- Mental Health
- Substance Use
- Healthy Living
It’s 3 a.m. and Sara, the mother of an 8 year old with separation anxiety, hears the rustle of little footsteps coming down the hall towards her bedroom. After getting her three kids to bed, finishing the dishes and working on a proposal for the next day, Sara crawled into bed, exhausted, at 11:30. Her first thought when she hears little Ava coming: “Not again. I just can’t do this tonight!” But she takes a few deep breaths, gathers her strength and remembers the plan she worked out with Ava’s therapist. By the time Ava arrives, Sara breathes through the stress of seeing her little girl in tears and leads her back to her bedroom. She uses every ounce of energy to stay loving and firm, reminding Ava of how brave she is, and within a few minutes, she tucks her back into bed. It may not work tomorrow, but tonight, this is enough.
It’s 10 p.m. and Bruce is pacing the hall of his apartment building. His 16 year old son, Devon, is late. Devon was caught selling weed at school and part of his probation is being home by curfew. Bruce can feel his blood boil as he waits for this kid. As the minutes tick on, he thinks: “No, not tonight. I just can’t do this again!” At 10:15, Devon appears from the stairwell. He looks worried, but not worried enough.
Bruce feels his jaw tighten, his heart pounding. He would like to send Devon to live with his aunt. He’d like to be out watching the game with his friends. But he is here and so is Devon. Bruce opens: “It’s 10:15! This isn’t a joke.” Devon makes to turn around and head back out. “No wait,” Bruce hollers, “I’m glad you’re home. Let’s watch the end of the game. We can talk after.” Devon comes back towards the door, “Fine, I’m hungry anyway,” he says as he walks into the living room.
There is no award for the small victories parents earn every day. Usually, no one is watching, and nobody knows how parents like Sara and Bruce pour their hearts and souls into helping their kids. Then, as soon as there is a problem with their child, parents are usually the first to blame. Often the blame is unintentional, or even the by-product of a well-meaning remark, but it is there. So this Child and Youth Mental Health Day, let’s take a moment to honor and celebrate parents. Let’s remember that while doctors and therapists may diagnose and treat children and youth with mental health and substance use disorders, it’s parents who do the heavy lifting at home. And when they are tired, sick or overwhelmed, parents don’t get a day off- ever.
If you are not a parent of a youth with mental health challenges, think about how you can honor and support the work of parents every day, year round. Can you be a non-judgmental friend who listens to their struggles? Can you offer childcare or play dates or outings with your own kids? Maybe, if you are close enough, you can talk with the youth directly and support whatever the parent is doing to help. If you are treating or teaching children and youth, can you keep a vision of the parent in mind as you work with their child, remembering that all parents truly want to do the best they can? This may not seem like much, but there is a reason people stand by the sidelines, cheering at all points of a marathon. No one can run that far and that hard alone.
Ashley Miller is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and Family Therapist at BC Children's Hospital