At 23-years-old, Redditor "throwra848484748" is the eldest of five children with a bipolar mother.
He was forced to raise his siblings for most of his life to keep them from going to Child Protective Services (CPS).
Going to college with new living arrangements in the same town was a nice reprieve from the family situation. But a recent development forced him to involuntarily become the caregiver once more.
The Original Poster (OP) is asking for some help in the subReddit relationship advice after finding all four of his siblings abandoned on his doorstep.
They're unable to financially support them and their mother is MIA.
"Yeah. This is a doozy. I've been trying to post it since it happened but just haven't really been able to process it."
"So I'm 23M, and I'm the oldest of five siblings, the others are 16M, 14F, 10F and 10M."
"Our mother is severely bipolar but very resistant to treatment and, to be frank, is an absolutely sh*t mother."
"I've done my best my whole life to raise my siblings since she clearly isn't going to, and I like to think I've done quite well. I managed to keep them out of the Care system most of the time, at least."
When the OP started college, he decided it was time to reprioritize his life.
"Two years ago, I finally moved out of my mum's house and started university. I stayed in the same town in case the kids needed me, but I decided I had to start putting myself first a little bit and I couldn't keep putting off my own life because my mum is a failure as a parent, you know?"
"With the exception of a few minor incidents, it's actually gone rather a lot more smoothly than I thought thus far. I currently have a house with two other students from my uni, though one is currently back in her hometown for the lockdown."
As if self-isolation and shelter-in-place protocols don't already have their challenges, his new daily routine was suddenly interrupted.
"So, the problem. Yesterday, there was a knock on the door around noonish. I wasn't expecting anyone but figured maybe it was the postman or my flatmate had ordered out for his lunch or whatever and opened it."
"To my shock, all four siblings are stood on the doorstep looking about as confused as I felt."
"16yo informed me that Mum had dropped them off here without saying why or where she was going, and she was in the middle of a pretty intense manic episode and was just sort of rambling nonsenically instead of answering any questions."
The OP was perturbed for being forced into a familiar situation as a caregiver.
But not being able to reach their mother was more infuriating.
"Of course I wasn't going to abandon the kids so I let them in and have been trying desperately to get hold of mum ever since."
"I know she's getting my texts because I've been sending them on WhatsApp and it's showing me she's reading them."
"Also, when I call, it's ringing two or three times and then cutting out so she's clearly seeing the calls coming in and rejecting them, rather than it ringing out. I've tried reaching out to her friends with very similar results."
Fortunately, the OP's flatmates were very understanding and his siblings were temporarily situated.
This was not meant to be a permanent fix.
"I don't know what to do. I don't have the space for 4 kids in the house and it's so unfair to my housemate (though bless his soul he's an absolute angel of a guy and keeps telling me not to worry and he's fine with it)."
"I currently have the girls staying in other housemates vacant room (with her permission) and the boys are in my room with me."
"Obviously not ideal. I also frankly can't afford to take care of 4 kids all by myself. No idea what groceries are gonna look like from here on out."
"The kids haven't brought many belongings with them, so they don't have many clean clothes. 16M and probably 14F can get away with wearing my clothes if it comes to it, but I have no idea how I'm gonna clothe the twins if they're here for more than a few days."
"I don't want the kids going into the system if I can avoid it, I've had too many traumatic experiences with it myself. Can anyone wiser and calmer than I am offer some advice on what my options are here?"
Redditors offered solutions for consideration, including contacting the Department of Social Services for help.
"Call CPS, your siblings have something you didn't have when you were part of the system. You."
"CPS will see an adult sibling as a godsend. If you can point out what you would need to care for them until your mom can be brought back out of her manic episode, they will probably try to provide it."
"That might include mom in medical care and you taking the kids home and caring for them there along with financial assistance to cover for groceries. Nothing special, but the goal isn't for you to become a parent, the goal is for your mom to get treatment."
"Focus on giving the CPS a solution that makes sense."
"Good luck." – Desert_Fairy
"CPS's goal is always to 'maintain the family unit.' Often that ends up being the worst situation where the kids get sent to sh**ty family members, but here it seems like you'd probably be the best situation for them."
"CPS also has resources to get the kids clothes and other necessities."
"Also, not sure where you live, but most schools in my area are doing free meals for school kids, that can help alleviate the grocery budget."
"Schools often have social workers as well that can help guide you towards resources. Like everyone else has said, don't be afraid to ask for help."
"I know taking in four kids is not ideal, but having a positive adult figure in their life can mean the difference between them growing up into successful adults or following in their mother's footsteps."
