Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Carolyn Hax: Mom feels like a failure as her teens struggle with mental health

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Adapted from an online discussion.

Hello Carolyn: Yesterday my teenage son was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and prescribed medication. Two months ago, my teenage daughter was diagnosed with depression and put on medication. I have been a stay-at-home mom my entire life, and along with my husband and their father, I have done my best to raise them to be healthy and happy.

We love them infinitely and do our best every day to support them, listen to them and nourish them. I feel like such a failure that both my children are struggling. Can you help me frame this better? How did I mess up the one incredibly important thing I was supposed to do?

Mom Fail: Stop, you didn’t “mess up”.

Children around the world are going through an extremely difficult time right now. Depression and anxiety are on the rise, stress is on the rise, mental health resources are strained, and schools are overcrowded, underfunded, and understaffed.

You have given your children the help they need! You do your job. Your listening, support and support are what they need to learn to manage these illnesses, whether they are isolated episodes or the start of chronic illnesses. They are often genetic, meaning no maternal magic would have preempted them. (And no, your genes aren’t your fault, either.) Think about your choices to learn, absolutely — but not to beat yourself up about it. No points.

A careful rephrasing might also help: Declaring yourself a “failure” because your children have mental health diagnoses is a form of shame, as if such diagnoses are so horrible that no good parent would ever let them happen and no child could succeed with them. The struggle is universal. How people deal with struggle is what determines health, happiness, and success. Including yours, as a parent, as you struggle to meet the needs of your children.

· In 2000 – that is, before 9/11 and all the ways it changed the world, ubiquitous cell phones, social media, the pandemic, etc. – the American Psychological Association found that average children were more anxious than children receiving psychiatric treatment in the 1950s.

Think about it: the level of stress that warranted childhood psychiatric treatment in 1950 was lower than the stress that everyone considered a “normal” part of a child’s life in 2000. And since then, things have gotten a lot more stressful for children.

Honestly, you should be so proud of yourself for getting treatment for your kids – that’s good parenting.

· So agree with Carolyn. You are not a failed mom, but a successful mom. You have help for your children. If you replaced anxiety and depression as diagnoses with kidney disease and a heart murmur, would you consider yourself a failure? Mental health is a category of health conditions.

· I had to learn to deal with my own depression and anxiety AND my mother’s depression and anxiety about my depression and anxiety. Reassuring her ends up being just another layer of anxiety that I am forced to deal with. Do your best not to add to their burden with your own difficulties. Therapy is good for everyone.

· Watching my children struggle is the hardest thing I have ever experienced, and I constantly question myself, but I feel better after building a team of professionals like our pediatrician, therapist, psychiatrist, and support school. You might want to reach out to your friends, because I bet more of them than you think are in the same boat. We live in difficult times.

· Don’t think it’s your “fault.” At least until your kids start blaming you. This is a special hell in itself. No need to enter voluntarily.

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