Having a parent with schizophrenia can be difficult. But understanding the condition and knowing that it’s possible for them to love you can bring comfort.

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Growing up with a parent who has schizophrenia can be challenging.

While the illness is complex and affects folks differently, understanding how the condition may affect your parent can help make sense of your relationship with them.

Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that impacts behaviors, thoughts, emotions, and the ability to socialize and connect with others.

About 1.5 million adults in the United States have schizophrenia, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Not all people with schizophrenia behave the same way, as the condition affects each person differently. Also, sometimes your parent may have more severe symptoms, and other times their symptoms may seem “better.”

It’s a “waxing and waning illness” like the moon and not fixed and hot all the time like the sun, explains Dr. Shawna Newman, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

She says that some folks have symptoms that don’t change much, but that’s rare.

At home, you might notice a lack of motivation, hygiene issues, or sudden intense emotions. Your parent may rederence things they see or hear that aren’t really there.

Possible effects of a parent’s schizophrenia symptoms on kids

When your parent experiences symptoms of schizophrenia, it can be upsetting and confusing to see their behaviors and thoughts change.

“Consistency in parenting is really paramount, and when a person is not acting like themself, it can really affect kids at any age,” says Newman.

If schizophrenia makes your parent unpredictable or erratic, that can throw you off.

“Kids learn and differentiate their own personal, emotional, social skills by modeling, to some extent, the adults around them and eventually their peers. So when things aren’t consistent and steady and comprehensible, it’s tough,” Newman adds.

Language matters

Questioning whether a person with schizophrenia “can parent” can lessen the impact of having a disability, which contributes to ableism.

According to the Center for Disability Rights, ableism is a set of beliefs or practices that devalue and discriminate against people with physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities.

Here at Psych Central, we stand against ableism and have chosen to answer the question by focusing on educating, edifying, and empowering kids of parents with schizophrenia.

It makes sense that you might have questions about schizophrenia and what to expect from your parent living with the condition. Below are some answers to common questions that might be on your mind.

I’m feeling overwhelmed by all of this. What are the top things I need to know about schizophrenia?

Knowing the different types of schizophrenia symptoms can help you understand why your parent is behaving in certain ways. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) describes the following two categories of symptoms:

  • Positive symptoms: These refer to things “added” to the life of someone managing schizophrenia. Positive symptoms aren’t present but feel real to a person with schizophrenia. These include hearing voices that aren’t there, seeing things that aren’t there, and being paranoid about unrealistic worries.
  • Negative symptoms: These refer to things that “subtract” from daily functioning of someone managing schizophrenia. Negative symptoms include having trouble planning, not being able to talk clearly, not effectively expressing emotion to others, and not fully being able to engage in things that bring them joy.

Additionally, your parent will likely have a doctor called a psychiatrist or a mental health professional like a therapist who helps treat their condition.

Newman wants you to know that your parent can still love you even if they have an illness.

“Schizophrenia is an illness, and just like any illness, love can come right through that. Even when parents are having vulnerable moments or their worst days, they can still love you,” she says.

Signs of suicide risk

Support and help are available for you to be mindful and prepared for the suicide risk that accompanies people with schizophrenia, more than those in the general population.

If you suspect suicide, help is available right now:

  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.
  • Text “HOME” to the Crisis Textline at 741741.
  • Not in the United States? Find a helpline in your country with Befrienders Worldwide.
  • If you decide to call an emergency number like 911, you can ask the operator to send someone trained in mental health, like Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) officers.

Does this mean that I’m going to have schizophrenia? Or that my kids will?

While your chances of developing schizophrenia are more than six times higher if you have a close family member, like a parent or sibling with the condition, researchers say that this doesn’t mean you will get it.

A combination of genetics and environmental factors likely plays a part in who develops schizophrenia. Newman adds that “… schizophrenia is really rare, and right now, there is no single genetic test [that can tell if you carry a gene that puts you at risk].”

My parent has paranoid schizophrenia. How am I supposed to venture out and have my own experiences?

While a parent with paranoid schizophrenia might have fears and worries about your social activity out of their sight, Newman says that it’s important that you still have experiences in age-appropriate and safe ways.

She suggests turning to a family member or friend who can keep an eye out on your parent while you’re participating in activities.

If you’re afraid venturing out will enhance your parent’s paranoia or fear, Newman says, “Giving up your life … isn’t going to change the course of your parent’s illness or wellness.

“That doesn’t mean you should be inconsiderate, but it doesn’t mean that all the things you do will change things.” She adds that, though you may help your parent, you’re still a child with your own future.

How is my parent supposed to be treating this condition?

Although there’s no treatment that can cure schizophrenia, a few treatment options are used to help reduce the symptoms of the condition, including:

  • a team of doctors or mental health professionals to help manage their symptoms
  • medications called antipsychotics
  • talk therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • learning about the condition and ways to manage it
  • group therapy or the support of others living with schizophrenia who can relate
  • a support system where you live or accessible by phone

“Having a patient advocate can be really important — someone who has gone through it and who is an advocate for [your parent],” says Newman. This person can help make sure your parent gets the help they need.

Can someone with schizophrenia be a ‘good’ parent?

While calling a parent “good” or “bad” is judgmental and up for debate depending on who you ask, Newman says to keep in mind that there aren’t any perfect parents.

Because schizophrenia may cause a parent to go through periods of time when they’re more present and able to parent and then times where they aren’t, Newman says that having a plan in place to care for kids during the “absent” times is in of itself “good” parenting.

Newman adds that with support, parents with schizophrenia can provide for their children by working, as well as teaching and loving them just like parents without mental health conditions.

Are there things I should look out for to know when an episode is starting?

You’ve probably learned the signs of schizophrenia particular to your parent. When it seems their symptoms are worsening or that they’re going through an episode that’s severe, try to reach out to your support system or your parent’s doctor or therapist (if your parent shares this info with you) right away.

“Have the system understood beforehand, so when a [challenging] day arises, you know where to turn — call Grandma or your dad or close family friend, et cetera — to get extra support for the day. The key is to not ignore everything, but face it together,” says Newman.

Can I make them feel better?

While it’s hard to see your parent not feeling well or acting out, Newman says, “You can’t fix your parent, but you can do your best to make sure your parent knows their loved. You can do small things to bring them comfort.

“It’s not your job to be the parent, but sometimes it can feel that way. Making sure you’re OK is helpful,” she adds.

What do I do if I feel distressed?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your situation, having a plan for emergencies, support, and self-care is a sound way to be prepared. Steps to consider include:

  • connecting with supportive friends to engage in activities that make you feel good and safe
  • prioritizing your own mental well-being
  • reaching out to a religious leader, social worker, or counselor might be helpful
  • engaging in online therapy
  • finding a support group

Having a parent with schizophrenia may be challenging, but understanding the condition and knowing where to turn during times of distress can bring hope.