Family and Caregiver Schizophrenia Discussion Forum

When caregivers enable and break boundries

My husband and I are hoping to find some advice with our family situation. We have an adult brother with untreated schizophrenia and history of violence and drug abuse. We know we cannot force care upon him. Family events are a trigger of outbursts and we have removed ourselves from contact out of the safety of our kids. His parent (our children’s grandparents) are his caregivers and are deeply involved with his day to day life. They believe verbal threats are just threats and nothing will come of it and have tried to involve him in family events. They believe family involvement will help him to stabilize. They are not respecting the boundries we have set to keep our kids safe, and we had to make the decision to stop visitations with the grandparents as well.
They still want to see the kids and don’t understand why we have taken a step back. Keeping our kids safe is not a way of being unsupportive, we are just realistic that threats can turn to violence. We have tried doing grandparent only visits and they share everything with their son who turns around and has manic episodes. We don’t know what to do or how to explain it to the grandparents.

I am just going to assume that the person with illness is your brother-in-law and you will not allow your children to see their grandparents because of brother-in-law’s history of violent behavior.

I can think of about ten places the kids and grandparents could get together without the person you don’t want the kids to be around: parks, zoo, museum, movies, restaurants, mall, church, school functions like plays or science fairs, kids soccer games or dance classes, plus maybe your house if that is an option for you.

Chances are your in-laws have tried to find help for your brother-in-law and are making the only choice they feel they have as parents: care for their vulnerable and ill adult child who has no one else and no social supports. Yes, they might minimize his past behavior in order to get through each day because there is no housing alternative or treatment available.

Imagine if one of your children became ill and had no place to live. The system is completely broken; medical treatment is becoming more and more out of reach, impossible to access in some places. Of course grandparents are right that being connected with family will help brother-in-law if he is stable and not using illicit drugs. But if you don’t want your kids around brother-in-law, just tell the grandparents without blaming them. You don’t have justify your choices and boundaries; just state them clearly. Find workarounds so grandchildren and grandparents can spend time together.

Mental illness is no one’s fault. Lives change dramatically when severe mental illness enters a family. No one can enable mental illness any more than they can enable cancer.


We have never blamed or stigmatized for the mental illness that has destroyed our brother’s life. We understand that his parents want the family whole, we all do.
For years we have done separate boundries so that the grandparents can be a part of our kids lives. We have done the typical zoo, park, family dinner, home and public places all without him. The problem is that once we have met up, they go home and share photos and the event with my brother who then gets enragged and becomes unpredictable. Sometimes it’s only for a day, sometimes longer. Always with threatening messages back to us. when he is unstable he claims our family/kids are possessed, evil, you name it, he says it.
We asked that they stop doing this to him, themselves, and our kids. It not fair for him to have a trigger brought up to him like that. The problem is that even after witnessing the outbursts the parents think he’s fine and that he’s okay to threaten because so far it’s just words (he has been arrested in the past for harming others).
We had to stop visits out of fear of what was going to happen to either himself, the parents or the kids. We are trying to find a way to help so that his parents can be a part of our lives.


Stand your ground.
Your children came first and are way more important than either the grandparents or your brother


It sounds like you’ve done everything you can.

Thank you. Our kids safety will always come first, I just wish the grandparents could see that.

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Thank you. It’s heartbreaking to think we are causing more problems. It’s hard to not be there and be supportive to the grandparents, even if it’s just to give them a few hours of fun with their young grandkids.

What do your in-laws (assumption here) say when you tell them that you don’t think it’s right for them to do things that trigger your brother? They might act like they just ignore it, but it can’t be pleasant for any of them.

I don’t understand why they would do that. I avoid anything that would upset my son or trigger his delusions.

Even if the threats are just words, I agree that it’s not right to put him through that.

If it was me, I wouldn’t share with him even if it didn’t upset him - at the very least, he’d feel rejected and left out.

