We all want to help our child be as successful as possible and will help nudge them along as they grow up. What do you do when your child grows up physically, but their illness has caused them to not grow up emotionally? You want to help them without being a crutch. It's a constant balancing act where at any moment you could tip the scale in the wrong direction.
Between his diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder, and Addictions there were numerous times that I thought our son had fallen for the last time and was ready to get up out of the pit.
As a mom, I was torn between giving David what he needed for today and hoping that he would get to a point where he could consistently provide for himself. I wondered if his illness had taken over too much because there were many days when all I could see was the illness in the forefront and my son trying to break through that illness. I wanted to help, but sometimes I was only making it worse?
I knew several people who had a mental health diagnosis that were living life in all its wonder and thriving in spite of their disorder. I admired them and looked to them for insight. However, just like cancer, there are stages and forms that are more or less severe. For various reasons David's diagnosis and stage of illness was one of those that the odds were stacked against him.
Friends would tell me to help him in ways that only added guilt to my already fragile emotional state. Often these ways would only enable him to go down the destructive path of his illness and take us along for the ride. They would say that Jesus would have helped, so I should too. After all who in their right mind has their son arrested, gets them committed to a mental health facility, and turns their child away when they see a real need. Well, I think many people would be surprised by the answer.
I'd like to share a story of one of the last times I had to say no to David. He was 28 and I was taking him to our weekly lunch date when he said to me, “Mom, It’s getting cold out and I can’t stay at my friends anymore. Do you want me to be homeless?” (translation: Can I come back home?) How is a mom supposed to answer that one? He had put me on the spot and tugged at my heart all at the same time.
What was I supposed to do? I couldn't trust him to be in our home. I needed to set boundaries without making it sound like I was rejecting him. We had been down this revolving door road several times before and it wasn't good for him or the family. There’s no easy way to say to your child those types of things without them feeling hurt. I loved him so much and just wanted to save him from this illness that had taken most of him away from all those that loved and knew him. If only there was an easy answer. I paused, prayed silently to myself, and then responded with an “Of course not, but this is your choice.” As the words came out of my mouth I thought, “Where did that come from?” followed by “Thank You Lord.” This followed with a discussion of his viable options that I already knew he wasn't going to do. My heart sank and I clung to God for peace about this decision even when everything in me was screaming to let him come home knowing that would have been a disaster on so many levels.
He did indeed become homeless wandering the parks of a mid-sized city. He eventually hit a new bottom. Then he was committed to a mental health facility, followed by a half-way house.
There’s always a fine line between accommodating a real need and perpetuating the illness by enabling and being codependent. It’s a dance I don’t like and sometimes get wrong. That being said, I want to encourage you if you are doing that dance too, that you are not alone. There are many of us having to be seen as the bad guy or gal not only by our loved one, but most other people too.
That is when our faith can really be tested and fervent prayer for discernment is really needed. You will make the wrong choice occasionally. But mostly, you’ll make the right choice even with all of those around you telling you that it’s wrong. Keep doing what you know is right, but also never give up on them.
If you are not in this dance, please don’t give us ill-informed advice and be thankful you can sit this one out.
Accommodating is great. Enabling is terrible.