If you’d asked me about two weeks ago how my son Andres was doing, I’d have said, “He’s doing well, actually, probably the best I’ve seen since he graduated from high school.”

That wouldn’t be my answer today, which is making me feel sad. Sad and helpless.

I already saw some of it last weekend, when we were together at the coast. I saw how little focus and motivation he had. He didn’t get up until noon on Saturday. I didn’t wake him or Valerie, because I knew they were tired. But that night, I told them we’d have pancakes at 10 the next morning. No, actually, I asked them what time would be a good time for pancakes, and they chose 10 o’clock as a good time. On Sunday, I knocked on their door at 9:50. They came down to the kitchen at 10:40.

He didn’t help cook any of the meals, nor did he clean up. He didn’t change clothes the entire weekend. He didn’t brush his teeth. (Poor hygiene is not uncommon among teens with developmental disabilities; I don’t know as many parents as I used to and so I don’t know if others get better in their 20’s, but my son definitely has not improved.) He spent a lot of his time with his eyes glued to his tablet, playing Pokemon Go. He hung tightly to Valerie, mostly unable to do anything unless she was going to do it with him. The only exception was our soak and talk in the hot tub (Valerie doesn’t like hot tubs). He follows her like a toddler follows his mother, even into the bathroom.

These things bothered me, but I tried not to focus on it. Instead, I thought about the beautiful beach, the games we played, the times we laughed together. But at the back of my mind all week, this thought has been brewing, “Andres likes to say he is an adult, but he is not self-directed, and he cannot make himself leave play to get something done.”

My phone rings at 6 o’clock on Monday morning, waking me. It’s Valerie. “Oh, um, hi sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you. My mom actually dialed your number; I didn’t know she was going to. You see, Andres is losing it, screaming at us, and um, she thought maybe you could calm him down.”

Briefly, this is the situation: Valerie has gone out for two hours, from 3 to 5 in the morning, with a friend who has a paper route. Andres doesn’t like her to do this without him but begrudgingly agrees because she says when she comes back, she will watch funny YouTube videos with him. But when she comes home and enters their bedroom, the room stinks and Andres is lying on a bed near a pool of recent cat vomit. She says she can’t stand how horrible their room is. Couldn’t he see he was almost lying in cat vomit? And that the litter box was nearly overflowing?

He says, “Oh, I didn’t notice,” and shrugs it off. She refuses to lie on the bed and watch videos with him. He explodes in anger, saying she is a liar. She broke her promise. She says no, fine, let’s go watch them in the living room or on the porch. He objects, “No, I want to be alone with you!” (They live with her mother and siblings.)

This escalates for about an hour before her mom finally calls me. I get the sense that this is a repeated scene, and her mom just got fed up that day.

He’s crying, Valerie is crying, and half the time I am just listening to them yell at each other, while I hold the phone away from my ear. Eventually he talks to me a little, and with a very slow, quiet voice, I talk him down a bit. After a while I get him to agree to throw the blanket into the wash, clean the cat box, and go sit outside with Valerie until the laundry is done.

We get off the phone about 40 minutes later. I get up, listen to a guided meditation, practice a little yoga. I drink my tea and make some vegetables for breakfast. I clean up the kitchen, thinking that I have just told Andres on the phone that cleaning can be a loving gift to your partner. I think about how often my husband has cleaned up the kitchen, and this morning I take the time to leave the kitchen especially clean, wanting this to be my gift to him.

It’s a while before I sit down and open up my laptop. I check my email, and my heart sinks. Obviously my words to Andres haven’t been that effective, because I receive two more agitated emails before 9:00. I don’t answer them. There is nothing to say that I haven’t already said.

I can’t get myself to settle down to work. It’s a nice day outside, the first decent weather we’ve had in a while, but I can’t focus on my garden either. I’m on edge, restless, unfocused. By afternoon, I’ve accomplished almost nothing.

And I can’t shrug it off. Over the course of the weekend, I can feel depression settling on my shoulders, that dusty old jacket from the back of the closet. It smells stale and it’s heavier than what I want in the spring, but it’s familiar.

