Society has come around to the idea that moms should prioritize their own mental health – and it’s about time that we started talking about it! Unfortunately, we still don’t have much guidance on what to do when it’s our kids who struggle with mental health challenges. Parents of kids who struggle often feel isolated because so few people are talking about the challenges that their own children face.
To some extent, this is a good thing. Our kids have a right to privacy and we never want to violate their innate right to keep their specific story to themselves. However, even among trusted friends or with the permission of your child, it can be a struggle to maintain everyone’s mental health in the delicate balance that your home life brings.
Foster parenting opened our eyes to how many kids truly struggle with their mental health, and I will be the first to admit that we didn’t always handle it perfectly.
Here is what I wish others knew about our journey . . .
- Waiting lists are too long.
Even with the increase in available services, it still takes time to get in to see a specialist. Wait lists are still lengthy, even in cities where we have great mental healthcare like Charleston. You could wait months to see a qualified therapist, especially if you’re specific about what type of therapy you want your child to have.
By the time you realize you’re in crisis with your child, the type of help available is often limited. This is why many children end up in the hospital psychiatric units because they need immediate help and it’s the only way to get it.
- Hospitals can be a good thing.
To this end, it’s also important to note that hospitals serve an important function in helping to keep our kiddos safe. When they can’t be safe at home and no other treatment is available at the moment, then they may be forced to check into the emergency department to be seen by a social worker.
Placing your child out of your home and away from you is a scary prospect for any parent, but it might be a necessary step if your child is thinking about harming themselves. Hospitals can give them the safe place they need to work through their feelings and give them tools to help when they return home.
As a bonus, a child discharged from the hospital can sometimes cut the line on the waiting list for therapeutic or psychiatric services.
- I researched their medications.
While there’s something to be said for having a child psychiatrist whom you trust on board, I never left my children’s care up to chance. Medication was on the table for a lot of our kids, but it was never our first line of treatment. We would never put our children on medication without doing the same rigorous research that we would do if we were to take it ourselves.
I became fluent in research studies and statistics so that I knew what was going into my child’s body, and how it would ultimately help balance their brain chemistry. Medication is a great tool that I felt lucky enough to have access to for my kids.
I don’t think there should be any shame in using the tools that are available to you to help your kids lead their best lives.
- I might need help too.
The last thing that parents of kids with mental health challenges want you to know is that we often need help too. To protect the child’s privacy and to deal with any trauma or stress from caring for a kid with mental health needs, parents may need a safe place to turn to. There’s no shame in getting professional help for everyone in your family to cope with these challenges.
Parents, and even siblings, are all impacted by mental health needs in the home, so model how to interact with your therapist and set a good example for your little ones.
If you’re a close friend or family member of a mom who is struggling with her child’s mental health diagnosis, reach out to her. I have been blessed with many friends who understand what we went through and could commiserate. But even if you can’t, just being there can be a lifeline to a mom who feels like she’s drowning.
You don’t have to pressure her for details about what happens behind closed doors or question if things are really “that bad.” Just bring her lunch one day while her kid is off at school. Pop over with coffee first thing in the morning – she needs it because she probably doesn’t sleep much. Do what you can to make her feel loved, seen, and supported.
What it boils down to is that we love our children, regardless of what we might go through with them. We want to be their safe space in the storm and are willing to move mountains to get there. This list is just the tip of the iceberg of things that moms want you to know when mental health is a challenge for their families, but it’s a good place to start the conversation.