Maybe your teen has mustered the courage to come to you with their struggle and are looking for support of some kind. They may have already looked up symptoms or done some research to validate their concerns. Either way, something beyond the scope of parenting is required.
When your teenager is struggling, of course you are going to do everything you can to get them the help that you feel that they need. Sometimes they agree with you and sometimes they don’t.
Enter Dr. Google.
Please avoid using the internet for any form of diagnosis and seek a mental health professional for that. If your doctor doesn’t believe you or your teen, get another opinion.
You, as the caring and courageous parent, are extremely invested in your child’s wellness and happiness. It’s literally wired into you from the moment that little tadpole left you or attached to your uterus. The physical umbilical cord may be cut, but the emotional one is still very intact.
Your teen seems to be in agreement that they need outside support as well, so you jump into action setting up appointments; your GP, naturopath, counsellor, therapist, psychologist, coach, whatever.
Then your teen starts to backpedal.
“Wait, what now? We both agreed that getting your help was a good choice. I didn’t just March into your room one day declare I’m getting you help!”
Your impression was your teen was on board so you’re feeling confused and frustrated. In fact, your teenager is now defensive, throwing toxicity at you and portraying you as the problem.
Then they start to lie (even more than maybe than before) and they’re refusing to engage with you; not responding to texts, not answering your calls or questions and they’re sleeping over at friends… a lot.
You’re already heartbroken for them because you can’t fix this situation with all the love in the world and that sharp knife just pierced your heart and turned a few degrees.
You’ve gone from advocate and ally to enemy number one in the blink of an eye and it’s crushing.
Your teen is blowing off appointments with therapists and psychologists so you’re losing your patience AND money! The therapist calls you saying, “Yay, I was scheduled with your teen for 15 minutes ago and they still haven’t shown up. You’re paying anyway, do you want to use the time?” (insert exhale with your head dropping into your hands)
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
You’re a parent and you didn’t get in this for the faint of heart. You buckle in and double down because based on your teen’s behaviour, they most definitely need you now!
All you get from that is more defensiveness, more toxicity, ghosting you via text, more lying, more blowing off professional appointments and living at friend’s homes. They’re literally shutting you out and the negative cycle is deepening as you try harder to help.
You’d give your life for your child and that drive to love and protect them is why you lose focus and start to get tunnel vision. Your only goal is to fix them. They’re broken and need fixing.
I must fix you! I must fix you! I must fix you! I must fix you!
At least that’s what your teenager hears and sees. They feel smothered, attacked, made wrong and broken.
It became your day-to-day obsession, your breath in, your breath out, your food because you saw them spiralling out of control. Now, you’re past being part of the solution. You’re emotionally exhausted and stressed out and you’ve entered a phase of codependence.
“Your fixation to caretake. fix or give advice negatively impacts your physical/mental health, your finances, your job, and your relationship.”
It came from every good intention you ever had in every cell in your body. And yet you lost yourself in the process and now your own mental health is starting to decline.
Acknowledging the issue isn’t the same as being ready for help.
If you confide in someone that you’re struggling below the surface, you’ve likely been thinking about the situation for a LONG time. It can be hard to admit to yourself, let alone have those words see the light of day as they leave your lips toward the ears of another person. In that moment, they have more weight. A lot more weight because of the courage it took to even say them and be speaking the words out loud, they may be true.
Jumping into action isn’t always the best move.
As the wildly action-oriented, highly caring, empathetic, most loving parent anyone could ever have, you did what it took to get help. That’s what made sense.
There’s a difference between being ready to share the issue and being ready to seek and receive help and that distinction is different for every situation, so there’s no ‘rule of thumb’. What I know for sure is this:
If it’s not YOUR issue, it’s not YOUR solution or YOUR timeline.
If you try to take the wheel (cause maybe Jesus is taking too long) on your teen’s life, you’re going to crash your own car that doesn’t have the Tesla autopilot feature. AND, your teen will resent you every step of the way, even if you’re doing all the right things.
Try riding shotgun.
Taking a collaborative approach to finding support works best. Your teen is still driving, determining the speed and direction, but you have input from the passenger seat when they need you.
First, let your teen know they’re not broken. So many teens already think that when they’re struggling so dispelling that myth is a huge start. Then, normalize getting help because most teens still think it’s weak or bad. You can create a list of professionals for your teen to set up interviews with, or they may ask you to set up those times.
Keep the conversation going as your teen chooses the right person to work with and how often. Just remember this. You’re on a road trip, a long one. Mental health is a journey and expecting a destination or version of ‘healed’ will have the wheels fall off.
There are situations where children are too young or in such a desperate state of coping that they are not in a position to self-advocate and get their own support. Staying in conversation and regularly checking in with lots of listening is key.
Don your own mask.
In Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Option B”, which she wrote after suddenly losing her husband Dave, she talks about the importance of supporting the support. Her experience as primary support to her children made it clear she needed her own support.
Whether your teen is struggling in some way or you’re in the normal and challenging adolescent years, taking care of yourself has never been more important. Who are your support people? Do you have relationships you can share openly without judgment or would seeking a professional from time to time be a better fit? If you don’t already have a self-care routine or habits, this is a great time to start.
Modelling self-love, wholeness, and boundaries that keep you at your best to support others mean your energy is more sustainable and your resilience for tough times will be higher. Throwing yourself into your teen’s struggles with wild abandon and no brakes sets you, your health, your relationships/marriage, and your finances up for a hard fall that takes much longer to come back from, and you won’t have much left to support anyone from there.
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