I make a few efforts to lift my spirits. I go out to river with the dogs and my husband to get some exercise and enjoy the weather. While we walk, I talk to my husband about my thoughts. I’m afraid for him, my son. He can’t take care of himself. He can’t control his emotions. He resists and protests when asked to be responsible.

But that’s not why I’m so discouraged. I feel like I’ve failed as a mother. After all, what is a parent’s job, but to prepare their children to live a healthy adult life? I get it, I know he has some disabilities. But I feel I should have done more. Maybe I could have helped him develop more maturity if only I’ve done things differently.

Furthermore, I feel helpless to do anything now. He lives hours away from me in an unstructured, rather dysfunctional household. I love Valerie, but her family situation is pretty chaotic, and that doesn’t help him. He’s gone off his psychiatric meds again. When he takes them, he still doesn’t do a lot of cleaning, but he doesn’t tend to have emotional meltdowns. But I can’t make him take the meds. I can only watch him, from far away, have the same fights and confusion and anger, over and over and over again.

I discuss this to my husband, in more detail than I used to. He is kind and understanding  to me. But Andres’ behavior irritates him, and later that day when my son texts him  about something, my husband responds to him impatiently. That hurts Andres’ feelings, and now he is texting me about how mean my husband is.

I’ve been through versions of this a thousand times, though less often recently. Like I said, I have been deluding myself into thinking Andres is doing better. But why would he be doing better?

The truth is, here’s this young man in his 20’s who has never had a job. He doesn’t take care of himself. He eats a lot of sugar, pasta and white bread. He only wants to drink hot chocolate or Mountain Dew. The dentist says Andres should just get all his teeth pulled and get a set or dentures–that’s how rotted out they are. He doesn’t smell good. His glasses are held together, awkwardly, with yarn and glue because he has broken them, again. We buy him about two pairs a year because he’s so hard on them. He can’t be bothered to put socks on, so his feet and shoes smell terrible. He has several belts but he doesn’t know where they are in his messy room, so when he walks he has to pause every few steps to pull his jeans back up.

This person grew inside my body. I held him as a brand new baby. I have a great sense of tenderness towards him. I want him to be healthy, to have a sense of purpose, to do things that give meaning to his life. I don’t think Pokemon Go and YouTube videos will provide that meaning, but he’s not interested in much of anything else.

I am helpless to do anything for him.

Helplessness is a big trigger for me. It’s how I felt early in my life, and it’s how I left myself slide into abusive situations and relationships as I great older. Feeling this way is sending my brain spinning, critical messages flying out as it spins: You are worthless. You’re an idiot. You are nothing.

I know, I know, these are habitual messages; they aren’t necessarily the truth. I also know that when I’m feeling like this, I need to turn to my self-care strategies. I need to summon up the strength and wisdom that reside (somewhere) deep in me (I think) and put them to work. I don’t want to wear this dusty depressive jacket. I don’t want to be at the mercy of my triggers or listen to the critical voices in my head. Okay, it’s probably true that I can’t fix things for my son, but I don’t want to be helpless in the face of my own emotions.


CREDIT: Photo by Tom Holmes on Unsplash




    • I think sometimes of parents whose children are using drugs and think it must be a similar experience. Not exactly the same, of course. On the one hand, their children are at greater risk of dying in the near future. On the other hand, their children could get clean and live a very different life in the future. Neither of these is particularly true about my son. Still, the despair and helplessness are similar.


  1. I am easily triggered when I know things are out of my control too. It makes me feel like I SHOULD be able to do something and I’m failing. I can’t imagine the pain of knowing your child is struggling and not being able to help. Those are strong feelings. You may be wearing the depressive jacket right now, and that will happen (another thing out of our control!) but I believe you have it in you to find the ability to fight those irrational thoughts. Keep pushing past them. And if you find that impossible right now, I will help get you started. You have so much worth: to your husband, to Andres, to E, to the blogging community. You are a smart, capable woman who continues to live and make positive changes and grow. And since you are those things, and a person so full of thoughts and feelings, you cannot be nothing. You are very much something, with many good qualities. Hang in there.

    Liked by 1 person

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