Parenting isn’t easy. Anyone who’s ever parented, or has even just been parented well knows that. Don’t they say, “It takes a village to raise a child”? As if to say raising children well takes more than just one person, it takes a community, right?
Let’s suppose, God forbid, that your child has been diagnosed with a very serious illness, such as diabetes or, dare I say it, cancer. My assumption is that the outpouring of support would be ample from the very start. From what I can tell, serious childhood illnesses like these are publicized and supported locally and nationally in many ways. There are 5K races, online campaigns, viral videos, fundraisers, and celebrity spokespersons offering their support to encourage donations and community involvement. And, of course, in our local communities, neighbors and friends seem to be willing and able to offer random daily kindnesses. They are bringing over lasagna, mowing the lawn, or caring for your other children when you take your sick child to the hospital. Yes, the entire village certainly seems to step in and help. And thank God, too. Because caring for a sick child is not only heart-wrenching, it is exhausting. Caring for a sick child can break you.
But now, let’s suppose, that your child has been diagnosed with a mental illness. What does the community do for you? How do they reach out and help?
(Crickets, the sound of crickets)
Childhood Cancers and other similar illnesses are tragic diagnoses, life-changing, and sometimes terminal. Parenting a child with such an illness requires on-going support. Parents need to be thoroughly informed, comforted, and encouraged to stay strong through the challenges ahead.
But, have we forgotten, Childhood and Teen Mental Illnesses are tragic as well? Life-changing…and yes, sometimes even terminal. Parenting a child with such an illness requires on-going support. Parents need to be thoroughly informed, comforted, and encouraged to stay strong through the challenges ahead.
Parenting isn’t easy. But when you are parenting a child with mental illness, the walls cave in. I know this first hand. And there are no neighbors offering lasagna at your doorstep. Because, it is likely, you haven’t told anyone. Because who would you tell? What would people think? What would they say? And what could they possibly do to help? So, often times, it’s just you. And your child. With perhaps their siblings, frightened and alone.
I met a mother this week, a mother of a son who has schizoaffective disorder. Her son is exactly my son’s age. We traded stories and some tears over coffee. The onset of my son’s bipolar diagnosis paralleled her son’s situation in many ways, only her son’s illness is relatively new, while my son’s illness has been a part of our lives for five years now.
As I relayed our family’s story to her, the tension in her neck, the quiver in her voice, the furrow in her brows all seemed to lessen a bit. She kept saying, “How do you do it? How have you been so strong? I am not sure I can do this…”
But, clearly, she can do this. Because she took a step I didn’t take when I should have. She reached out for help. When my son first presented with his illness five years ago, my walls all caved in. I didn’t tell anyone. And there was definitely no lasagna, no one to share stories, coffee and tears with. But now, thankfully, the stigma of mental illness is finally breaking down a bit. This other mother and I met through a local mental health organization that put us in touch when she contacted them for help. I became involved with the organization about a year after my son’s spiral into serious illness, after he’d begun self-medicating out of denial and after he made life-altering decisions that ultimately led to his incarceration. She, however, became involved at the onset of her son’s diagnosis. So her son, thankfully, is now getting help…and so is she.
This is progress.
Our communities need to acknowledge that parenting children with serious conditions, whether they are illnesses of the pancreas, the blood or the mind need help.
We need a village of support to do this right. I hope to be part of that village, if only for this one mother. Because nobody should have to do this alone.