Think about the last time you were hungry. Maybe you were busy at work and lost track of time or you were running errands and put off eating until you got back home. Whatever the reason was, it probably left you feeling irritable and cranky until you were able to eat. Often when we’re hungry, all we can think about it food.
When children are sick with physical illnesses like cancer, the entire community rallies around the family. Friends bring casseroles, offer to watch the child’s siblings while the parents spend time with their sick child, and flood the family with tangible signs of love and support like flowers, cards, and balloons.
As a psychotherapist, I’ve seen what it like is to be a concerned parent of a child with a mental illness diagnosis. I’ve heard their stories as they sit in my office and tearfully tell me about sleepless nights filled with worry, the stress of going from doctor’s appointment to doctor’s appointment seeking answers, and the struggle of getting their child to comply with treatment.
My youngest daughter turns 13 in a few weeks. For the first summer in ten years of balancing work and motherhood, I don’t have to worry about the one expense that rivaled my mortgage: summer daycare. Many parents look forward to the day when their children will be old enough to supervise themselves—or even babysit other children—during summer days. But for parents of children who have mental illness, it’s a different situation. While I no longer plan summer daycare for my soon-to-be 13-year-old daughter, there’s no way I would have left my son Eric, who lives with bipolar disorder, home alone at the age of 13. He would not have been safe.
I’m a recovering perfectionist. In my writing, I’m always looking for a better way to phrase things (I’ve revised this sentence four times). As a teacher, I’m always tweaking my lesson plans and assignments to try to make them more effective and inclusive. And as a mother of four children, I sometimes agonize over being the best parent I can be, knowing firsthand that a mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child. Some days, that means I’ve been pretty anxious, stressed, and sad. One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in parenting a child with mental illness is that it’s okay to doubt myself—and even more importantly, it’s also okay to trust myself too.
You’ve noticed some changes in your child or teen and you’re wondering if something more is going on than them just having a rough day. Perhaps their teacher or coach has mentioned something to you about changes in their behavior. Maybe they are having trouble focusing in school, started acting out, crying in school, complaining of a stomach ache or having trouble making friends. Figuring out what is going on with your child can feel overwhelming as a parent. Where do you even start to try to figure out what is happening?