their distorted thinking seems to thwart any chance of their improving.

Yes. They latch on to and continue destructive behaviors and ways of thinking despite our urgings, that worsen their and our lives.

But you know what? I believe that a continuum of this exists at one point or another for every child and parent.

It seems to me based on my own life, that there is a spiraling through all of these states. As we learn. As they do. As their lives as they have been destined to be become manifest and we and they deal with what has been manifested. And then we realize yet again how little control we really do have.

Each of these cycles allows, demands a choice by us and them. And then over and over again seems to allow, demand new choices. Sometimes these contradict or reinforce what has gone before. Other times, a new beginning is afforded.

Whether we choose to stay closer or make distance is always possible at any turn. A thousand or more variables determine what we choose.

I truly believe that at 15 there is no reason to believe that your son will not be stabilized.

Yes. Due to genetics or circumstances, temperament or character, he may not respond while he is in your care. But by adopting the mindset that he is inexorably going down the tubes you help create the result you fear. All of us do this to one extent or another. The challenge is to stay present in hope and flexibility.
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