Times are tough for us all right now, and I want you to know that you are doing okay, doing your best to help your children navigate their way through as best they (and you) can. Never underestimate the impact of being there, even when times are more challenging than we can ever anticipate them being.
Understanding how to support our emotional health for us, and for our children is one of the most important gifts we can give ourselves, and those we love. It’s sometimes easy to feel it’s your fault when things are tough. What do we need to do in order to be a supportive parent through times of change? Today I want to share my own story.
I was 11.
I had moved to a new place with my family, and started secondary school not knowing anyone.
That first day sitting in a school hall with not one familiar face around me.
‘Latching on’ to a group of girls in my form, just because there was a spare seat.
Not through choice, or through a shared history, just because I tried to belong.
Everyone around me, telling me how amazing I was, how brave and courageous I was, making friends, starting a new life at a new school.
So, I carried on being brave, kept being the one in my family who had ‘done so well’ adjusting to this new life.
The consequences of trying to cope
And then it happened, gradually and almost without me realising.
The inability to get to sleep, especially on a Sunday night when I knew I had school the next day.
The desire to just remove myself from all the complexities and complications having female friendships can bring, hiding wherever I could with my book.
And then, not eating, not to become thin, but to control something about my life when everything around me felt out of control.
This was me, my vulnerable teenage self.
Nobody’s fault, nothing big and bad happened to me, I just coped and everyone else wanted me to cope so I did….and crippling lifelong anxiety was the result.
I am writing this during the current pandemic from the perspective of my experience of trying to navigate difficult times on my own, without support, or understanding because at that time no-one really knew how to offer that to me.
So…what does it mean to be a supportive parent?
If you are currently experiencing living with a teenager who is struggling with anxiety, depression or anger I want you to know that you are absolutely not doing anything wrong, your parenting is up to scratch. We often train the accusations straight onto ourselves when something challenging emerges for our children.
You want to be a supportive parent. I know you feel vulnerable wanting the best for your child, trying to work out why they feel the way they do and desperately wanting to sort it out for them.
Sometimes (make that often) our teenagers don’t know why they feel the way they do themselves, so formulating the words can be so difficult, you want to know but they may not be able to tell you.
I never told my parents how I felt, I didn’t understand it myself. All I could do was stand by my their bed in the middle of the night, telling them I couldn’t get to sleep.
You are doing the best you can, by creating a safe space for them, with no expectation or judgement, to share with you if they feel comfortable, or just to sit next to you if they feel that life is getting a bit much.
I coped unconsciously through developing outside interests and friendships away from school, away from the challenges which contributed to my anxiety.
My resilience was the stability at home, and even though I never spoke to my parents about what was happening, they always encouraged and supported me to get involved with other things, no matter how short lived.
30 years on I understand my journey more than I ever did. It makes my tummy swirl and tears form in my eyes as I write this, share it.
When you hear me rant about academic pressure, over testing and defining children by their grades and university degrees, this is why.
I was an A grade student, went to one of the top universities in the country but my anxiety nearly prevented any of that from emerging into my life.
Emotional health for us, and for our children is one of the most important gifts we can give ourselves, and those we love, especially right now.
It’s a tough one which we can’t use tutors for or pay to get it right. When our schools reopen and children return to education offline, the most important thing will be there adjustment, rebuilding social connections and keeping their mental health at the heart of every day, not ‘catching up’.
It takes time, and patience, and understanding, to hold space and keep that space for children to feel heard and understood.
It’s a frightening place to be sometimes, for parent and child. But the support is there.
How to help yourself
I am here for you, you are doing okay as a parent, just reading this, acknowledging that it is okay to fear what mental health means, but being willing to try to understand, is the biggest first step you can take.
I offer a phone chat to any parent who is concerned about their teenager, you can email me [email protected] to arrange one.
Lots of Love