May 1st-7th this year is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week and of course, I could not just skip it. Mental health awareness is something I am passionate about raising. I’m an advocate about it because I have struggled with mental illness, both as a teen and now as an adult; I am also an advocate about it because I parent children who deal with mental illnesses or developmental delays.
Mental health has been a directing force in my life for as long as I can remember and I thoroughly agree with(and love) the theme this year-that mental health is a family affair. I know my struggles affected my siblings and parents growing up, just as I know my kids affect us in our day to day life.
There is still so much stigma surround mental health and children. I hear comments about it constantly: “Maybe if you tried disciplining him.” “Have you cut out red dye?” “She’s not that bad for ME.” There’s stigma to the point where I talk to other parents and consistently hear the same thing over and over again: “I would get him help, but I don’t want that diagnosis attached to their name.”
I felt like that. Despite being educated on mental health, despite being a self proclaimed activist and advocate, I feared what having those letters written next to their names would cause. The truth is? Your child will deal with their mental health and there will be struggles no matter what; getting a diagnosis will only help create an educated and loving environment where they can thrive with the correct help.
Today I’m going to be talking about some things I wish you knew, as a parent of children who struggle with their mental health.
1. I know how I sound like the meanest, worst parent ever some days. Trust me. I truly know. I know how it sounds when she tells you a little “white lie” ended up with her grounded for the day. I know how it sounds when he tells you I restrained him. But it’s never that simple. We deal with lying-constant lies. About things that don’t even matter, about super serious things, about us, and probably even about you. Lies, no matter how “little” can never be allowed because they grow. And what he doesn’t mention is he had the choice to get up or we offered to sit with him while he was in time out. He ended up being restrained why he started banging his head and was a danger to himself. I can’t always say these things in the minute or they tell you when I’m not around, but I promise, everything we do is out of love or as a last resort to keep them safe.
2. Please believe us. My daughter is a queen at manipulation. I’m not saying this in anger, I’m not saying it because she plays us sometimes. Her very diagnoses CALL for her to be manipulative. And she knows how to use it for her advantage. We don’t forget snack everyday. We don’t skip out on giving her hugs. She knows what is and is not allowed and yes-she will try to get you to allow what is not allowed. I’ve been told so many times kids don’t manipulate; that’s wrong. My child is sneaky. I know it’s something we will have to combat and deal with for a long time. I just want you to know and believe it.
3. Don’t tell me how to parent my children unless you’re their therapist or you’re raising an adopted child with mental health issues. I don’t care how many degrees you have, or children you’ve raised. I’ve tried attachment parenting, I’ve tried not grounding. I’ve tried different therapies and I’ve tried ignoring it. We’ve tried everything. And while what we have in place now definitely doesn’t work perfectly, to be completely vulnerable here? This was put into place by their therapists to keep us and them safe. Beyond that, she can screech she hates us or he can cry for an hour-this is how we stay safe. Until you know what it’s likes to sob outside your child’s door as she begs for a kiss goodnight-knowing full well if you went in, she would tell you she hates you again-you cannot begin to fathom what it’s like to parent a child like mine. So please. Keep your unsolicited parenting advice to yourself.I promise we cutout processed sugar, I promise we’ve tried just talking to them. I’ve even tried loving them a little more. We are doing what trained professionals have told us will probably work best. That simple.
4. Don’t “protect” your child from mine. Now, I don’t mean if one of my kids is hurting your child. Please, stop them and tell me in that situation. What I mean is their mental illnesses. Please don’t think you’re protecting your child or mine by not being age appropriately honest. One of the biggest problems with mental health is the stigma that surrounds it. My children have some different ways of processing, dealing with life, and histories than yours. It’s time we embrace neurodiversity and celebrate and acknowledge it. Don’t erase their mental diversity by pretending it’s not there. You are truly doing a disservice to not only my kids, but yours as well. And if you’re not sure the situation? Talk to your kids about the multitude of mental health things that could affect someone.
5. If you doubt my child, he will prove you wrong. My little guy gets this far more often. People believe they know what he is capable of and they deny his ability to do new and exciting things. Don’t do that. Don’t do that to any neurodiverse child. Assumed competence is never acceptable. And I won’t allow my child to be held down by what you *think* he can and can’t do. I made that mistake once, when doctors told me where he would end up and all the things he would never do. He’s doing them.
6. They won’t grow out of this. This is our forever. I’m not saying this as a parent whose given up-I firmly believe we will continue to watch them thrive and grow. My son has already surpassed where the first doctors warned us he would stay. My daughter has grown immensely as well, though hers are less noticeable on paper. But this is who they are. They will carry diagnoses with them their entire lives and we work to help them thrive with those specific troubles. I share a diagnosis with my daughter; and I still live with it everyday. Please don’t tell me they’ll grow out of it or dismiss the things we fought to get them help for. It doesn’t help us feel better; it feels dismissive of what happens in their minds and our lives daily. This isn’t just “normal childhood behavior”.
7. But sometimes it is normal childhood behavior. I live with my kids everyday; I’m home 24/7. When I reprimand one for something they’ve done, please don’t take on the “Oh, well they can’t help it” approach. There’s that assumed competence again. While I acknowledge their mental health will dictate some of their behaviors, it does not control who they are and when I say “No, they know not to do that!”, please, again, believe me.
8. If I ask you to, and trust you to, please…just let me cry, rant, whatever. I try very hard to hold myself in, for a few reasons. Number one being, I don’t usually mourn who my kids would be without their mental illnesses. (See below to understand why I say “usually”) I live with mental illness everyday and I know that for all the ways it was hard on my parents, it was hard on me as well and I know, not specifically, but in a roundabout way, the living in a brain where you aren’t always in control. I never want to speak over my children about these issues, because they are first and foremost things THEY have to deal with, not me. But some days? I’m tired. And I’m bruised. And I was just looked in the eye and told the most biting comments they could come out with because they wanted to hurt me and by golly, it hurt. If I trust you enough to come to you in that moment, if any person trusts you enough to come to you with their feelings, especially about their child, please listen. And try to ask questions so you can be educated on the matter. Some days I just really need a martini and to cry.
9. Learn about the things my children are dealing with. Actually learn about them too. Please don’t watch one Lifetime movie on an adopted child with attachment disorders and decide it’s just like that and my baby will burn down our house this week. I know how easy it is to take the movie and television shows at face value and think they’re truth of these diseases, but most the time they are not. There are so many great resources, both online and in libraries. I’m going to try and post some this week too! Educate yourselves on what those you love are living with day in and day out. (I feel pretty strongly about this as a woman with mental illnesses as well.)
10. I wouldn’t trade them for anything and we so love them. For us, it’s different when we talk about not wanting to trade who our children are when it comes to their neurodiversity. See, we don’t know what is because of how their brains were wired at birth and what is in reaction to trauma they met early on in life. Some days, I would trade that trauma. I wish they didn’t suffer through those things or the neglect during their developmental years and yes, while it would change them completely, I wish it never had happened. But I also love who they are. She’s gentle and loving. She is intelligent and can spend hours captivating your attention. I love who she is. I love who he is. He is spunky and sassy, but also so kind and gracious. I will never lie about the hardships they face each day with what they deal with…but that doesn’t mean I don’t adore every part of who they are.
Those are the ten things I want you to know as I raise children with mental illnesses! Please take this week to learn more about various things that take part in our children’s mental health and educate yourself on the many diseases, disorders, and delays that our children can face.