Helping Our Kids Means Helping Parents
Updated: Dec 30, 2018
Last December, after I had this awareness and developed this respect for the fact that my childhood did figure tremendously into what I was dealing with as an adult, I started reading my old journals from when I was a girl.
See, I had begun faithfully documenting life at about 12 years old, while a 6th grader until the first month of my freshman year in high school. And today I’m so grateful I did. I have brief moments prior, starting at about 9 years old, where I committed for a few days, and then put the Hello Kitty diary away, only to pick it up several months later and capture another poignant and meaningful moment in time.
But from the time I started hardcore journaling, a span of 2-1/2 to 3 years, I will have lived in (3) different homes. Switched junior highs & had to start over again in a strange school and make new friends. And I will have begged for help in understanding my feelings of depression, anxiety & emptiness I was feeling. And will have had those requests ignored.
In my diaries, I wrote about my anger. My confusion. How I hurt myself by punching walls until my hands bled because I had no idea how to regulate the raging pain I was feeling in a healthy manner. And worst of all, I didn’t know why I felt this way. I just knew I desperately wanted to feel loved.
On the other hand, I excelled in school. I loved to write. I loved drama & theater. I loved to sing but was terrible at it. I ran fast. I set hard picks in basketball. I was a yearbook photographer. I was a cheerleader. I did not drift away to the fringes and dark shadows to hide that some kids do when they are feeling lost. I maintained very well. And perhaps that’s why no one really bothered to believe me when I said I still didn’t feel right.
If only they could have looked into a crystal ball to see the adult woman I’d become as a result…
Last December, that is the real awareness I had: The foundation of my present 46-year old self was built upon my lost, frightened and lonely 6 year old, 11 year old, 13 year old and 18 year old self’s experiences.
So, this morning, I woke up early like I always do. Snapchatted with my daughter, who kicked off her summer vacation by going on a trip with her dad to London, and drank coffee while listening to an audiobook about marketing. The book then started the synapses firing in my brain – which is why I listen to them – and I hit the pause button on Audible and dove into Instagram to do some research.
I didn’t know what I was looking for per se – it was a reconnaissance mission to figure out what I needed to hunt for first. But I starting searching hashtags around the areas of mental health awareness and the like.
Eventually, I found myself viewing profiles of young women. Some of the anonymous fourteen year olds sharing dark images of suicidal thoughts to young 20-somethings with successful non-profits dedicated to eating disorders.
I read some of their stories and learned about their experiences of being sent to therapy. And how the parents seemed to participate on the sidelines as a spectator and witness to their child’s own disorder – as if they had no part in it. And I saw where in these stories, it appeared treatment was centered solely on this young woman and fixing her – as if she were born defective & flawed. Which gave me these mixed feelings of sadness and, yes, anger.
That’s what led me back to the original thought in this story today – my own asking for help at 13 years old. And I contemplated my circumstances and realized it likely would not have actually helped if I alone had gone to therapy or a counselor. Because in reality, I had tremendous support in my schools from teachers and other parents, who cheered me on regularly and let me know I had gifts that would take me far. And those did help me. They must’ve have. But it didn’t save me from the future I had ahead of me. It only softened it and gave me the resilience I'd need to survive it.
Because I know now that sending kids back home to a place where no one else is being asked to be reflective of their own actions and their own culpability in the care and well-being of their children’s emotional needs only undermines whatever a therapist is trying to do for that child.
Famed child psychologist and psychotherapist, John Bowlby, is the father of Attachment Theory and started a seismic shift in our understanding of the bonding between children and their maternal caregivers. In fact, Alan Sroufe and Daniel Siegal, two notable clinical professors in child psychology and development, believe that Bowlby’s theory that the emotional quality of our earliest attachment experience with our central caregiver is the most important influence on human development. That is because Bowlby began to really understand that children with inconsistent, anxious and unreliable parents, particularly mothers, will become troubled children.
So while, this shaped the understanding of human emotional development and studies would confirm Bowlby’s theory in the years following, it is still routinely neglected today that Bowlby also noted in his early years of studying distressed and troubled children that you couldn’t treat the child without treating the parent and a call to provide parental support.
“Just as children are absolutely dependent on their parents for sustenance, so in all but the most primitive communities, are parents, especially their mothers, dependent on a greater society for economic provision. If a community values its children it must cherish their parents.” John Bowlby, Reference.
So this circles me back again to today – putting our kids into therapy and counseling but sending them to home to the same environment is not helping them because it’s THAT very environment that actually created the problems to begin with. We don’t have a glut of mental diseases or anomalies in DNA causing this alarming increase in suicide, self-harm or eating disorders in our daughters.
What we have is an enlarging misunderstanding of emotional evolution combined with changing parental stress that has been building on itself like an unsteady house of cards for the several generations.
Your home might not be “unhappy” or fraught with physical abuse or drug problems or anything obviously traumatizing. But it still can be unhealthy and not well suited for healthy emotional development. And, if you are a parent reading this right now, that may very well be the result of your own upbringing.
I’ve said this before and I will say this again – if you’re kids are unhappy, please, take a moment and ponder “What if that’s actually all my fault?”
Don’t do it with shame or guilt. Do it from a place of love. And regard the answer as an opportunity to not only help your child grow into a happy adult but an awakening for you to be a better person as well.
My purpose in life shifted when I my eyes were finally cleared now over 6 months ago. I understood that we, as society, need to start being told to “Wake Up” from this dream and fog we didn’t know we lived in. A voice needs to be cutting through murk so that others can hear it and follow it out to the bright light that is available.
So, I am sticking my hand out and asking people to grab it and walk with me because I think I found a path that is certainly worth exploring. I know that in my short time here, it has certainly led me to much better places for not just me, but more importantly – my children. And I am willing to walk a few steps ahead, and call out the way posts when I find them so that you can safely travel with me.
I’m looking forward to this journey. I hope you will join.