November 24, 2012,
N.D. asks from Cincinnati, OH on July 17, 2010
Mentally Ill Father
To make a very long story short, the father of my 5 month old daughter has a severe mental illness. The diagnosis is schizo affective disorder. I knew him in high school, and that was before he developed his illness. We reconnected on facebook last year and started dating by the end of April. Due to past circumstances, I honestly believed that I was not able to have children, so I was not as careful as I should have been.
I became pregnant very soon after we started dating, and then soon after that I found out that he had this illness. There is not very much information on it, and he assured me that it was not that big of a deal. He seemed entirely normal to my friends and myself, and I knew him in high school, so I believed him. Other than the extreme lack of support from our families, everything was fine until a couple of months before I delivered. He had an episode and ended up spending a month on the psych unit. I went to visit him at the hospital, and I remember feeling like I had no idea who this person was that I had spent the past several months with. He even looked like another person, physically.
He was present at the hospital when I delivered, but he was still obviously not in his right mind. By that time, I had already moved back home, and he moved back with his parents as well. He did try to be involved, and ask about his daughter, but I felt very unsure of how to handle the situation. His mother has become his legal guardian, and the list of his issues goes on an on. I did let them spend time together, and then that stopped about two months ago, because I havent heard from him. I was actually relieved that he stopped coming around, because I had a serious internal nagging feeling about letting him spend time with her, but I didn't know what the right answer was yet, so I allowed him to see her.
I would love honest opinions, as I am trying to figure out what is best for my daughter. I look at her while she's in my arms, playing so innocently, and I think about all of the questions that she is going to have about her father. I haven't heard from him in almost two months, and I know from stories of his past that he is not going to be a stable figure in her life. If he does try to get involved, he's going to be popping in and out, confusing her over and over again. I want my daughter to have a father figure, but I just don't know if I should even tell her who her father is. I don't know if I should try to let her know who he is, or if I should just not talk about it until she's older. I have all intentions of being honest with her when she's older, but I don't know what to do about the right now. Part of his illness is that he lies (or has dellusions) and he hears voices, sees things that arent there, and just goes totally out of his mind. He had my head spinning, and I am an adult. It was far too painful to me when I realized that everything I thought about him was a lie. I don't want my daughter to go through that. I don't want to her feel unloved, though. At the same time, I don't want her to feel or live with the stigma that's going to come along with having such a mentally ill father. Another fear is that if I let her get close to him, that he will manipulate her, and that scares me on numerous levels.
I know he can't be a father, I know he will be in and out of her life, I know that he will only confuse and hurt her...but when he's not having an episode, he has the ability to be a very sweet person. It's just that sometimes he cares, and sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes hes a sweet person, sometimes he's selfish and cold. Sometimes he acted like she was the most important thing in his life, and now I havent even heard from him in two months. For her sake, I don't know what to do, though. Do I let her see him at all? No court is going to grant him parenting time, so the decision will ultimately be mine.
I just want some opinions to help me sort through this. Thank You.
So What Happened?™
I would definitely never allow them to be alone together. I just don't know if I should even let her start getting used to the idea of him being in her life, or if I should just go with the flow, and let him remove himself and just keep it that way. A part of me is afraid that with his illness he might harm her. He's been known to take off and disappear, only to be found in other states, starving and unaware of his surroundings. When he does bad things, he claims that he has blacked out and cant remember anything. That is why mostly, I think I just want to let him go from her life. I just don't know how that is going to affect my daughter, emotionally. I don't know what's going to be the easiest on her heart, or the easiest to understand. We all have that desire to know our parents, even if they are not great people. I guess, I am just hoping to get a whole bunch of opinions so that I can consider all angles. I want to make this decision now, not when shes 2 or 3. I want to know how this is going to be. I believe this has already had an effect on her in some kind of a way. I just want to pick something and stick to it (within a relevant range).
Also, his parents are not an option. They are the strangest group of people I have ever met. They are extremely hateful towards me, and very manipulative and cold hearted. When I was pregnant, and he started to have an episode, we were living together. I had no where to go because my parents werent speaking to me. His mom offered me a homeless shelter and a womens group for support. None of them call to ask about my daughter, and they haven't since the day she was born. The only time they've seen her has been when I've taken her to their home when her father had requested to see us. Even then, they hardly spent time with her. So, no I cannot count on them for anything, especially not honesty.
T.J. answers from Seattle on July 17, 2010
My mother is an unmedicated schizophrenic. I only saw her twice after I went to live with my paternal grandparents at the age of three. They always just told me that my mom couldn't take care of me so she let them do it, and they gave me an incredible life. I saw her for one day when I was 9, and went to visit her out of state for two weeks when I was 16. There I was able to witness why I didn't grow up with her, and my grandparents finally told me everything. I haven't spoken to her since. Especially now that I have children, I feel a need to protect all of us from the inevitable heartache. But I'm glad I wasn't raised by or around her, and as long as you continue to be the best mom you can be to her, she will not lack anything she might have had from her father. Hang in there!
