When Should I Commit My Kids: Jennifer, Brad

In over Their Heads
Jennifer and Brad have captured a few of Brenna's hysterics on home video.


On stage with Dr. Phil, the couple admits they are in over their heads. Brad says, "It's incredibly difficult, as you can see there, and that's post a lot of treatment too."

"She's been through years of treatment," Jennifer says. "She started therapy when she was 6 years old. She's been on medication since she was 6 years old. She's been to two residential treatment centers and nothing has changed."

Brenna has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental illness characterized by mood instability that can be serious and disabling. Although the diagnosis can be controversial, Jennifer and Brad believe it to be true because many of Brenna's doctors have come to the same conclusion. Brenna is on three medications that make her disorder manageable: Depakote, Seroquel and Abilify.

[AD]Jennifer and Brad have another daughter, Ailish, 12, who has also been in treatment. Ailish was first diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder like her older sister. Ailish has also shown some violent tendencies toward her parents and her younger sister, Kieran, who's 9. Kieran is healthy and happy, and Jennifer says Ailish hates her for that.

Brenna and Ailish have both been gone from the home for the last three years, as they received treatment. They returned home a few months ago, and Jennifer says nothing has changed.

Jennifer and Brad explain a worrisome incident with Ailish and her doll.


"You cleaned the doll up and gave it back to her. Why did you do that?" Dr. Phil asks.

"She went back to treatment very soon after that, and we had put the doll away," Jennifer says. When Ailish came home, she asked for the doll so they put it back in her room. Jennifer says they try to pick their battles.

"And we cleaned it up immediately afterward, mostly for Kieran's benefit. It was frightening to her," Brad says.

[AD]"It was frightening to her because she's saying, ‘This is me,'" Dr. Phil says.

"Absolutely. We all thought that," Jennifer says.

Dr. Phil introduces Dr. Frank Lawlis, chairman of the Dr. Phil advisory board and author of Retraining the Brain: A 45-Day Plan to Conquer Stress and Anxiety. He asks permission for Dr. Lawlis to meet the girls backstage and work with them on some relaxation techniques. They agree.

"One thing we know is that both of these girls have genius-level intelligence," Dr. Phil points out.

In another home video, Jennifer reacts to one of Brenna's tantrums, while the girl sits on the floor, unresponsive:

Jennifer: I am at my wits' end. I don't know how to get her to do what she is supposed to do.

Brad: Right, and I mean, this is a situation where I see her using her illness as a method to just get out of doing the chores.

Jennifer: I've had it. I've had it. I can't fight like this every day. I'm so furious with you right now, Brenna. I am so furious. You cannot do this to us!

Brad: This is really unfair to everybody and to your sisters.

Jennifer: You're so mean to your whole family, because you're selfish and don't want to do your chore. I've had it!

[AD]Back onstage, Dr. Phil tells the couple, "Let's be straight-up honest about this. If I was going to prescribe what I would want a mother to do with a child, yelling at her would not be on the list, shaming her about what she had or hadn't done would not be on the list, guilt-inducing her about how she was impacting the rest of the family would not be on the list." He acknowledges Jennifer and Brad's ordeal. "Let's talk about the reality here. This is a multi-year march with a child. There comes a point when your coping skills, your resources, your ability to be a mom in a cool and straightforward manner is just depleted."

See home video of Jennifer talking to Ailish. Dr. Phil tells them he's concerned.

"I'm just telling you objectively, from my standpoint, it is apparent to me that this label has been detrimental to these girls," Dr. Phil says. "They interpret that in such a way, they kind of demonize themselves, they kind of put themselves in a very negative light, whereas an enlightened conversation with adults or professionals could say mental illness is like a gallbladder problem. You don't need to have shame and guilt with it. But because of the way others react to them, and because of the label that's been put on, I fear they will live to the label."

[AD]Brad explains that they try to make the girls understand that they are very smart and have other gifts.

Dr. Phil says it takes a thousand positive comments to offset one negative. "They get a lot of criticism, a lot of conflict because of their tantrums, they're labeled as mentally ill, and then those tremendous gifts, which they clearly have, can kind of get lost in the background," he says.