"I work a lot with CPS, so if you need help navigating the system or anything at all, I'd be more than happy to help. Sounds like you're doing a great job already by being willing to take them in for even a little while." – pumpkinpeasant
"There is so much good advice here but I wanted to add something I haven't seen; make sure you enlist your siblings to work through this as a team."
"You are not the parent despite playing the role; you can all work together so you don't get overwhelmed. Ask the older ones to help with planning, preparing meals, etc. And come up with appropriate chores like washing dishes and whatnot that the younger ones can do."
"It will help lighten your load and gives them a chance to help you and their own situation and feel like you are all in this together." – xaqaria
This Redditor also suggested for the OP not to shy away from assistance as well.
"Also: get help for yourself. Like, get someone you trust who is good (or better than you) at whatever you are not."
"Need someone calm and collected? Need someone who is organized? Need someone who is good at research?
Need someone who will drive around, pick stuff up and leave it at your door?"
"Get someone (or a team of people) in your corner to help you. 4 kids are a lot, even if they're all great. Get help in this crisis so that you can stick it out for the long haul if need be." – DeerBunniesExist
Redditors reassured the OP that Social Services would not necessarily "snatch" his siblings away from him.
"My mom/grandma/aunt were all schizophrenic and on meds, and CPS never moved to take me from them, even though every one of them had episodes where they heard voices, hallucinated, and stopped providing for me. I had to institutionalize my mom on my own when I was in 8th grade...I was like 13 or 14."
"CPS didn't take me away from family even then. I just went from living with grandma, to mom, to aunt, and I only ended up in the system at 16 because my aunt had an abusive husband and he hit me. And being in the system was good for me--I was treated better in my group home than I ever was with blood relatives."
"My point is, CPS doesn't just snatch kids away. It takes a LOT for them to do anything. Since OP is an adult, CPS will endeavor to help him help his siblings."
"They prioritize keeping families together even when family members aren't healthy to be around, and it sounds like OP has his head on straight, so that's a big plus."
"People with stories about CPS taking kids away are A) making up myths for scare tactics (like to force their kids to behave--CPS becomes a boogie man), or B) are leaving a LOT of shit they did unsaid." – dunes-and-glass
A woman who is also from a similar situation commiserated and empathized with the OP.
"I know my comment is going to drown in the sea of comments here, and I think there is already some phenomenal advice."
"So, really, I just wanted to say that I empathize with you as an adult child of a bipolar mother. I only had one sibling (15 years younger than me), but I was more his mother than she was for many years of his life."
"My husband and I actually spent our first 4 years of marriage as 'new parents' to a teenager when my brother moved in with us! I can just imagine how resilient you are after creating some semblance of sanity for yourself, going to school, and overall adulting after living in chaos."
"Be proud of that, no matter what happens. And please make sure you get counseling if you don't already (when you are ready and have some resources)."
"At 39 and a year and a half after my mom has died, I'm still uncovering triggers or maladaptive coping mechanisms that could use some reprocessing. Anyway, I feel you!" – foylesphilavery
Under the assumption the OP was from the U.K., the Redditor suggested he contact the police.
"Phone the police non emergency line and tell them everything. There's two parts to this 1) the kids need looking after and 2) your mum needs help, probably under mental health act legislation."
"The police can track down your mum and detain her, and also ask social services to give you emergency help. This doesn't mean they have to go into care, that's a last resort for them especially with the lockdown."
"But they will be able to sort out living arrangements, food, etc. and when your mum is better, they should provide ongoing support to make sure something like this doesn't happen again, even if they need a CTO to make sure she takes her meds, attends appointments in the community etc."
"As for uni, if they're still providing distance learning, let your course organiser know even if it's a vague email right now saying you have a family emergency, to make sure you aren't penalised."
"They all get that corona is causing major problems in people's home lives so won't ask too many questions, and if you want support uni's often have financial and mental health aid available." – jefferlewpew
According to Healthline, bipolar disorders affect 5.7 million adults. If you or someone you know is struggling with bipolar disorder, they are not alone.
There are plenty of online resources available to get help, including the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).
Additionally, HeretoHelp is a network of nonprofit agencies specializing in mental health and addiction that offers an online toolkit to help people understand mental illnesses and offers problem-solving and communication tips.
These online support system are especially helpful during the pandemic while we are all self-isolating.
Hopefully, the OP and his siblings are getting the proper care they need, especially during this difficult time.
The book The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide: What You and Your Family Need to Know is available here.