The author hears a lot from parents with children suffering from mental disorder. Seeking his advice might not be wise, though. Here’s why.
Mood music for this post: “Sweet Chols ‘O Mine,” by Guns N Roses:
Since starting this blog, I’ve been hearing a lot from parents. They’ve read about the trials of my own childhood, see things in their own children that cause worry, and want my advice.
Not a good idea for a few reasons:
Every child’s experience is different.
I don’t think I was born with a mental disorder. I’m pretty sure it developed over time, the result of the damage disease inflicted on me physically, mixed with a lot of death and strife I had to go through which, in turn, led to self-destructive behavior that knocked my brain chemistry out of whack.
Parents I’ve talked to have kids with clinical mental disorders right now, whether it’s OCD or ADD.
If your child is among them and is seeing a good therapist — and if you as a parent are doing everything possible to help the child through it, you are already doing the right thing and don’t need advice from me.
If there’s turmoil in your house that is difficult on a child — divorce, abuse from the other parent or from someone outside the family, a recent death, a serious illness — that’s stuff I can relate to, but even there no two experiences are the same.
Here’s the good news, though. Very good news:
The understanding and treatment methods for mental disorders are head and shoulders over what was available when I was a kid. Back then, kids with emotional problems were often written off as troublemakers or “slow.” Not in every case, but more so than what we have today.
I remember, back at Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School, being put in a special class with other kids. The troubles were mixed. A couple of us were way behind in our reading skills and needed extra help. A couple others were prone to wild behavior.
Looking back, we probably had a mix of problems that weren’t the best fit for that kind of class. I don’t fault the teachers and administrators, some of whom are good friends today. I think they did the very best they could with the information they had back then.
Today the information is much clearer, the action items much more solid and targeted to the child’s specific needs.
Parents are given better direction on things to do at home.
Medication is much more effective.
As a result, you don’t have nearly as many kids being written off as damaged goods. In that sense, this is a great time to be a parent.
I also consider myself pretty lucky because the work I’ve done on my own problems has made me a better parent. When my children go through some difficulty, I have the mental muscle and coping tools to share with them.
If you think your child is suffering from mental illness, don’t come to me first. Talk to a doctor first. Your child will more often than not be led to the right kind of help that only trained professionals can give.
Then, after you’ve done all that, I’m happy to share some war stories. Sharing is what I have to give, but it’s always going to be colored by my own strange history.
But this much I can tell you:
If your child might be having mental health issues or you’ve just found out he/she does, be patient. That child is going to need a lot of positive reinforcement and some days it’ll take every scrap of strength you have. It’ll tire you out, which makes you more prone to yelling and throwing up your arms in frustration.
Remember that you can’t take care of your children unless you take care of yourself. That means eating properly, getting enough sleep and avoiding self-destructive behavior at all costs.
Take it from me: If you have addictions and let them run wild in an attempt to comfort yourself, you will be an absolutely shitty parent and spouse.
These things can put a marriage through the test as well, but if you make a point of having the frequent “date night” with your other half, your chances of surviving increase substantially.
You also have to take some time every day to get quiet time with your spouse. I can’t take credit for that revelation, though. I learned that one from my wife.
If you don’t have a hobby or other form of relaxation, you need to find one, because that will also help you cope. For some it might be model-ship building or surfing. For me, it’s Heavy Metal and History.
And here’s the most important thing: You need to have Faith. The saying “Let Go and Let God” is something I love.
It doesn’t mean give up, stop trying, go lie in the corner and let God sort it out.
To me, it means accepting that you can’t control most of the chaos around you, but for those of us with Faith, there’s peace in the foregone conclusion that the Man has a plan, and if you trust Him it’s all going to work out.
Call that crazy if you will. But my experience is that it’s true. And experience is all I have to share here.