Parents Living A Private Hell
Forget all the parenting labels -- helicopter parents, free-range parents, or otherwise. Forget all the advice for parents of "typical" children about how to teach childhood responsibility and strategies for raising teens. Forget the common parent worries about friends, extracurriculars, and even grades. Because for another group of parents, these concerns are secondary to the concerns that frame their daily lives. And these are about as real as they get.
From the mouths of parents over the past two weeks at a conference and parent support group meeting...
I don't know if my child is going to make it through school next year.
He's been diagnosed with three different things and we don't know what to do and where to start.
We've tried everything and absolutely nothing is working.
I've had to call the police because I'm afraid for and of my child. More than once.
Our families and neighbors don't understand and we're avoiding going out.
Who are these parents? They're people in your family. In your workplace. Living next door. They're parents with degrees and important jobs. Parents who are working overnight shifts because their days are spent on call. Parents who yearn for a little respite care - for themselves - yet find none. Parents who have looked at what's before them with a level of intensity and examination that few would believe. Or understand.
These are the parents - very often working parents - whose children are struggling. And these parents are struggling too. Their kids have any number of diagnoses...and many with more than just one. Autism. Depression. Dyslexia. Oppositional defiant disorder. They're parents whose stories are as real and painful to hear as they are for them to share. Yet share they do, because they're looking for support, an answer, a new possibility, a little encouragement. Can you imagine if your daily life - and I mean every, single day - was unrelenting worry and constant fear of the known and unknown?
What makes this important to discuss now with another school year coming to a close is this...few things have changed over the 15 years I've been working in this arena. Sure, there continues to be a flurry of interventions, apps, and tools that are helping some children. New medications and diets. Sleep strategies and internet protections. Yet the reality is that parents today remain as overwhelmed and unsure of their next steps as they were a decade ago. Only today, there are more things to evaluate and more options to consider; sometimes more choices create more confusion. The only thing that has really changed is that there are more parents struggling with these issues. And often out of view.
Each and every one of these parents is drained and many are in emotional pain, not because they're lazy, disengaged, or in denial but because of the complexities of their children's needs and the impact on school, family, work, finances and beyond.
The mental health issues facing these parents are very real. We know the impact of unrelenting stress and how depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and divorce can enter the mix. We also know that a parent working at reduced capacity can't possibly give 100% to their child, their job, or even themselves.
There are no easy answers or solutions yet sometimes what a parent really needs is for someone to ask, "Is everything okay?" and be willing to shoulder what comes next. They say that parenting is a thankless job, yet for these parents, the thanks come in very small victories that often only they can see.
Reaching the finish line of yet another school year is a major accomplishment for parents who have been or continue to be living a private hell. They deserve and have earned respect and support from us all. From me, they get this and a helluva lot more.