Recently a friend called me. She is a new mother and often feels that she isn’t doing the job right. Most of my time with her is listening and then reassuring her that she is a good mom and that as long as she loves her child and does what she thinks is best for her, everything will work out. We talk some about how important it is to have others as a sounding board – to get ideas, to compare notes, but mostly just to know that there are others out there who understand.
After the phone call, I got to thinking. It is so important that you do have a sounding board when you are a parent – yes, to get ideas, to compare notes, but most of all to know you are not alone in the big job called parenting. Lots of parents seem to do this naturally and those who don’t, usually have someone they can go to for answers to questions and support, however large or small that might be.
Unfortunately, that is not always the case with parents who have children who are mentally ill. They are often the ones who bear the brunt of misunderstanding. I’ve talked with many different women about how they feel about raising a child with mental health challenges and invariably the conversation centers on how often they feel little if no support in their parenting.
They are often confronted with people who think or say that they, as parent, are not doing their job. If they only did it right, set some rules, demanded obedience, things would be different. They say things like, “If that were my child, I would put him out the door and a few months of fending for himself would do the trick,” or “It’s your fault that such behavior is going on. You need to set rules and make sure they follow them” or something equally inane because raising a child who is mentally ill means that the parents do not have rules to follow.
When you are faced with a child who is bipolar or depressed or attention deficit or autistic or obsessive compulsive, there are no rules. There are guidelines that you can try, ideas that have worked for others but generally speaking, each case is different and difficult. You gather support from the doctor and the therapist (hopefully) and you try your level best to deal with the situation, feeling deep love, deep sorrow, and deep anxiety. Will my child overcome this? Am I safe with them? Are they safe with me? Why did my child have to deal with this?
Unfortunately, unlike my friend who can gather support in many different venues, mothers with mentally ill children often cannot. There are very few support groups out there for people in this situation. The shame still associated with having a “defective” child is still rampant. And the ever present question in the back of the parents’ minds, “What have we done to cause this?” Even when someone is versed in the medical knowledge in such diseases, there is no immunity. You want what is best for your child and when that can’t be, you rail against it, feeling deep, real pain.
So next time you see a child who is doing things you judge as “poor parenting”, stop and think about the fact that you don’t know the whole story. You don’t know what that parent has had to deal with day in and day out. You don’t know the pain.
And if you do and if you know someone who is dealing with that pain also, contact them and just offer coffee and a time to talk. It will make a big difference. We all need support as parents and people.
Filed under: anxiety disorder, Clinical depression, Mental health, mental illness, Parenting, stigma | Tagged: judgment, support | Leave a comment »