Ok before going any further with this post I need to explain a couple of things…
Firstly, this post is about mental health and parenting of children (adult and younger) with mental health related challenges. and
Secondly, this post is by no mean meant to be having a pop at anyone especially not my own parents, adopted or biological.
Actually I was reading one of the blogs that I follow A Manic Depressive’s Journey Through Life, Philosophy and Science and James the owner of that blog raised a question about difficulties with one of his parents and that got me to thinking and has led to this post.
In essence James shares that actually one of his parents is very supportive and yet the other is less supportive when it comes to understanding and accepting the way James’ mental health and subsequent medication affects him.
Having suffered from poor mental health all of my life (or certainly for as much of it as I can remember) I can certainly share my take on it all and my own experiences.
James mentioned in his post that he is very open and honest with his parents about is mental health and how his medication is affecting him saying that is “the only way that I really see as the way to be with parents.”
I have to commend James for this but I also have to admit that this is not something I have really been able to do.
In terms of my mental health in my younger life, actually I learned very early on to hide it as best I could. Why did I do this or learn this? Well I think you have to remember that I grew up in an age when mental health issues in a child was very much seen as a stigma for both the child AND especially for the parents.
Additionally, my siblings did not understand what was going on inside of my head. If I mentioned things, or behaved in such a way that was out of the ordinary, they would unwittingly comment or look at me in a way that – well let’s just say it- discouraged me from opening up about it all. So hiding it all became the best way to deal with it and I just would just pay the consequences for my “bad behavior” or my “rebellion” when actually it was something much deeper, more innocent and very often beyond my control.
And this brings up a very important point, doesn’t it? How should parents respond to a child with mental health related challenges?
You see parents have very specific and extremely important roles and responsibilities in a child’s life don’t they?
They are meant to; educate, nurture, love, protect, guide, heal, discipline, support, encourage and help their children to grow and develop, etc.
As children we look to our parents and rely on them. And yes whilst I accept that as we do grow and develop our need to rely on our parents reduces (and thus their need to train, educate, guide, protect, discipline us as their children should also reduce) the fact is that I do not believe that it should ever be fully removed – especially where the child in question has mental health related challenges. I believe this because very often the child with mental health related issues will experience either a confusion or a lack of confidence in his or her perceptions and understandings.
So when a parent of a child who suffers from poor mental health doesn’t parent properly this can seriously affect a child. Ask yourself this, if a parent of any child refuses to parent that child,doesn’t it nearly always result if problems?
Let’s be totally realistic here, we only have to look at society today and the amount of youth crime, in connection with the amount of broken marriages /families to see that there is a very definite link there.
The world is not a very friendly place and we all too often go around deliberately or inadvertently hurting each other and when a parent doesn’t parent the child always suffers in one way or another.
As I said I am not intending to have a pop at anyone here and certainly not my own parents. But as a child whilst my parents could parent me, for better or for worse, they were not able to parent my mental health because I would not let them. This being as a result of my not trusting that I could let them.
But as I mentioned I did grow up in an age where mental health was treated very differently and indeed where mental health in a child was seen as a stigma on the parents. Additionally my father was a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy and a very strict and dutiful man.
Actually little has changed over the years in respect of the whole question of my mental health when it comes to my parents and my ability to share with them.
Having pretty much tried to hide my mental health from my parents and my siblings all of my life, a few years back I determined to finally open up about it. Seeing as my mother was coming over to visit with my son and I for a week I thought I would start with her. My father had already died by this point in my life.
Coincidentally that week (actually the day after my mother arrived) Steven Fry was showing the first half of a documentary that he had made on Manic Depression. So I arranged for us to be able to sit and watch this alone together in the hope that it would provide an excellent foundation for me to open up about my manic depression and mental health with her and our then talking the whole thing through.
But I have to tell you the whole thing was a disaster. Not because of the way that my mother reacted to my mental health (we didn’t even get that far) but because of her reaction to the documentary.
Comments like, “Well he needs to grow a back bone” and “we never had all these syndromes in my day” were common place as we watched the documentary. Coming from an attitude of “of course it is a different world now to when I grew up. In my day you just learned to deal with these things and make the best of life without needing all this attention and mollycoddling.” Serving only to put me off actually discussing my mental health.
So it was over year later before I broached the subject again – doing so in letters to her and to each of my siblings rather than in person.
Again I mean no criticism here. My mother is as much a victim of her upbringing and the understandings of her age as my father was of his.
The responses to these letters were varied and ranged from; an attempt to understand in one case, an attempt to shift the blame for mental health in the family away from one side of the family line and onto the other side in another case, a total lack of response in another case and finally a non-involvement based gesture of sympathy in another case.
Each of these different responses elicited different reactions in me before I came to the understanding that actually each of these individual responses had far less to do with me (and my difficulties with my mental health) than they did with the respondents and their difficulties with my mental health and mental health in general.
And actually it was my son who showed me this in no uncertain terms without his even speaking about it. Actually it was a result of his refusal to talk about it…
My son, just like all of my kids, is a wonderful son and has been a true God-send in my life. Unlike my adopted kids he has been able to physically be with me and live close to me most of the time and so has seen my poor mental and physical health first hand and has been my carer for years.
