This is part three of a four part series on parenting kids with mental illness. If you haven’t read my first post, you can catch up here .
Being a Mom of teens is no walk in the park. I do not recommend parenting four teen girls at the same time. Now don’t get me wrong, my husband and I are blessed with really great kids. The hardest part about this stage is allowing the girls to make more decisions on their own and…here’s the hardest part – ACCEPTING their decisions.
I grew up in the typical Filipino household where your parents told you what to do and not question the decisions made for you. I wasn’t allowed to to most things my friends did in high school. For example, my curfew was significantly earlier than my friends. When my friends were arriving to the get together/hanging out/party I would be leaving to go home. Moreover, if my curfew was at 9pm and I needed to be home before or exactly at 9pm – not 9:01. Most days I would get home right on time but there were times when I was a few minutes late. Remember this was before cell phones. So I got an earful from my Dad. I know he was trying to protect me and had my best interest at heart but man, but could a girl get a curfew at like 10:30pm?
I was also not able to voice out my feelings. I was always told to just do what I was told and to not question it. Which in turn meant that my feelings weren’t validated. As I look back at that part of my life, I still cry about it because all I ever wanted was to be validated. I wanted my feelings to be understood and I had never experienced that growing up. So I vowed to myself that as a parent, I would try my best to allow my kids the space to be themselves and to express how they feel. It is difficult to completely transform your own parenting style from what you experienced growing up but I am trying – everyday.
Suicide in girls are on the rise
A church friend forwarded a recent article about suicide rates in teen girls. I encourage you to read it with an open mind and come back to this blog. Its information we all need to validate the issue and find a solution. These girls have so much to live for.
In this stage of motherhood, I am very aware of suicide ideology because I was a teen with suicidal ideology. Having kids with mental illnesses heightened my anxiety that I will miss the signs. Thankfully, my husband and I have created as safe space for our kids to share their honest feelings – with their Aunts, my younger sisters – when they aren’t able to share with us. Realistically, we knew that our kids wouldn’t always come to us for advice because who really talked to their kids as teens. I never did. Our kids are so blessed with people who they can be authentic with. We all need that – to have a safe place to be ourselves.
How we manage on a regular basis
“No one teaches you how to do this” – is a phrase I have coin in the past few years.
I was never taught how to manage my own mental health let alone my kids’. We were in uncharted waters. So most days we wing it and go with our gut. I know my kids well enough to know what they are capable of. I just had to give them the space to believe it for themselves.
When both kids were initially diagnosed, I ensured that they had resources in place for them to build their healthy mental health foundation – therapist, extended family support, medications, other self care activities, etc. Between my husband and I, I am the parent who handled appointments, medication dosages, and checked in with the kids. My husband plays more of a supportive role. In which, he talks with them in a more constructive way and provides them with pep talks just as he does for me. As parents, we also are in constant communication about if we observe a changed behavior – good or bad – so we are on the same page.
In the beginning, this wasn’t the case. My husband’s typical reaction was frustration and I knew it was because he didn’t understand how to process this latest chapter of parenthood. My reaction to his frustration was either to calmly explain what I needed as a parent or reflect his frustration back at him. It would really depend on the severity of what I was trying to convey AND my mental health state. Nowadays, I we can communicate effectively and come up with a general plan. If all else fails we call our therapist and book a session.
You read that correctly – we go to family therapy. In the beginning, we went almost twice a month to get us back on track. The husband I decided it would be the most effective way to talk things through and learn how to support each other more. I know that is not the norm in a Filpino household but we thought it to be necessary to ensure everyone has a voice. As you know, sometimes life get in the way and peoples voices aren’t heard.
Each session was different. Sometimes we would do an activity to visually illustrate a point or to open up hard conversations. Other times we would recap how our week went. Most times I would be the one crying because whenever my kids expressed some type of hurt, I didn’t know how to process it. Now we go once a month to every other month to check in and some of us are in individual therapy as needed. I believe it has helped our family tremendously and I highly recommend family’s to go through therapy during hard times.
You taught them well
It has been quite a journey learning to help each kid manage their mental illness. What I have learned these past few months is that mental illness presents itself differently in each individual. Accepting my kids’ decisions is definitely out of my comfort zone because my upbringing. I am currently focusing on this in therapy because I’m having that much of a hard time with it. How am I able to accept and trust when I was never shown that as a young adult?
So guys, I’m learning. I’m learning everyday.
My therapist made a statement that really stuck with me. “You have to be confident enough in your parenting that you taught your kids how to make good decisions.” I reflect this when I want to fix my kids or fix the hurt they are going through. I know I have taught my kids how to make good choices and be good human beings. So I now have to trust them make their own decisions. *deep breath*
Moving forward – together
As a family, we have definitely become more open about our feelings which is definitely a learning process in itself. The girls seem more empathetic to each other and try to support one another even when they don’t understand it. I can see when they are empathetic towards each other, their relationships become closer.
Before you assume we are a perfect family – we still have family meetings in the family room where my husband is the mediator and I am angry because someone didn’t do their chores. The kids do still argue about each other being annoying. There are still screaming matches about chores. Our family dynamic is exactly the same but it has also evolved into giving each other space and holding space for each other. While it is still a work in progress, I am definitely proud of the work we’ve done as a family – together.