Parents, just because they are parents, take on many roles – doctor, teacher, referee, taxi driver and so on – to raise their children. They do it because it’s part of being a parent. When does something stop being part of being a parent? Is it once the parents’ expertise is exhausted, once the parent is exhausted, maybe it never stops.
At the moment, because I am a parent to a child struggling with her mental health, I am also a full package of professionals for our daughter. I am the counsellor she rants at, the crisis team who hears her suicidal thoughts, the CBT therapist with distraction techniques, the psychologist with all the answers *hollow laugh* but I do all those jobs without any training, without any supervision, and with a very personal connection – this is our daughter, our only child. And I do all that alongside my own mental health problems. No leave for parents, especially single parents, to take time to recover before returning to work. If only. And I don’t get evenings or weekends off, can’t leave my work at the office.
I’m not remotely qualified for this, I give appalling advice, and I’m burning out. But in the absence of anyone else I keep going. Because who else do I tell her to talk to at 11.30pm when she’s plagued by thoughts she struggles to control. She only has me. And once she’s settled, who do I – we – talk to? Nobody. We have nobody. Nowhere to offload what we’ve had to listen to, nobody to ask if we’re doing it right. Just ourselves, some parts triggered by what we’ve heard/said/done, just us to rebuild our daughter and then rebuild ourselves.
While this may seem like a one sided poor-me-as-a-parent rant, we can also see it from the other side. Our daughter knows we’re struggling, and this adds to her feelings of being “a burden” and “a bother”. And we know, from others with mental health problems, that they worry about the upset they cause their parents. I don’t want to take away from that, but that is their story.
That said, would their parents – would we – be better placed to help, to deal, to cope with mental health problems in our children if we had support from somewhere? And I do, of course, have more support than a parent who isn’t a service user themselves – I have our CPN and our psych to rant at, sound off to, ask advice from. Our daughter knows this, knows that we aren’t completely alone – so long as we only need someone during office hours lol – so how much harder is it for a child, however old that child is, when their parents have no support?
And, to go back to our own mental health, would our daughter have benefitted from support much earlier on, before she started to struggle? Probably. Was there any? We don’t know, but based on recent experiences we presume there wasn’t.
There are a lot of gaps in the system, a lot of missed opportunities to support people. We don’t have the answers, just lots of questions.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for our morning battle to get our daughter out the house and on her way to school. Nobody sees that, we deal with it on our own. Because, apparently, that’s part of being a parent.