Sometimes, we are obligated to make very difficult decisions regarding our children. Sometimes, even the best intentions and incredible love we have for our children are not enough to help them seek help for themselves. At that point, it is sometimes necessary to do the hardest thing a parent can do, which is to let them go, to live on their own, and struggle on their own, until they eventually realize they cannot manage without help.
It seems especially among Jewish parents that this is something we are loathe to do, and at times we may even put ourselves, and the other household members, at risk rather than “kick out” our child.
We share with you here a letter from one of our readers. Our hearts go out to all those parents forced to make such tough decisions, and we offer our support, and chizuk, at their decision to do what they believe is best and right for their child.
“We are deeply, deeply into the throes of our son’s mental health illness, which started when he was a young child and continues up until today, when he is now 19. Around age 15, our son stopped all medication and treatment. We allowed him to go off his meds to see what his actual baseline was. However, since that time, we have not been able to get him back into treatment. Starting exactly around his 18th birthday, he has gone through a series of very troubling and disturbing behaviors. While we don’t think he is seriously abusing drugs, he clearly has discovered marijuana, and we know he is using it in the house.
At this point, we are compelled to tell him “no more,” and we have refused to pay for yet another college start. We are insisting that he get residential treatment or be kicked out of our home. We have already identified a few programs for him through a well-paid consultant that we just hired. Also we are considering a therapeutic wilderness program. It doesn’t seem to matter, however, because he refuses to go. I think at this point we know what to do, but it is so hard. We know that if he refuses our support and refuses to go into treatment at 19, he must be held responsible for that, for that is his prerogative. He is not suicidal, violent or seriously substance abusing (that we know of), so the state will not get involved. We are left with no choice. If he refuses all our options, then we will need to kick him out.
We have made the heart wrenching decision to not allow him home until he has successfully received treatment. If he should agree, which he won’t, we will find an in-patient hospital to try to get him medicated.
Although clearly he’s not competent to live on his own, he’s also not incompetent to be admitted against his will. The “system” would rather he become violent, jailed or suicidal before they will help us take the necessary action.
We will finally allow him to hit rock bottom as he tries to make it on his own. When he begs us for treatment we will send him to an inpatient treatment facility. This is where we really, really need the help. Do you know of other families going through anything such as this and can you point us in any direction?” (signed) “Desperate”
Dear readers, if you are going through something similar, or have in the past, we ask that you please share with us and our readers what has worked and not worked for you. We know that “Desperate,” and we’re sure many other parents, would like to hear from you. You can write to us at our email addresses listed at the end of this column.
Eta Krasna Levenson is a clinical social worker who lives in West Orange. Eta is currently running a free peer support group for parents with teens and young-adult children with mental health challenges, and is now looking to develop a support/bereavement group for parents who have lost children. She can be reached at [email protected]
By Eta Levenson and Lisa Lisser
Lisa Lisser is a Jewish educator who recently participated in an immersive training program for Jewish educators and clergy at Beit T’Shuva, a Jewish faith-based residential rehab facility in Los Angeles. She is committed to addressing addiction in the Jewish community and helping to lessen the stigma and shame associated with it, along with providing resources so that parents and family members of those struggling can find their own sources of resilience. Lisa can be reached at [email protected]