Yes it’s my in-laws. They have been having a very difficult time accepting their sons diagnosis. He is in his mid 30’s and has been trying to deal with this for well over 12yrs. They accept he is mentally ill but think it’s just depression. They still think he just hangs out with the wrong crowd, that he’s sensitive, or that people are not nice enough to him and need to just learn to not upset him because it makes him depressed. He’s been hospitalized, arrested and they still find a way to place blame somewhere else. His mental illness is nobody fault, but it cannot be passed off as just a sensitivity.
The entire family is worried about all of them. His parents see any normalcy between manic episodes as a sign that "he’s fine now."
It’s hard to know if they are really in that much of denial or if this is just the easiest route to stay sane for their own sake.
Either way we can’t seem to find a safe way to have our kids involved with their grandparents and the guilt is tough. The grandparents yell and tell us how horrible we are and how we don’t understand mental illness at all (like we haven’t been involved over the last 12+ years. I also had a schizophrenic aunt growing up and know quite well the limitations and pain we all face).
We just don’t know what to do to help them, we thought making boundries would help, but when they broke them they tell us that they don’t understand why we are acting so mean. We aren’t trying to be mean but my kids are not going to solve their problems and fix their son. We don’t know what else to do.

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My son is 27. He had his first psychotic break at 15, so we’ve been dealing with this for about 12 years too.

It’s easy to want to protect your child and shelter them from the world, minimize what’s wrong with them, and not accept that very scare & ugly schizophrenic word.

If I was in your place, I would tell them that if they show him the pictures and trigger him the next time they see your kids, that there won’t be any more visits. Then, I would stick to it.

As the parent of someone with SZ, I worry more that they’re doing damage to your brother than he would be able to carry out any of his threats since you don’t live with him.

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Thank you for sharing. I know it easy for me as the family member to say I understand, or that we are supportive. I know living with the individual is much much harder. I hope you have found a bit of peace in the everlasting battle.
I just wish I could get through to them and not as they see it -make them choose their grandkids or their son.
We gave them that final boundary last summer about keeping their visits with the grandkids to themselves but they still don’t see what the problem is. So they haven’t seen the kids in months and anytime a holiday or birthday comes around they (understandably) get very upset.
We just wish we could find a way to explain it to them, we feel like it’s just not getting though, but how many times do we try again because they claim they didn’t understand the problem?

How blunt have you been?

I wouldn’t spare their feelings at this point.
I would spell it out in black & white, if you haven’t already, and tell them that when they do X, brother does Y, and the you feel it’s cruel for him to be put through that kind of pain.

Since they don’t put any credibility into the threats, I wouldn’t even go there & I would focus on what they should care about.

But, maybe they’ll never accept how severe his illness is. My husband made every excuse in the book for why our son did not have a severe, probably lifelong, mental illness. And, some days, I still don’t think he gets it.

Maybe you should also talk to them about what will happen to him when they are gone. And, if you haven’t read it yet, I’d get a copy of I’m not sick, I don’t need help by Dr Xaviar Amador. It teaches a way to repair relationships with your MI loved one and hopefully convince them to get treatment even if they never have any insight. I’m still working on the methods they suggest, but I see how it can help with communication in all kinds of situations outside of mental health. It could even give you some pointers on how to talk to your in-laws since they kind of lack insight too.

I think I’m not the only one who thought that because he also wrote a slightly different version that I bought too called I’m right, You’re wrong, Now What? That’s kind of how I approach everything in life, but it does not work with my son, so since I have very limited power to change him, I’m working on changing myself.

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Thank you!! Any pointers to talk with the grandparents are welcome. We thought we were clear as day but I honestly think we need to write it down and have them read it over and over again.
The book is a great idea.
I don’t know if they have thought about his future, or their own. It’s been hard to get honest answers out of them about how he’s doing. Usually they tell us how wonderful he is and then a story slip in about something that we never knew about in the past like the crack pipe they found months ago, or the fact that he spent a nice afternoon with relatives and their kids only to become very very agitated at the end.
I’m not sure they would be fully honest with us.

Very well said @Hereandhere !!

