Back before Christmas, a friend’s younger daughter had an emotional breakdown, and it was late January before her mental health could be called anything like stable. She’s eleven, and, like Caroline, is fighting hormones. But in addition to enduring that pre-pubescent nightmare- hell, this kid has been through some major life upheavals lately. It’s not hard to see why she’s been struggling.
But she’s not the only one. As soon as the daughter’s needs became impossible to keep wholly private, her mother, my friend, was the target of a hundred thousand attacks. I’m not talking about abstract ‘mom wars’ snipes here. Her friends (or ostensible friends), buried her in unjustified judgment and blasted her with blame.
Fuck blame. This isn’t anybody’s fault.
When a kid’s mental health is on the line, it’s too easy to seek answers by crushing the parents under a microscope. My friend, fairly recently single, is getting hit by unfair accusations from all sides. She shouldn’t have a job. She shouldn’t go to school. She shouldn’t have gotten a divorce or, having done that, found a boyfriend (never mind that her kids think the world of the man). In other words, if only she had been there for her daughter, the child would not need any outside help.
She has been there. And all of us need outside help at some point in our lives. She’s been reaching out in every way she can, up to and including moving to a new city to get all her kids (because she has four) the hell out of a horrible school system. She is enduring the same havoc they are while helping them manage some tough emotions.
She doesn’t need self righteous jerks telling her how to live. She needs support.
When a kid has issues, any issues, the parents are first ones cut down. The most common attitude is something along the lines of, “If you tried harder, your kid wouldn’t …” fill in the blank with anything you like, but the sentence really ends “be abnormal”. As if “normal” was a real thing. Scott and I face some of it, but we’ve been lucky enough to build a community of families in similar situations, and we’re able to shield each other and the kids.
My friend is out there doing the shielding all alone. A mom trying to maintain a delicate balance, she’s being forced to justify the very things she does to make her life better. Let me spell it out. Her job puts food on the table. Her education creates the possibility for a better job. The divorce is nobody’s fucking business but her own. And her boyfriend enhances her mental health, which helps her be a better mom. Hell, she didn’t introduce the guy to her kids as a boyfriend until they’d been a couple for some time. (Also, and just to reiterate, the kids adore him.) This daughter is reacting to a combination of changes in her body and environment, to a feeling out being out of control.
Who fucking wouldn’t?
The moral of the story?
Don’t be an asshole.
If you know a parent whose child has serious issues, be they physical, emotional, developmental, communicational, or behavioral, stop yourself before you place blame. You’re on the outside, and there is always a factor you don’t know or haven’t considered. Throw lifelines, not stones. Believe me, you’ll need those connections yourself someday, and the people you buoy up now will reach back later in ways you never anticipated.
*I’m linking this post to the 1,000 Voices Speak for Compassion project. If you want to participate, the link is live through Noonish (in the U.S.) on 2/21/15.