Are you wondering how to set boundaries with your difficult adult child who has a mental illness? It is hard to have adult children that make poor choices that cause problems in their lives and in their parents’ lives; it is even more difficult to have adult children who have mental illnesses that contribute to those choices. When our children have eating disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD, OCD or any other mental illness, it poses additional complications and we may be inclined to “help” too much. Here are four questions to answer that will enable you to figure out whether you are helping too much. Answering them will give you guidance for setting boundaries.
Is your helping necessary? There are times when “helping” prevents your child from taking responsibility and growing into what he/she “should” be doing. There are also times when “helping” is truly necessary. You have to weigh the positive against the negative benefits of stepping in. You also have to take into consideration what your child truly cannot do for himself/herself due to the mental illness. This is an important determination and needs to take all aspects into consideration and may require you to accept less than perfect behavior and/or do more than you would if your child were mentally healthy.
Is your helping encouraging? All of your “helping” should encourage your adult child to do better and become more independent. It shouldn’t be so controlling that it takes away the incentive for your adult child to try or that it sends the message that he/she is incapable of handling his/her own life. Helping someone to help themselves is the goal. All of us learn best when we are in control of our choices and directly experience the consequences of them.
Is your helping healthy? You care about your child and feel responsible for him/her especially because he/she is “sick;” but, do you care about yourself too? It is critical that you do. What do you need? What do you want? What are you feeling? What is good for you? Is it good for you to talk to or see your child? Is it good for you to help? Is it good for you to have your child live in your house? Is it good for you to let go? Because of your legitimate concerns, you have hyper-focused on your child and what your child needs. This is natural, but it needs to shift. You may have worn yourself out to save your child. You have given emotionally, mentally, spiritually, financially, physically, and relationally. Now it is time to consider yourself too, because you can’t lose yourself to save your child and end up losing both of you.
Is your helping working? The definition of “insanity” is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Think about all the things you have done over and over that haven’t worked. It is good to have hope but it needs to be grounded in reality. If certain things have never worked, try something different. You have to analyze the effects of the things you are doing by looking at how they are affecting your child. Make a cost versus benefit analysis and decide whether each thing is working and whether something else might work better. Your expectations might also have to be more reasonable to be in line with what is possible.
The mental illness makes your situation more complicated and obviously has to be taken into consideration. When setting boundaries with your difficult adult child with a mental illness, answer these four questions so that your boundaries will be good for both of you.