Hold On To Your Kids: Their Mental Health Depends On It
Normally we publish articles every Thursday, pretty much like clockwork. We write articles that we hope are helpful to readers, often sharing information on different aspects of mental health, physical health, treatments, services, and more. We do this to be helpful to the community, to educate and increase awareness on different topics and clinical treatments and let’s face it, as a part of our content marketing and search engine optimization plan to make sure people know who we are and how we can help.
This isn’t one of those weeks. On Tuesday evening, I drove downtown for a meeting with Fred from 140 Sports and Connie from Movement With A Message. We had a wonderful time sharing dinner, brainstorming ideas, and finding ways for us to work together to do some good in the community around youth mental health and resilience. I came away excited and encouraged. I love what both of these organizations are doing, and I’m excited to partner with them going forward because I think we can do a lot of good together.
And then I received an email that broke my heart, again. Another youth in our community took his life. It never gets easier hearing the news. In our professional training as a Registered Clinical Counsellor, we hear over and over the importance of “keeping a professional distance,” and “not taking work home.” While I think this is an important principle, it’s also ridiculous to think that we can do this much of the time. I certainly couldn’t with this news. I sat down multiple times on Wednesday and yesterday to write an article, and I couldn’t find the words. I couldn’t decide on a topic. I couldn’t get past the first sentence.
The sorrow and heartache involved in losing a youth to suicide affect me deeply, even if I’ve not had any contact with the person. In a recent workshop, I stole the slogan from Point Roberts, WA to explain why I and many of my colleagues are in the field – that is, “We’re all here because we’re not all there.” I became a Registered Clinical Counsellor because I know what it’s like first hand to struggle with mental health. I also know what it’s like first hand to struggling with suicidal thoughts and wanting out.
This is why I can’t just keep a professional distance when I hear that yet again, we’ve lost someone in our community to mental health and ultimately, suicide. There are no perfect solutions, there is no magic pill, and no 5-step plan to prevent this. It simply isn’t that easy.
When I went to bed last night, still struggling to make sense of this awful situation, the words, “Parents, hold on to your kids,” came to me, and I wrote them down. Now, I’m not sure if it’s because Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Dr. Gabor Maté wrote a book together with this title, or because as a parent, I’m very aware of the important role we play in our kids’ lives. But it stuck. And this is what I want to focus on today.
Parents, we need to hold onto our kids. The struggle is real, and it’s not because there’s something wrong with this generation. It’s not because they don’t care, it’s not because the schools aren’t doing their jobs, it’s not because we’re terrible parents. It is, however, because the world has changed, the demands are higher, the expectations are higher, and our youth are struggling big time.
The truth is that there isn’t a single form of therapy, a pill, a school program, or otherwise that can replace the need for attachment between a parent and a child. This isn’t about parent blaming, or shaming, it’s about understanding the importance of our role as parents, and the powerful effect we have on our kids. Parenting is difficult. The demands on our time, our money, our energy, and more, are huge. With the housing market being what it is, most families need both parents working outside the house Monday to Friday to make ends meet. This is our reality.
Somehow, however, we need to make sure we find the time to invest in the attachment with our kids. Our kids will not feel safe enough to talk to us when they’re struggling if the relationship isn’t there, and to be perfectly blunt, we can’t rely on our schools, the public mental health system, or any other service to monitor our kids for us. We have to do it ourselves.
I get it. It’s daunting. It’s scary. We don’t feel equipped. Now, I suspect some of you may be thinking, “He doesn’t get it – he’s a mental health professional who has the education and background to make sense of this,” but I assure you, while in some areas this may help, in other areas, it’s actually worse. I may be more equipped in some instances to help my kids, but I’m also more likely to feel like a failure. If my kid is struggling, the first thought in my head is, “I’m a Registered Clinical Counsellor, with over a decade of experience and training, and I can’t help my kid.” Let me tell you, that’s not a good feeling. That’s when the helplessness sets in, which I think most of us parents have as a shared experience at one time or another.
But here’s the beauty of it. We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to know it all. We don’t have to fix it. We can’t. I remember when I was a teen, at the worst of my depression, I was sitting on the end of my driveway in California crying my eyes out. I still remember, it was 10 pm and everything was dark. And then my father walked out, lifted me up, and held me. For an hour. Not saying a word. I imagine, mainly because he didn’t know what to say and probably felt completely helpless.
It’s exactly what I needed. There’s a reason I still remember that night over 15 years later. The truth was that my father couldn’t fix. There were no words that were going to make it better. There really was not anything he was going to do to “fix” my depression or the suicidal thoughts I had daily at that time. What both he and my mother did, and did well, was making sure I knew that they were there to talk to me anytime, even if they didn’t understand. They were there to hold me when there were no words to say, nothing that would make it better. The truth is, they didn’t even know how bad it was because I didn’t tell anyone and I didn’t ask for help.
This is why I do what I do, and why Alongside You exists. I was that kid who didn’t ask for help, and I had every advantage in the world growing up. I had two parents who loved me deeply, I had teachers who mentored me and cared for me, I played sports my entire school career, and I had music that is still one of the main things to keep me steady in life. Looking back, it would have been immensely valuable for me to see a counsellor, probably take some medication, and so many more things, but I didn’t. Not because I couldn’t have, but because I didn’t ask, and I had a very low barrier to ask for help.
You know what did help? My parents. They weren’t perfect, because none of us are, but they were the best parents I could have ever asked for because they tried. Because they did the best they could with what they had, and when they didn’t know, they looked to resources to find out. I still remember my Mom bringing me to a workshop by Dr. Gordon Neufeld on parenting and attachment when I was a kid. They knew how important their relationship with me was, and they were intentional about it.
This is something all of us can do as parents. When you look at the research, what it will tell you is that it’s not the amount of time we spend with our kids that matters, it’s the quality of the time that matters. So, if you’re having to work 60 or more hours a week, or you’re travelling a lot for work, or you’re separated or divorced and you don’t get access to your kid as much as you’d like, don’t lose hope. As far as outcomes, it doesn’t matter that you’re not with your kid as much as you think you should be. It matters how you make that time count. Be intentional, and when you’re with them, focus on them and build the relationship and the attachment.
As I write this, it’s Friday and the end of a long week for many of us. I hope that what I’ve written is encouraging to you as a parent – that is most certainly the intent. What you do matters, and what you do can make a difference. Be intentional this weekend about being with your kid. Spend time with them, share in their enjoyment in what they’re doing, cheer them on as they play their sports (and stop yelling at them, the coaches, and the referee), listen to their music with them no matter how awful it sounds to you. Love them, and connect with them on their terms. Put away the work, the devices, and the stress you’re carrying from the week, and be with your kids. This is the single most preventative thing you can do when it comes to their mental health, and only you can do it.
If you’re struggling as a parent, reach out for help for yourself. If you don’t know how to connect with your kid, or you don’t understand mental health, or you feel helpless, please ask someone for help. There are a number of resources in the community that I’ll list below, and we are certainly here for you at Alongside You. This is why we exist – to help you do your best with your kids because even if we get to work with them, we probably get an hour a week with them if we’re lucky. If we can help you do your best when you’re with them, it’ll be far more effective and powerful.
Remember, we don’t have to be perfect. We just have to care and do the best we can with what we have. We don’t have to be perfect parents, we just have to be good enough.
Other Youth Resources in Delta