Last month, I shared the story of my family’s struggles over the past year to help our daughter as she has struggled with traditional school.
In writing that essay, I struggled as well. I struggled to condense days and weeks and months of tears, confusion and helplessness into a narrative that made sense.
I struggled to show that Wendy isn’t the only one who has changed as we’ve worked through therapy. In fact, much of the change has been in the way my husband and I think – in taking Wendy’s feelings seriously rather than assuming she was just trying to “get out of” school.
I struggled to show both that we’ve made progress and that we’re not at the end of our journey. When I’m writing about my family, it’s easy to fall into the trap of writing a happy ending. The reality is we’re not there yet; even though we’ve made a lot of progress and we’re hopeful about the future, we still have a lot of difficult days.
I struggled to show just how much we have been talking in our family. There has been so much talking, among every possible combination of my husband, myself, Wendy and our older daughter, Alex. Then there are also the conversations with our therapist, with teachers, with administrators, with guidance counselors and school psychologists.
I also struggled to show how important I now realize all that talking is.
We need to talk
It’s important for kids to feel free to talk to their parents. That builds relationships and reinforces trust.
It’s important for kids to feel comfortable talking to therapists, their teachers and their peers. That lessens the stigma of mental health problems and empowers kids to advocate for increased understanding.
And it’s important for parents to talk with each other. That reassures them they’re not the only ones dealing with these problems and allows them to share resources.
I’ve received more reader feedback on this essay than I have on anything I’ve ever written. And I think that’s because many parents out there also understand the importance of talking about their experiences with their children’s mental health. I’ve been overwhelmed, humbled and moved to tears by the responses I’ve gotten from parents who have read my story.
I’ve been touched by people’s kindness in reaching out to let me know we’re not alone, for sharing deeply personal and often scary moments in their lives and for being so humble as to share their own parenting shortcomings and uncertainties.
I’ve heard from parents whose children couldn’t bring themselves to go to school. Parents who worked with their children’s teachers to figure out necessary accommodations. Parents who took their kids out to breakfast every morning or out to lunch every afternoon to give their children a point of connection to look forward to during school days. Parents who switched their children’s schools to better meet their needs. Parents who have consulted therapists. Parents who have had to medicate their children. Parents who have had to hospitalize their kids.
We need to share
All these parents have told me about their children’s struggles. They’ve shared the fear they’ve felt and the helplessness they’ve dealt with. But every single parent has also shared something else with me — the wonderful things about their children.
They’ve told me about their intelligence as they’ve struggled with schoolwork that doesn’t match their learning style. Their humor as they’ve unexpectedly cracked jokes during even their most difficult days. Their leadership as they’ve taken charge of daunting classroom situations to identify their own accommodations. Their empathy as they’ve opened up about their own problems in order to advocate for others who need help.
Over the past year, I’ve gained a better understanding of Wendy, not just her difficulties but also her strengths — her talent for art, her passion for social justice and her determination to figure out a better path for herself. I’ve grown in my admiration of her, and I’m constantly amazed by the emerging adult I see shining through the struggling teenager. The parents who have shared their stories with me clearly feel the same about their children.
In my years writing about parents, kids and families, I’ve often told my colleagues and editors how open parents are to those who are willing to listen. They want to share their cute kid stories and talk about how amazing their children are, of course, but they also want to swap stories about the hard parts of raising kids. They want to know they’re not alone.
That feeling of being alone, that fear of being the only one who’s having problems, that isolation — those worries have been exacerbated by the pandemic. It feels better when we know there are other parents dealing with the same things. It helps us to feel seen. It lessens the stigma of mental health problems. And it allows us to share strategies that have helped us.
We need to help
You, parents who have responded to my story, have helped me. Your willingness to share your stories means more than you know.
I want to help you. I want to help you share your stories. I want to help the parents who haven’t shared their stories, but who are reading and can learn they’re not alone.
So, please, reach out to me.
Tell me about your child’s mental health and about your own mental health.
Tell me how things are going at school.
Tell me about how you’re talking to your kids, or how you’re struggling to reach them.
Tell me about the resources you need, the experts you would like to hear from, the questions you have.
And, always, tell me about how wonderful your kids are.
I’d like to continue the conversation.
I’d like to give you a call and talk to you in more detail about what you’re dealing with. I’d like to share those stories.
And I’d like to expand on those stories. I’d like to reach out to the experts, to find the resources you need to help solve the problems you’re experiencing, and to share those in future articles so we all know where to go and who to talk to when our children are struggling.
So please, send me an email at [email protected] Let’s talk about our kids.