When my husband and I decided we were ready to start a family, we knew parenting was not going to be a “piece of cake.” We knew there would be the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of it. Life, in general, is full of the unexpected, right? Were we ready? No, but we were definitely willing to try! After all, who doesn’t like a good challenge?!
What we didn’t expect was the day when parenting became utterly heartbreaking. The day when we questioned every decision we made or didn’t make. The day we ran out of options to help our child. The day we made the painful decision to admit our nine year old to a psychiatric hospital for the first time.
Not one parenting book had a page dedicated to this delicate topic. Not one. None of my friends had gone through anything remotely similar with their children. And honestly, if they had, they probably wouldn’t have shared such a sensitive thing with me for fear of embarrassment. The stigma surrounding a mental health diagnosis can be deafening and terribly lonely.
It was then and there I told myself that once we made it to “the other side of this storm” that I would help others navigate the rough seas of parenting a child with mental health issues. I wasn’t about to let another momma suffer in silence. And most of all, I wasn’t about to let another momma feel alone.
I know people often shy away from things that make them uncomfortable. I get that. Unfortunately, the number of children facing mental health crisis is increasing every day. And with the added pandemic currently sweeping across our nation, I don’t look for those numbers to decrease anytime soon. The next person facing these tough decisions might be someone from your circle of friends or even your own family.
How will you help them? How will you let them know that they are not alone?
This may seem like a simple thing to do, but I assure you it isn’t. The day after we left our child at the hospital, I was numb. I had two other kids at home and a full-time job to flounder through each day. Finding little messages of encouragement in my inbox or text messages brightened my heart to know others were thinking of us. On some days, it would be the only bit of good news we would receive.
Offer to grab takeout and drop it by the house one evening for dinner or send a gift card to the family’s favorite restaurant. The fridge is more than likely running low on food. The time and energy it takes to prepare a meal will not be available. The parents will be running in survival mode. Prep some “heat and serve” meals for the freezer. Take paper products — paper plates, napkins, paper towels, etc. The last thing I wanted to do was wash dishes after an emotionally draining day. We had several dear friends bless us with meals and groceries. It was a tremendous support.
Offer to Help with the Siblings
When our child was in the hospital, the hospital had extremely strict visiting hours. We weren’t always able to bring the kids to see their brother. Since they weren’t quite old enough to stay home alone, we depended on other people to watch them while we spent the evening at the hospital. With mounting medical bills, paying a sitter was not even an option.
We did all we could to keep our other children’s lives as normal as possible. If Tuesday was dance class night, then we made sure they got to go to dance. I often had to ask friends for help chauffeuring the kids to and from school or after-school activities. Thankfully, our friends never turned me down when I asked. They were my lifeline.
Don’t Wait for Them to Ask for Help
My days were spent with phone calls to the insurance company, therapists, and doctors. My mind was in constant motion. Most days, I was living hour by hour. The laundry still needed to be folded. The lawn needed to be mowed. The kids still needed help with their homework.
If anyone asked if there was anything that they could do to help, I didn’t even know where to begin to ask. However, when friends called me and said — “I am bringing by lasagna and a salad tonight for dinner. What time can I drop it off for you?” — there was no required thinking on my part.
Bringing meals will not only feed the family, but it will also take a huge amount of stress off of the parents.
My husband and I are forever grateful for the friends who stayed with us through the thick of it all. They are the ones who didn’t turn their backs on us. They are the ones who didn’t make us feel guilty with every agonizing decision we made. They are the ones who cheered us on, cried with us, and encouraged us to keep the faith. They are the ones who boosted our spirits in our darkest days.
And they are still along our side, celebrating every milestone he meets, no matter how insignificant it may seem to others, because they know the amount of love, determination, and effort it took to get us where we are today.
Please, I beg of you, be that friend for someone in need. No matter what the parenting struggles may be. Parenting is hard. No one can do this job alone.
Find support, resources, and community at Fort Worth Moms Neighbor Group Moms of Special Needs Kids in Tarrant Area.