I am dealing with a family situation that involves mental illness and would like some advice on where my stewardship beings and ends.
I have a daughter who has a personality disorder, and we have adopted her children after Child Protective Services stepped in. She then had another child who lives with her. The Church teaches we are to take care of family, but when the lines cross, and taking care of one family member hurts the other, how do I sort out the mess? What, if any, responsibility do I have to the child with his mother, whom his siblings love very much? What about my daughter, who was placed in my care when she was born? What about the children living with me? How do I balance the relationship with their mother? The nature of her personality disorder prevents her from any kind of healing or acceptance of the situation. It is not possible to move away at this time.
The Church has published good advice as far as accepting those who have disabilities, but I haven’t found anything that deals with the family members who try to hold it all together and at the same time keep the Spirit when there is such emotional turmoil and chaos. There is a great need by the caregivers for advice and guidance.
You are hanging on so tightly to your dear family and I can see how dire your situation is. Your daughter is mentally ill and has no insight about the impact of her behavior on her children and family. I see the tremendous load you carry picking up the pieces and holding things together for these children. Your grandchildren and your daughter are blessed to have your fierce loyalty and protection.
I don’t know the circumstances under which your grandchildren were removed from the home and placed in your care. Have those circumstances changed with this new child? If they haven’t changed, then it’s your responsibility to make a report to Child Protective Services and let them determine if the child is safe in her care. Everyone’s first responsibility is to protect the child in that home if you know he/she is in danger of abuse or neglect. If you’re not sure what to do, then I recommend you contact Child Protective Services or an attorney who specializes in child welfare to review the current situation. Your daughter has a track record of not protecting her children. It’s not worth avoiding contention with her at the expense of this child’s safety.
If they open a case, then you might find yourself with the possibility of taking on another grandchild. You’ll have to honestly assess your financial, emotional, and physical resources to see if you can take on one more grandchild. There are no easy answers here.
If they don’t open a case and determine this child is safe with her, then determine how much contact with her is healthy for not only the children you have in your care but also the child in her home. If there is adult drama, the children often get caught in the cross-fire and end up becoming more distressed. The children you have adopted are in your care and safety, so your priority isn’t building a relationship between them and their mother. It’s making sure they get to have a healthy childhood surrounded by mature adults who focus on appropriately meeting their needs.
The child who is in your daughter’s care may never have a normal relationship with the other siblings. Your daughter may prevent that from happening. She may not. You’ll just need to make sure that if these children get to spend time together, it’s done is a way that doesn’t expose them to any drama between the adults.
Your first responsibility is to the grandchildren, especially the ones in your direct care. While I can only imagine how much your heart hurts for your daughter and you don’t want to give up on helping her, your grandchildren come first.
This doesn’t mean you are going to give up on your daughter. I love how President Howard W. Hunter taught that “the uninterrupted and watchful care of the parent is the fairest earthly type of the unfailing forgiveness of God”[i] Your care and concern for your daughter is uninterrupted and watchful. I trust there will be opportunities for you to continue to support and bless her, despite her mental illness. Even though you are protecting her children from the chaos of her life, you still should care about her life.
I encourage you to continue looking for signs of improvement with your daughter where you might compliment her, connect with her, and support her. If she is open to your support, I’m sure there is much you can do to help the children in your care connect with the child in her care.
Continue to counsel with both your bishop and Relief Society president and seek priesthood blessings to give you strength and inspiration to navigate this difficult situation. Don’t be afraid to seek support for yourself as you hold this family together. There are many who can offer assistance, including counselors, support groups for families of the mentally ill (www.nami.org), and other parents facing similar situations.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
The author wishes to thank Amy Cluff, LCSW for her helpful feedback on this column
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (<a href="http://www.
lifestarstgeorge.com”>www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children. You can connect with him at: