As a teacher and a parent of four children, one of whom has bipolar disorder, some days I find myself staring at my computer screen, my mind frozen. What was I doing? Which of these 17 extremely urgent open internet browser tabs should I tackle first? Do I even dare check my email in-box? How long before I have to get dinner on the table? In the midst of my frozen panicked state, my Outlook calendar pings me to remind me it’s “Mindful Monday,” and I’m going to be late for the mindfulness workshop (again).
That November morning started like any other. I was making pancakes in the kitchen while my 7-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son set the table. Their older brother Eric, 13, soon joined us, prompted by the delicious smell of bacon wafting through the air. As I doled out pancakes, I noticed a stack of books on the counter.
In November 2010, I celebrated my first Thanksgiving as a full time single parent of a very special boy who had an un-diagnosed serious mental illness. Eric was barely eleven, but he had already been hospitalized and incarcerated for behavioral symptoms of his brain differences. Before that Thanksgiving, Eric’s father and I had shared joint custody, but a juvenile court judge had decided that Eric should stay with me full time while we worked to find a treatment that would help my sweet son to manage his increasingly unstable moods. I knew I should be grateful—but instead, I felt tired, afraid, and alone.
Let’s face it: Labels are useful. For consumers, labels can point us to a trusted brand, or give us important information about how to care for a new article of clothing, or tell us what kinds of nutrients are in the food we eat.
But children are not new shoes or breakfast cereals. Every child is unique, with special needs, abilities, and strengths. Learning how to focus on those strengths can be critical when parents talk to their children about mental health conditions.
For many parents, the middle of August is the most wonderful time of the year. After hearing a thousand iterations of “I’m bored!” and waging a positional (often losing) arms race against excessive screen time, we are thrilled to cram our children’s backpacks full of shiny new school supplies and post those “milestone” first-day-of-school pics to Instagram.
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.