Almost always there for me, he has, from a very early age witnessed my mental and physical health problems first hand and has picked me up off of the floor, bathed me, washed me, fed me, cared for me, bandaged me, rescued me, saved me and helped me more times that I care to think of. And more times than any child ever should have to.
BUT he does not want to and simply wont talk about my health or indeed that day when it all gets too much for me or my body and the end of my time on this earth comes.
And here is the reason why as far as I can make out. There is nothing he can do to prevent it or to alter it and that inability despite his love for me disturbs him.
Actually that can be a difficult situation because, as I learned, at first the less he wanted to talk about it the more I needed to talk with him about it. And the more I needed and tried to talk to him about it the more it put him off talking about it – because the more it rubbed in that lack of control he had over it all.
And here’s the deal, I see similar responses to those mentioned above in my adopted family with some of my adopted kids and my adopted parents to varying degrees. And this is neither a criticism or a bad thing because as much as we recognize and know our own needs in this situation we must also recognize their needs in it all.
I said earlier. I was not writing this piece in order to have a pop at my biological or adopted parents and family. I truly mean that and nothing I have said is intended in that way. Indeed things have improved some with my biological family. And in respect of my adopted family I am blessed as my parents do have more experience and a better understanding of some mental health related issues.
I also said earlier that a parents role of and responsibilities to – and a child’s need for his or her parents to – educate, nurture, love, protect, guide, heal, discipline, support, encourage, and help them to grow and develop, reduces as the child grows and develops. But that I believe that these things should never be fully removed especially when that child grows and develops with (or at some point experiences) mental health challenges.
I am a grown man now and indeed have my own children and my own grandchildren. In my everyday dealings with people I vary the level of sharing I have with people according to the circumstances in which I know them.
To the outside world I may seem fairly successful and indeed blessed with good intelligence, have it all fairly together and have many abilities despite my physical poor health (which is harder to hide so virtually everybody knows about that part).
To those who I know a little better, I may share the fact that I also suffer with poor mental health, but not to what degree or how it affects me.
To those who I know even better I may share both the fact that I have mental health difficulties and may also sometimes allow them to see how these affect me.
And to those who I am really familiar with I tend to hide very little unless I know it affects them badly except where I can’t help it.
BUT the truth is that the outside world only sees that which I let them see and that which I can’t control them not seeing.
I am a grown man with mental health issues and one who needs help facing those issues and making sure that they are not too negatively affecting my life, my understandings and my perceptions.
That help, I believe should come from my family and especially from my parents and when it doesn’t come it can be such a devastating thing. So I do feel for James.
But here’s the deal, the level of openness that I have with people concerning my mental health is very often directly linked to the level of support that they are able to offer me and indeed the level of dependency that I need to have on them.
And most importantly the level of impact that their failing to provide that essential understanding and support is just as linked.
As a Christian I fully believe that as parents we are meant to be representatives and representations of God to our Children. Raising them, educating, nurturing, loving, protecting, guiding, disciplining, supporting, encouraging and helping them to grow and develop. Doing so as God would have us AND indeed how God parents us. I truly believe it is how God intended things to be for both the development of the child and indeed the development of the parent.
As a man and a parent I know how important all of these things are and how I often fail in this (and indeed don’t all parents fail in this somewhere along the line?)
As a Christian man, who recognizes that he is both a parent and a child of God, I recognize the need for me to provide all these things for my children and to accept all these things from God my heavenly Father.
As a Christian man with mental health issues and thus someone who often has uncertain, even corrupted, or unsure perceptions and understandings, I fully recognize the place of my earthly parents in my life – despite my age and adulthood.
What happens when a parent doesn’t parent? Quite simply – the child doesn’t grow and heal the way he or she should do and let us not be mistaken here neither does the parent!
And I truly believe that this is the case no matter how old or young the child is. Whether he or she is new-born, infant, toddler, preschool age, school age, Tween age, teen age, young adult or adult and especially where the “child” experiences mental health challenges.
BUT (and there really isn’t any way around this) being a child doesn’t mean we have no responsibilities of our own. What about our responsibilities to our parents?
The minute we are able to understand and comprehend for ourselves we need to accept those responsibilities and as we do grow and develop we need to accept that these responsibilities also grow and develop with us.
Having mental heath issues doesn’t remove these responsibilities from us. It may well effect the level of our responsibilities and our ability to understand them but doesn’t remove them..
So just as where the parent doesn’t parent the child the child suffers and so too does the parent, if the child won’t be a child to his or her parent then the parent suffers and so too does the child.
And in saying this I am holding up my hands and admitting my own short-comings and failings in this respect.
One of the problems with suffering mental health issues is that it isolates us. BUT how much it isolates us, and what effect it has on us, is as much about how those who love us suffer from our mental health issues as it is about how we suffer from them .
I think we all need to remember that. So I have learned that if my mental health is too painful or too difficult for one of my kids, siblings or parents to deal with I need to understand this and in respect of my parent to allow them to parent the parts of me they can deal with. And I am truly sorry to my kids, my siblings, my parents, and my heavenly Father for having forgotten that lately.