Why I Made the Decision Not to Have Children as a Man With Schizophrenia
It isn’t because I don’t like kids, because I do. I get excited with my friends when they post pictures of their kids on social networks. They are beautiful, and I can see that family means so much to my friends. The best job I ever had was a preschool teacher’s aide before I joined the Army. Every day was something new with these kids — finger painting, building blocks, singing and laughing. Watching them learn new ideas and catch on to new concepts was thrilling. They called me Mr. Jason — what a great title! As much as I loved being around those preschoolers, I made the permanent decision not to have children of my own.
I can’t help, however, wondering about the positive sides of parenting I won’t experience. I don’t know what it is like to actually watch your child being born, and I will never know. Teaching them to spell their name, watching them learn a new sport or musical instrument or go from training wheels to a “big boy” bike.
Two experiences had an impact on my decision not to have children. I heard a story on NPR about a woman who was riding in a taxi and passed her father who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, as he was climbing into a dumpster. Another was a one-woman show in which a person talked about her mentally ill parents and how that had affected her life. Her show was meant to be funny, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for her.
I know a diagnosis of schizophrenia and the responsibility of a child would be too intense for me to handle. Kids can be very resilient, but they can be fragile at times. I’ve watched my nephews and my niece experience some of life’s triumphs and failures. Both of their parents have to be fully engaged to continuously give them the attention and support they need at all stages of their lives. I am also aware children can misinterpret events going on around them. It would be easy for a child to misunderstand some of my coping mechanisms and my reactions.
I can only imagine what it would have been like to have a child of my own. What if I decided to have a kid? Even though my medications lessen the symptoms of my mental illness, I still can be distracted by voices or some paranoia. A parent should never be distracted around a child. Sometimes, when I’m having a bad day, I isolate myself to cope with a symptom. As a parent, I would not be able to take a break or “time-out” from my family.
After I had made the decision myself not to father any children, I felt it was important to talk to my support system. I talked to my parents who were understanding and let me know that they would not in any way be disappointed. Next, I talked to my primary care physician at the VA, where I receive my medical care. She suggested I might want to talk to my psychiatrist and psychologist. Both of them were supportive of my decision to have a vasectomy. They had worked with me for several years and were confident this was my choice, and it was an appropriate one for me.
When I was 18, I didn’t want a normal life, but I wanted to have an extraordinary life; however, a diagnosis of mental illness was not what I had in mind. On my journey to today, I have been through many ups and downs. I’m thankful I did not have a child who needed my time and attention. Passing on a tendency toward mental illness is a chance I am not willing to take. At this time in my life, my own issues preoccupy much of my days. I know I would have difficulty being a good husband or father. I have made this decision for my unborn children. I’m playing it safe, and for me, this is a good decision.
A version of this article was originally published on Schizophrenia Bulletin, Volume 45, Issue 6.
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