Still to this day I rarely categorize myself in the “mental health” arena, let alone any category. I’m not really a inside the box, need a label kinda gal.
And furthermore I really don’t like the phrase “mental health” it makes me feel crazy. Crazier than I already am. I prefer: Mental Wellness. But lets not get caught up on words here. OK?
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and that means…well…what does that mean exactly?
That means for nearly the past 30 days it’s not a bad idea to stop and consider your state of mind. And how maybe, just maybe, we are all fighting our own battles behind closed doors. That we all have a struggle. That we all just might need a mental health day…or twenty.
As a mom of three and someone who has battled mental health challenges most of her life, my greatest concern upon having children was I prayed my children would not have to struggle the way I did.
I pray I can stop the cycle so they won’t have to live the life I did. And struggle in secret like I did. And feel alone like I did. And scared like I did. And most of all, live in fear of being judged, laughed at, and rejected for something I didn’t choose. For something I never signed up for. For simply being me.
I sometimes worry I am messing up my kids. I sometimes over evaluate them in fear they are showing signs of an addict. Someone with low self-esteem, emotional or mental struggles.
Ugh! It’s enough to drive a mom mental.
But as a mom who has struggled and currently works to keep in check her own mental health challenges. The mental health of my children is 100% on my radar. And I feel it is vital to share that we not wait until our children are adults, even teens to act on any concerns.
What can we do as parents to help our children?
Communicate the super uncomfortable and challenging things. You know what I am talking about. The things that your parents just assumed you knew about. The things that you had to “figure out” all on your own. The things that you assume everyone understands, except they aren’t everyone else. They are kids.
Being a parent has truly challenged me to face most all of my insecurities.
For example, my kids seeing me fail. Or letting them in to understand finances. Me being comfortable with my body, so they can be comfortable with theirs. Them seeing me naked and not freaking out like it’s shameful. Disciplining my kids, but also explaining to them “why” so they understand that “they” are not bad, or wrong, or a mistake. Talking about your period like it’s natural-because it is. Explaining bodily changes, hormones, stress, fear, failure in ways that do not make it all seem bad or taboo. But a part of life, that we are all in together.
This may seem silly or even stupid to some reading this. But here is the thing: as someone who has suffered severely from addiction, depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia and feeling rejected. These are many of the things that made it all that much more confusing. And pushed me over the edge before I even knew I was off it.
I believe that mental health, or mental wellness has to start with the little things. As a parent who has struggled with this most of her life, I am very sensitive and there are no barriers to making sure my kids get the help and support they need. I just don’t get why seeking aid in this way for your kids is still a “last resort”, or for some not even a option.
My oldest is very emotional and last year in school he was unfortunately teasing and talking under his breath during class to a few classmates. And on top of it made a comment about the way someone looked while wearing sun glasses, not knowing it was something the other child was sensitive to.
It eventually got to the point where I happened to be at school when he did it again, and we pulled him from the school activity. I knew the parents of these girls and young boy were upset and clearly not happy with me. And in discussion with my son he, in all honesty, told me he wasn’t that sorry for some of it.
I could tell something was bothering him. I could tell there was something more to it that that. Not in relationship with these other children, but within himself.
Now I’m being vulnerable and sharing this with you all because I am not ashamed. And I can’t be with my kids every second. And I cannot control my kids at every moment. But I can respond in a way that can best serve my child. I knew right then and there my son needed someone else to talk to. Someone else to share with. Someone else he can feel safe with. Someone else who could give him perspective and insight beyond my husband and I and teachers.
So, that summer I arranged for him to see a counselor. We called it “his class with Michael”. And it was the best thing this mom could have ever done. It reinforced what we had been trying to say to him and teach him. And it gave us a place to communicate and most importantly for him to communicate.
Now some of you may be saying: Was that really necessary? As many of us have learned to wait until things get really bad to do something like this. Or because of shame we don’t want to admit our child needs help. More help than we can give them at that moment.
Like, why is seeking mental health support not as comfortable as getting a prescription for strep throat?
That summer Michael played a HUGE role in my sons confidence, understanding, and processing of emotions.
During that time a few parents and family members that knew of this looked at me like: “why are you doing that, he’s fine”. But he wasn’t, I saw myself in him. I saw a young boy struggling to process how he felt. And if you have ever been there as a parent, I assure you, that you will not damage your child by bringing more aid to them. But take a moment and imagine looking back and wishing you would have?
To those parents who judged me because my child was misbehaving? You didn’t know it, but that situation helped me too. How? Because it reminded me I cannot be concerned with what others think of me. An acceptance issue that has been a nail in my side for most my life. I wanted to over fix the situation. But I left it. I wanted to ask for your apology as a parent, but I just left it.
Because I had to remind myself I do not need their approval and validation that I am a good parent. I need not assure them my child is not a bad kid. Because I know we all are only doing the best we can. And be careful who you judge, because it just might come back to you.
For many parents, at the first sign their child has a cold, or appears to be sick, there is no concern or questioning getting them on antibiotics right away, and sometimes I would even argue it is a bit overkill. So why aren’t we looking at our children’s mental health, their mental well-being in that light?
I urge you all, parent or not to put all your personal issues aside and see your kids as they are. To attend to them in the best possible way that has nothing to do with you. Seeking help is not a bad thing. Would you ever look down on someone for seeking treatment for cancer? Or a tummy ache? Or a headache? Or dizziness? More than likely no. So I urge you to do the same for you and your child’s well-being, especially when it comes to their mental health and wellness.
Having a therapist has been the on of the best things in my life. Having my son get the opportunity to have a positive experience with Michael was a win for our family, and more importantly a huge game changer for my son and his future.
This past year has been an empowerment for my son. He occasionally comments about how proud he is of himself. That he has found positive coping strategies for his emotions. How he has done so well with stepping back before he reacts. He, at 10 years old already has this insight. An insight and coping strategies that will serve him his entire life. An insight I wish I would have had at age 10, then, maybe, my story would have been a bit different.
So I ask you. What does your child need? And if you are not supplying that for them because of your own issues, concerns, or worries how you will be seen? Please step back and take a breath. As someone who has struggled most her life with mental health and wellness concerns, the only worry you need have is approaching mental health as though it is a bad thing.
And it is most definitely not.