I debated writing this article for a while, the title alone probably tells you why. We feel so much guilt as parents, whether we should or not is another topic, but the fact of the matter is some of us go over every decision we have made in our child’s life and agonize over what we could have done better.
Earlier this month I found myself sitting in the waiting room of a mental health clinic, and not as the owner this time, but as the mother of a child who desperately needed help. A big part of my job is to educate people about mental health and to advocate for those with mental health disorders, and their families. I tell people that they shouldn’t feel bad for what is going on, and that it isn’t any one’s fault. But there I was, my heart racing, palms sweating and feeling like I had let my child down again.
Should I have noticed sooner that things weren’t right? Did I ignore big red flags because of meetings and laundry and my other kids and packing lunches? Am I that wrapped up in everything that needs to be done that I’m not seeing what is going on right in front of me? That negative little voice inside was working double time during that counselling session, telling me everything I didn’t do right, going back years and picking over every mistake.
Why do we do that to ourselves? When asking myself if I am the best mother, the obvious and truthful answer is no. None of us are. But I know these things for a fact:
1. I love my kids more than I could ever really put into words,
2. I work hard to provide them with what they need,
3. I am proactive about their health and try to make sure they are getting everything they need,
4. I listen when they tell me they have a problem.
5. I enjoy my time with them and am always looking to have quality time with each of them.
If there are other parents out there reading this, and they are noticing things about their child’s mood or behaviour, the prevailing feeling is probably fear (it was for me.) No one wants to acknowledge or accept that something might be wrong with their child. The second feeling is that worry that you did something wrong.
My daughter didn’t have the ideal childhood. I was 19 when I found out I was pregnant with her, and her father and I had only met a few short months earlier. I’m not ashamed to share this anymore because it is a part of my story, and I have never for one moment regretted the birth of my first child. Needless to say, the relationship was not healthy, loving or stable and I spent 4 years trapped in a cycle of power and control, which unfortunately, my daughter witnessed. Becoming a single mother, obviously had its own share of challenges. I couldn’t make ends meet financially, we struggled a lot, and I ultimately ended up filing for bankruptcy and moving back in with my parents. But, throughout all of this, I remained focussed on my daughter. We both received counselling, I did my best to provide a nice life for her, and so, when I start to get in my own head and blame myself for her struggles, I have to remind myself of all the good things I did as a mother (and continue to do.) I want the same for anyone reading this, maybe your child is older and you can do less to help them, or maybe your child is so young that you can’t even wrap your head around a possible diagnosis yet, but please believe that you are doing your best.
If you find yourself sitting in a counsellors office with your child, and you feel like hanging your head in shame – don’t. You have provided your child with help. You are there, by their side, ready to do the work and there is zero shame in that. Maybe the past wasn’t ideal, but that is behind you. All you can control now is the future, so walk forward with them and be optimistic for them. Trust the process and be kind to yourself, the way you are kind to your child. Finally, please try to find a support system for yourself, whether that is counselling, or a group of friends you can be honest with, or having time to talk things over with your spouse, these things are crucial for you as you take on a caregiver role.
If you or a loved one are in crisis: