A Mother’s Perspective On Raising A Child with Mental Illness

This is a guest post relating to Mother’s Day and Mental Health Awareness Month.

Healing is a family process, as every mother knows.  When a child has a broken leg, other family members pitch in to help manage crutches or carry loads.  The immediate needs are obvious.  But when a family member is afflicted by a severe mental illness – schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression — the role of the family may not be as clear even though it is just as important.

As a mother of a son who was diagnosed with schizophrenia 19 years ago – and who has recovered to live a full life – I know what an important part family plays in healing.  My son, Brandon, was first diagnosed when he was 19 years old after his freshman year in college.  That moment marked the beginning of our long effort to help him recover and reclaim his life.

Hearing such a diagnosis for the first time is a terrible shock.  But as a parent, you cannot allow shock to immobilize you.  You have to be able to provide support and do the kinds of things that can help your child recover.  My husband, Garen, and I learned that lesson very quickly, as well as many others over the course of Brandon’s treatment and recovery.  Now, when other parents ask me what they can do to help their child recover from a major psychological disease, I tell them five things them must do.

1. Hope

Know that a person with severe mental illness can get better with the proper therapy and medications.  This will not be an easy or speedy process.  There will most likely be setbacks and disappointments along the way.  But today these diagnoses are not the psychological equivalent of a death sentence.  Knowing that a person with mental illness can get better provides an essential psychological boost, not only for the patient but for the rest of the family as well.

2. Educate

As with any other disease, when you first hear the diagnosis you find yourself asking, “What happened? Where did we go wrong?”  That was my husband’s and my first reaction.  So the first thing we did was talk to a psychologist about the physical underpinnings of this disease. And he told us that it wasn’t anybody’s fault. It was something that happened, and no one knows why. So that helped us a lot, and it’s important for every family member to understand: it’s about chemistry, not character.  Learning as much as possible about a loved one’s illness helps both the patient and the family.

3. Structure

Whoever gets sick must have a structured schedule every day so they have something to help them stay in contact with the outside world.  It’s not good if they become just lost souls with nothing to do.  They won’t have a feeling of self-worth; they will have lost a sense of purpose. The family can help provide that structure. In our own story, we always set a place at the table for Brandon for dinner or lunch or whatever it was.  He could sit as long as he wanted or get up and leave whenever he wanted, but he knew that each day there was a place for him at our family table.  Having more structure to his life in this and other ways allowed Brandon’s sense of well being to blossom over time.

4. Reduce stress

The first thing that we know about these diseases is that they are physiologically based, and, secondly, that they are generally environmentally triggered.  We don’t know what all the environmental triggers are, but we do know that stress is one of them – and it could be physical stress or psychological stress.  Stress is also a common trigger for setbacks in the treatment of mental illness.  So family members can help in the recovery process by making the home environment as stress-free as possible. For example, if you have to take a trip or keep an appointment, allow extra time to get ready so there’s no last-minute rushing.  Keep interactions with all family members even and low key.

5. Never give up

The hardest thing any parents will ever go through is seeing their child suffer for a long period of time.  But never give up, even in the most difficult moments.  There may be times when the afflicted person may blame you or even turn against you, but you still need to continually let them know that you love them and are standing by them.  No matter what you have to face, you must provide love and support. That’s over and above any other piece of advice.

Remember that all of your efforts are aimed at helping your loved one recover.  And what does recovery mean?  It means that the person can be a productive individual again. That they can work; they can go to school; they can have social relationship and personal relationships.  We have reached that point in our family. Today, Brandon is working as marketing communications director and website writer for our Staglin Family Vineyard. As Mother’s Day approaches, I am looking forward to spending it with my son and his wife, and our daughter, Shannon, who’s seven years younger than Brandon.  For me, this is what healing and recovery means.

Written by Shari Staglin, STAGLIN FAMILY VINEYARD , Rutherford, CA

Shari and her husband Garen represent a true family approach to their involvement in the wine industry and their dedication to the Staglin Family Vineyard. Actively involved for almost 25 years in the wine industry, the Staglins’ motto is “great wine for great causes” and through their operation of Staglin Family Vineyard and support of various charitable causes, they have indeed lived up to that philosophy. In the last ten years, causes they have chaired or donations from their wines have generated almost $700 million.

Shari and Garen are founders of the Music Festival for Mental Health, a 501c(3) non-profit organization. During the last fourteen years, the Music Festival has raised over $83 million for mental health charities and research. This annual event, held at their vineyard, includes an afternoon concert for 400 (past year’s performers have included Brian Wilson, Gladys Knight, the Pointer Sisters and Roberta Flack), and an evening gourmet dinner for 200 by a celebrity chef, with wines donated and poured by many of the nation’s best wineries.

Shari was a leader in health care management and recruiting for many years before becoming CEO of Staglin Family Vineyard.

Shari holds a BA from UCLA and an MPA from NYU.

Flower photo by Zanastardust
Family | May 7th, 2010 | Comments Off | View post page →

How to fix fatherhood in America

When you think about the many difficulties our country is facing, fatherhood may not come to mind.

However, there is an epidemic that has swept through fatherhood for too long. The epidemic of fathers abandoning their responsibilities and children.

This epidemic is affecting our society on so many levels. According to the US Census, an estimated 24 million children in the U.S. live without their fathers and who knows how many millions more “present” fathers aren’t actively involved in their children’s lives.

The old saying goes; “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well fatherhood in America is broken and it’s time to fix it.

Here are some ideas on how it can be done.

Mothers (and kids) need to demand more involvement

Fathers should have unconditional interested in being more involved in their children’s lives but mothers and kids also need to demand it.

A lot of mothers think that they should be the most involved and that men are just the ones to provide financial support. This is old fashioned thinking and it isn’t working.

Fathers shouldn’t be the “go-to” for discipline

Most dads make themselves out to be the parent their children should be fearful of. And many mothers add to this as well by saying things like; “wait till your father finds out” and making the father out to be the bad guy.

Perhaps this is also a male domination type of thing, but it doesn’t lead to a healthy relationship between fathers and children.

Remove the focus from just “bringin’ home the bacon”

Fathers are often seen as one thing only; breadwinners. They’ve accepted this role as their main purpose in the household and I feel that this mentality has made it easier for fathers to desert their children.

They see themselves as not essential to a child’s life except with regards to finances. This makes many absent fathers figure they can just send child support money. But child support is so much more than financial.

Change the way fatherhood is viewed

President Obama recently gave a talk about the importance of fathers and in the talk he said something profound; “This isn’t an obligation, this is a privilege to be a father.”

This is exactly how many fathers should begin to rethink the way they see fatherhood.

For fathers:

Realize you won’t be perfect

No one is perfect. Like the rest of your life; as a father you’ll do things right and at times you’re going to do things completely wrong. It’s natural and the only way to learn. Excel to be the best you can, not to be perfect.

Succeed where your father failed

While growing up you know what your father didn’t do right. You’ve learned and it’s your shot to do much better, it’s not an excuse for you to be a bad father as well.

Know how crucial you are

You may still be thinking that you’re most important for keeping a roof over your children’s heads and food on the table; but you’re crucial to helping your child thrive and not just survive.

Please visit to read some of the shocking statistics that point to how important fathers are:

Keep the conversation alive

Fathers not stepping up to their responsibilities and deserting their children is somewhat of a silent epidemic, but no longer.

President Obama just sparked a national discussion and we need you to join in. The stakes are way too high to simply let this topic be swept under the rug again.

What do you think of these ideas? Do you think fatherhood in America needs to be fixed? Do you have more ideas that may help fix it? Please share in the comments below.

* Edited to reflect more proper citation of fatherless facts and to remove dead links.

Related articles:

- 6 Lessons I Learned About Being a Man from Growing Up Fatherless

Photo by ajagendorf25
Family | June 21st, 2009 | Comments Off | View post page →

What’s in a name?

This is a guest post.

Have you ever wondered who your ancestors were? I did. I came from a fractured family and wanted a way to connect with it. So, 20 odd years ago I began to research my ancestors. I did fall for a few scams and paid for some subscriptions. In some cases I paid a lot to learn a little and in others, I paid little to learn a lot! Hopefully my experiences and the lessons I have learned will help you in your own search.

So ask yourself a few questions:

- What do I hope to find?
- What’s it gonna cost?
- Where do I start?
- Who belongs in my family tree?
- What questions do I ask my family?
- Am I willing to do a little leg work?
- Do I have a few hours now and then that I can devote to research?

There are a few things to remember when researching;

- There will be times that you come across information that just doesn’t jive with what you know. It can be anything from a misspelled name to a full name change, different birth year or State of origin. Way back in the day, most people had little or no education and few could read or write.

- When using information you find in another person’s family tree, take it with a grain of salt. There is always a chance that it is wrong. Use this information as a clue and double check the documents with your own eyes..

- Contrary to what we are taught not all legal documents are accurate. Example: My great uncle “Edgar” (born in the 1870’s) during WWI the Army changed his name by error to “Edward”. Rather than fight the system he continued to use the name “Edward” this took me nearly 10 years to find out. That was an “Ah-Ha” moment for me. Remember the grain of salt!