Hi, yes @herehere was very well spoken. I’m glad she took the time to read the entire post/response and give advice, which is exactly why I joined the group. We are looking for help.
As a caregiver how would you suggest we approach the situation with another caregiver? as a caregiver do you have a similar situation where another family member is a trigger or in danger? We want to keep the family together as much as possible and cannot seem to help my brother’s parents find a balance or accept the realities of his diagnosis. Telling him he’s fine or that he doesn’t need to seek help since his problems are from being lonely or a bad choice in friends, none of it is helping him. We cannot force him to accept help. But we are trying to help his parents.
Do you have any helpful advice?

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I wish I did! I’m a single 50yo parent to my 32yo sz bpd son. He blames me and his dad for his brain illness. I knew from a young age my son had problems and had him in several counseling centers. But he was not diagnosed until he was 22. I’m getting to the point that I can no longer care for him bc of his refusal to maintain meds and also illicit drug abuse. I do know that brain illness is just now being talked about more but it is still a taboo or Unaccepted reality for most of the older generations. Especially if it involves their own child. I’m at a loss as to what to do in my own situation bc my son has no where to go and can’t drive. Plus the guilt! How can I put my son out when one of the symptoms of bpd is extreme abandonment issues. But I feel as if my well being is in danger. This forum has excellent advice and resources! It has been my life saver. My daughter had to make the decision to keep her kids 11 and 4 away from him which also makes it hard for me to see my grandsons since they live 7 hrs away and I can’t leave my son alone for more than one day at a time since I despense his meds. He gets the invegs susteena shot 117 from his dr. But I understand why my daughter did what she did. The only advice I can offer is gather as much info as you can on the illness and try to get the inlaws to learn about their sons illness and discover and accept what helps and what triggers outburst. But most importantly remember you are doing what is best for your children. Also keep in mind it is hereditary. @Hereandhere has been on here a lot longer than me and always has good sound advice. Lastly, get some support for yourself. This illness tends to rip families apart which is why I’m alone now! God bless and I will keep you in my prayers!

Thank you for sharing and the advice. The guilt you feel is understandable, just remember you cannot support him if you burn yourself out. Boundries and limits are so difficult but help. I hope you find some time for yourself, something to help you take a break, breathe, and regroup. I can relate to your daughters decision to keep the kids safe, and although it’s difficult, being able to keep that relationship at the same time supporting your son is such a gift for both you, your daughter and the grandkids.
Remind yourself of how hard you work. Keep reminding yourself of your own life/goals and how much strength you have. Write it down if you have to, tell yourself how strong you are, it will help with daily frustrations and strength you need to keep the boundries that keep you both functioning.

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I’m so sorry to hear of the heartbreak your family has experienced as a result of your brother not getting treatment for SZ. We had drug abuse with our son + sz so I get the scenario well. The good news is if he can get off drugs, it helps big time. Where does he get $$$ for drugs? For the Grandparents, it does seem like a huge loss for the children and grandchildren. Your parents are dealing with the worse problem that anyone can imagine. And, they need your love and support. Being loving and supportive and don’t judge it. That’s easy to say but unless you’re the one with a child with sz you have no idea to be honest. Any side escapes you can make with them would probably be a gift to everyone.


For a while he would steal from the house or pawn off his IPod, shoes, computer, whatever he could get his hands on. His parents would just replace the pawned items for him to repeat the process. Sometimes he is also given an allowance.

As far as our involvement, we have had to give support from afar. We tried separate visits for a while, but the parents kept breaking boundries set up to keep their grandkids safe. They don’t think my brother could ever be violent to a family member, just others. They think our kids will "heal him"
We wish they could see that keeping our kids safe is not a way of being unsupportive. They have pushed away a lot of family members over the issue.

I think you’re making a tough but very good decision. The healing idea is so off base and them not acknowledging that the drug and unmedication is maybe because they enabled (we did that for years).

Hugs to you and your beauties and I’ll pray that it gets better down the road for all of you.