Loving a Child with a Mental Health Disorder

My child has a mental health disorder and parenting her is lonely and so very hard at times. Mental health disorders are not the kind of diagnoses that you share on Facebook or for which someone starts a Go Fund Me. They are the things you deal with tirelessly inside your own four walls and, if you are lucky enough, you share with a close set of friends. But even then, maybe not everything with everyone because some things are just too hard for people to carry.

Loving a child with a mental health disorder can look pretty close to normal, but, inside, over time, there is a part of you that learns to brace. To be a vigilant observer of your child’s looks and words to measure the temperature. You work to determine if all is safe, or if your world is about to implode once again as your child moves closer to a precipice you hadn’t realized there was.

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And when the downward slide comes, you go into crisis mode. You make the calls. Fill out the piles and piles of paperwork. You sleep fitfully, listening for any sign that they have awoken so that you can get up to be sure that they are safe. You worry over their siblings, who have to live this childhood they didn’t sign up for, and you hold your breath until help can be found. You go through your day determining to whom you will answer, “Good, I’m good,” and who you will let see you breakdown and cry.

The thing about mental illness, though, is that when the intervention is over, the mental health disorder remains. And so, you start again. You go about the business of living life, all the while bracing, observing, gauging, temperature-taking.

Chances are you know someone with a child who struggles with a mental health disorder. Because it’s still viewed as somewhat taboo to talk about, though, many of us suffer in silence. If someone does let you in, know that it’s because they trust you and they need you to hold them up in that moment. Be kind. Just listen. Give more hugs than advice. Drop off a meal, because the last thing a family in crisis needs to think about is what they can make for dinner.

And, please, when the child is stabilized and life returns back to “normal” for the family, don’t see their child as broken. See her as a child making choices outside of her control. See her as a child worthy of kindness, respect, and love. Because her parents do. Though they may be tired, and battle worn, they love her as desperately as the day they first brought her home, and their deepest wish – beyond their child being able to live more easily in the world – is that the world will continue to treat her as though she is valuable and worthy of being loved.

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