Jessica: Making Family Relationships Work

Jessica's mother, Diane loves being a grandmother and spends more time with her grandchildren since retiring. Jessica noted, “Everyone calls her Grandma D. Everyone would say, I wish I had a Grandma D in my life. . . We always make sure there’s a day that she comes over and has her time with my kids.”

Her mother often brings a meal for Jessica’s family when she visits. There are a few tensions over her grandchildren’s attention to using technology and sometimes Diane will argue with them. In those situations, Jessica will encourage her mother to let go of the argument.

She is kind of sensitive sometimes—if I say something in comparison—my parenting to how she parented me, she will get sensitive. [Her Mom asks], “Was I a good parent at all?” I’m like, Mom, “I’m not saying you’re a bad parent. Remember when you did this? That’s how you did it. I’m not saying it was bad”. . . I really want my kids to be involved with helping her as she ages. I firmly believe it takes a village. I want her to have that relationship with my kids so that she feels like she can call on them. . . We’re just really trying to show the kids. See Grandma comes and help us. We will help her when she needs it.

When Jessica’s family recognize that a relative is not managing their daily lives well, they “shift gears” to address the situation. Diane travels together with Jessica, her husband, and children. Since Diane is most comfortable staying at home, having always lived in a “small world,” Jessica finds traveling with her can sometimes be a challenge. Diane protests that she is not worth the extra expense of taking her on the trip. The family deals with behaviors that fall outside the norm with humor. They find that being less serious about situations helps them cope.

Jessica and her sister view their mother as “a huge support” and Diane is the first person they call.

I’ve had a super awesome supportive mom all through my life. Things that have been difficulties in our relationship, I don’t think they’re things that are attributed to her bipolar disorder. I think they’re attributed to mother-daughter relationships.

When Jessica was a child, her mother arranged for the family to see a therapist. Family challenges included complications with the step-brothers getting into trouble and sometimes verbal and physical abuse from Jessica’s dad. She revealed, “My mom always wanted make sure that stuff wasn’t affecting us. I didn’t know what mental illness was. It wasn’t something that was talked about.” Jessica benefitted from therapy at a young age. She continued to see the same therapist as a young adult, and recognized how helpful it was to see the same person over the years and not have to retell her story every time.

She recalled how her dad emphasized the importance of Diane taking her medication for bipolar disorder.

I remember my parents having a conversation or argument and my dad saying, you need to do this. [My mother responded], “I don’t need it. I’m going to try my life without it. I’ve been on it forever and I want to try my life without it.” My dad said, “This isn’t working. Look at what this week looks like as opposed to all the other weeks. You’re not going to work. This isn’t working. Let’s go back on it and see if things go back to normal.” I think then they talked with her doctor and my dad called in some of her friends to talk to her too.

Although her parents divorced when she was 18, Jessica believes their divorce was related to other problems in the marriage, but not to her mother’s bipolar disorder. Her dad died three years ago, but during his lifetime, he remained “friendly” with her mother. Jessica and her sister mutually support one another in responding to concerns about their mother and regularly check in with one another on how their mother is doing.

More of the Story: Mental Healthcare Resources