- Never place living family information in public view unless you have their consent to do so and only if you are comfortable in the knowledge that it won’t come back to bite you one day.

- Create an email address that you will use only for research. Always write your email address in words when posting. Leave out the “@” and the “.com”. An example would be (myemail at my isp dot com) this way spiders and web crawlers, even spammers will be less likely to it pick up.

- No matter what, facts are not copyrightable. The ways in which they are presented are, but the fact itself is not.

- (Heads UP!) When using a site that offers a “Free Family Tree”, remember that any information you save to this tree, you are giving to them, to use, distribute or sell worldwide. Read the terms of use and other information before you create a tree. This way you know what will be done with the information you submit.

- Create a family tree that is more than a statistical, bare bone fact sheet, added pictures and stories make this ancestor come alive on paper. Tell about the skeleton in the closet and the angles in the wings. After all we are all human and none are perfect!

How do you research your ancestors?

The answer is through records. They hold the keys and clues to who our ancestors were, their occupation, income, possessions, friends, family and travels. We might like what we find and we might have an “Uh Oh” moment! Now wouldn’t that be fun!

All you really need to get started is a notebook or computer and general information for each person you research, such as; birth name, date and place of birth, parent information, date and places for marriage, divorce and death/burial. Later you can add other interesting facts. Do this for each member of you family starting with yourself, then work backwards. Soon you will have built a large family tree.

Below are some sites to help you get started. Almost all are free!

- USGenWeb: (free) Covers all States and most counties with everything from bible records to wills. Also an area for census records. Everything here is donated to keep them free to use.

- Find a Grave: (free) Users input family burial information. Volunteers do entire cemeteries. You can search for graves or with a free account add information. Their genealogy forum is very helpful!

- Family Search Labs: (free) This site is filled with information! Several search areas to search millions of historical records (viewable and free to copy/download!) Also a Free Family Tree (Heads UP!) create a free account and use their program to create an online tree.

- Google Books: (free) Search results on full view (free) books containing records for “Early Marriages”. Read through and search books using a PDF reader (Adobe which is free).

- ** (free) Usually a paid service/subscription, but with a library card and access to your local library you can use it free (if they have a subscription). Ancestry also offers a free family tree; all you have to do is create a free account. (Heads UP again!) Use their (free) Surname message boards to search for others researching your family names. Ancestry Database Card Catalog This area of is loaded with always-free databases and information!

- HeritageQuest: (free) Use this site for free just like Ancestry only you can log in remotely from home with your library card!. Census Search from 1790-1930; Book Search… 24,000 family and local histories; Revolutionary War Search…selected records from pensions/land warrant applications; Freedman’s Bank Search…Bank information for freed African Americans 1865-1874

- Bureau of Land Management: (free) This site provides image access to more than three million records issued between 1820 and 1908. You can print a copy of the original land patent to your ancestor and view where the land was located. You can also pay for a certified copy if you really want to.

- The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation: (free) The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation Search for free and to view the results you must register (free). You can view and copy the information to your computer. A copy on archival paper is available for purchase and is actually nice looking.

- FamilyTreeLegends; (free databases) Family Tree Legends Free Databases Search for Birth, Marriage, Death, & Other, Military , Land, Court, & Probate records. Can’t ask for better than that when it’s FREE!

- Civil War & Soldiers Search System (free) Civil War Soldiers and Sailors The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System is a database containing very basic facts about servicemen who served on both sides during the Civil War.

- Random Acts Of Genealogy Kindness (RAOGK) (free or minimal fee) This site has a list of researchers that will help you get through dead ends. Check out the site for a better explanation of what is offered and how to request help or offer to help.

Remember, you are creating something your descendents will one day look at. You will be surprised, as I was, to learn that even small children are interested and will share what they find in your research. For example, and this is a true story, let me share with you what happens when that child shares information they find in your family research

My 8-year-old granddaughter was telling her friend about our ancestors one day. Being a child she went on and on. Finally, the friend told my granddaughter that she didn’t have any ancestors. This started one of those “Yes you do, No I don’t” arguments and eventually the girls went to my daughter, to see who was right. My daughter tried to explain that we all have ancestors, but before she could finish the little girl asked, “Well, where can I buy them at because I don’t have any!” To which my granddaughter answered “You get them from your grandma like my Grandma Kaye gave them to me!

Now, stop chuckling and start digging!

This is a guest article written by Kayellen Stakes

Photo by McPig
Family | March 16th, 2009 | Comments Off | View post page →