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M.P. answers from Portland on July 17, 2010
I've had lots of professional experience with mentally ill people . I was married to a schizophrenic, also. I don't know what is best for you or your baby. Only a professional person who either knows him or who has enough experience to make wise guesses can adequately advise you. They wouldn't tell you yes or no about involving him in your daughter's life. They would tell you what you need to know about his illness and his personality to make an informed decision.
I recommend that, if he contacts you again, you get his signed permission to talk with his psychiatrist. Or, if you know who the psychiatrist is, tell him what you are concerned about and ask him if he can get permission to talk with you.
Second best would be to talk with another psychiatrist who specializes in psychotic disorders and feels comfortable talking about possibilities.
From your description I strongly suspect that your daughter's father has had a psychotic break which I think would put him into a schizophrenic diagnosis. This is a much more serious illness than schizo affective disorder. With schizophrenia, he may eventually be stabilized on medication which would make being involved in his daughter's life quite doable. The question is, will he agree to remain on medication all of the time. The side effects can be quite disagreeable to the patient. It also takes time to find the right balance of medications.
My ex has been stable and held down a responsible position for 30+ years. He rarely missed work, was highly productive and lived a relatively normal life. He is the exception rather than the rule but many schizophrenics do live reasonably stable lives and are a positive influence in their children's lives. They usually have difficulty with personal relationships, tho we are divorced for reasons other than his illness. I learned that even when someone has schizophrenia they also have their individual personalities that affect relationships.
I strongly urge you to get a better understanding of his prognosis and ways to handle this situation so that it's the most beneficial to your daughter. You will need to tell her at some point that her father is mentally ill so that she can make informed decisions about her health care. I suggest that the more you know about him the better off both you and your daughter will be. That doesn't mean that he has to be physically involved in her life but she does need to know he exists and why he's not in her life when she's older.
I suggest, if deemed reasonable by a psychiatrist, that he be allowed to see her in a supervised setting. She will be able to accept her particular circumstances if she grows up knowing that she will only see him from time to time. I believe that this would be much better than never seeing him and being unable to know for herself what he's like. If she never sees him she's left with too many unknowns and will have questions that haunt her for the rest of her life.
I suggest that you also discuss this with a child psychiatrist that specializes in custody issues. Your situation is just too complicated for the lay person to answer.
Also consider that even tho a court would not grant him parenting time, he still has the ability to petition the court. He can make your life difficult in many ways if you're not reasonable, in his view, of allowing him to see her. Because he's mentally ill, he may pursue action in weird ways. For that reason you may also want to talk with a family law attorney.
Later: You said you want to make this decision now and not wait until she's 2 or 3. This isn't a one time decision unless you decide to disappear and literally deny that he's her father. I urge you to consider the possibility that at some point it will not only be possible but important that she know who he is and is able to see him. Please, please talk with psychiatrists! Especially a child psychiatrist. Your daughter's mental health is too important to make a permanent decision based on the opinions of people who do not know you, her, or her father and his family.
When I read that line, I realized that you perhaps don't know that circumstances happen that require us to be flexible enough to make a different decision at a later time. He is her father. He is permanently a part of her life whether she sees him or not.
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E.A. answers from Pittsburgh on July 17, 2010
I'm really not sure what suggestions or advice to give you - but I do have a question (and I hope not to complicate this situation for you even more)... but what about your daughter's paternal grandparents? Do you/will you let them spend time with your daughter? If you have a good relationship with them maybe you could talk to her and voice your concerns. I know it may be a difficult discussion to have - but at the same time, this whole situation is rather difficult. Maybe since his mother is now his legal guardian, she would have some insight on what she thinks he would be able to handle or what she thinks would be best...
If you're not able (or wouldn't want to) to talk to his mother about this, could you maybe speak with a counselor that you could voice your concerns about his mental status to - and see if maybe they have any suggestions or even if they know where/who else you could go for advice...?
I definitely understand that you want your daughter to have a 'father figure' in her life. Are you still living at home with your parents? Would your father be able to be a grandfather-figure in her life?
I definitely agree that your daugher's father shouldn't have unsupervised visitation with your daughter, if you decided to allow him to spend time with her - at least at first (if ever).
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A.H. answers from Chicago on July 17, 2010
This is a very tough situation for you to deal with. Schizoaffective disorder means that in addition to not always being in touch with reality, affected people also have a "mood component" to their illness. It is treatable with medication most of the time. The trouble is that many time people feel so well with their medication that they quit taking it (I know it sounds weird), If my baby's father continued his medication I would encourage him to be in my daughter's life...but if he was not taking it I believe he would not be stable enough to provide guidance and the role-modeling I think she would need on a routine basis, so I would think twice about encouraging frequent contact. Get counseling for this one. You can only go up from here. God bless and I will keep you in my prayers.
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S.S. answers from Chicago on July 17, 2010
I do not know how to begin to explain that I went through some similar thing, had two children with my ex husband, he would do disappearing acts, etc. he was classified schizoid, had OCD, drank to medicate himself and I am sure there was more. I did eventually leave him, but was confused about it myself, much as you were, I kind of hoped he would disappear, didn't, and my children actually are grown and feel sorry for him, and I suppose do understand why I left, but still feel so sorry and guilty that they kind of jump when he beckons. My point is coming...your daughter is little, five months, and you can make conditions on his visitation. He needs to be medicated and prove that he is. He should be in your presence if you decide to do this, until the miraculous day comes when he realizes he has this problem and works to eliminate it. You are right it is up to you. Two of you produced your child, but you are the only one who sees the important need to protect her. So do whatever it takes to do so and if he doesn't like your decision, or your conditions, then he can take you to court, which he probably wouldn't. The problem with these people is they can be sweet and you can also find out that he doesn't have an illness that is a disease so other see us as the bad guys because we have to do things to protect our children. You are a great mom for thinking about this. I am tired and need to go to sleep but if you wish to discuss this further, please go ahead and write again. In the meantime you are on the right track deciding what to do. In the meantime enjoy the little one. Much love and good luck to you.
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J.B. answers from Denver on July 17, 2010
This is my opinion:
Be honest with her about who her dad is, and what he is. Mental illness carries a lot of stigma in this day and age, and it really shouldn't. Some people just aren't as neuro-chemically "normal" as others are. There is no shame. If you set the expectation of what his behavior patterns are like (up and down, sane and crazy, etc.) it will make it easier for her to have realistic expectations of him as she grows up, and it will also teach her to have compassion for those among us with less than perfect brain chemistry.
The trick in this honesty is making the truth appropriate for her age. Personally, I would wait until she begins questioning you. Keep in mind, that a child's actual question may be different than what we, as adults, are hearing. So, clarify with her as well so you understand what exactly she is asking to know.
*if* there are any visitations, just make sure they are fully chaparoned. For her safety and your feeling of security. So long as he's not in a violent episode, depressed, disordered thinking, delusions, etc. It should be ok for her to see her father.
Do as much reading on the topic as you can. *IF* you choose to allow face to face interactions with them in the future, just ask to be kept in the loop on her father's treatment. If it is possible for you to create a relationship with the parents of the father- I would simply for learning about the family's medical history. There are plenty of traits and disorders that seem to be passed down through generations.
I'm sure you've done some research, but this is a good starting point.
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J.M. answers from Boston on July 18, 2010
I am so sorry you are going through this.
While I think the choice of how much visitation (if any) the father gets should ultimately be up to you, I think you 1000% owe it to your daughter to be honest with her about who her father is and why he can't be a part of her life. My inclination would be to allow supervised visits when he's well, knowing that you don't know how few and far between those will be. I do also think that you should quietly protect her from his psychotic episodes, keeping him away without bashing him. Easier said than done, no doubt.
Think about what you would say to her if this man had a brain tumor. You would probably explain that he is very sick so he can't be around very much. It's not the kind of sick that you can catch, like a cold, but just a sickness in someone's body that stays there and doesn't go away. When he feels better he can come and play, but you're never sure when the sick is going to come back. But even though he's sick he loves her and he's lucky that she's his daughter. It's not your ex's fault that he has a mental illness instead of cancer and his disease has a stigma.
This way, there's no lie to get caught in when she's older. She can ask questions as she grows up and you can be honest with her. But it also leaves room for you to bring other relationships into her life that don't replace her father but supplement.
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H.H. answers from Hartford on July 17, 2010
awww I am so sorry about this, it must be really hard for you. Personally I think you need to worry about your DD being safe, I think sadly he might be a threat to her. I love that you will be honest w/ her, that is so imp. it is not his fault nor is it hers and she needs to know that. I cant answer this for you as you need to do what is right for you and what is in your heart. I will say that, but I am sure you know this, he should not be alone w/ her so keep that in mind also. xo good luck
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K.I. answers from Spokane on July 17, 2010
I really do not know the right answer for you...but my only thought would be if you choose to allow him and her to get to know each other that you should always be present for the visitations and take it very slow. How are his parents? If he is living with them maybe they can be of some help to you and you can communicate with them about whether or not he is having a good day and maybe just keep it to a lunch visit or something like that? Your daughter is still so young that if her visits with dad are always supervised and rather short and even not very consistent that most likely
They will become just part of her "normal" life and maybe you can hold off on the serious conversation about who and what her father really is until she herself is quite a bit older...IDK? But I would most definitely try to build a good relationship with his parents, you will probably really need it.
I wish I could be of more help...you are in a tough situation and I admire your wanting to do your best for both your daughter and him!
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