Graduation Season: Can We All Give a Deep Sigh of Relief?

It’s graduation season and like many parents I’m getting a little emotional about it all. Our first of three children just completed her final day of high school on Friday. Collectively, we all gave a huge sigh of relief.

You see, we were never sure that we would find ourselves in this place. Our daughter, like many others struggled with mental health issues that seriously jeopardized her completion of high school.

Can we all agree that we hate mental illness? It’s so widely misunderstood by most, unless you have gone through it yourself or have been close to someone who has. What’s really nasty about this particular beast is that it portrays itself in so many different ways. Some are suicidal, depressed, reclusive, obsessive, paranoid, etc…

For most of her childhood, I misinterpreted her illness as her just being lazy and irresponsible. As a father I said some horrible things to my child in frustration. In so many ways I failed her, because I simply did not recognize the signs.

In 2014 we decided to seek out the services of a psychologist and had a psycho educational assessment completed. It was at this point that we received a diagnosis and explanation for her behavior. She was diagnosed with generalized anxiety, ADHD in the executive functions and a math learning disability.

This was the moment that I realized just how much of an a–hole I had been.. How could I have not known? Why didn’t we seek professional help sooner? Did we leave this too late to ensure her future success? My wife, having dealt with her own mental health issues, felt that it was because of her that our daughter suffered the same fate. We felt guilty, and a little bit like failures as parents.

Are you a new parent? I promise you, at some point you’re going to feel like you’ve failed. After talking with many others with grown children, it’s not uncommon.  It might be cliche to say, but they did not come with a manual so we’re all doing the best with what we know.

So, knowing what I know now, my goal is to help and encourage other parents. It’s important that we learn from others experiences.

So, here are 4 steps that I believe will help you be a better parent when dealing with mental health issues

1. Talk with your children (and don’t over-react)

This is hard and requires an immense amount of self disciple. Your kids should feel 100% comfortable telling you anything, and that will only happen if you process the first thought that pops into your head, when you hear something shocking – before verbalizing it.
For example, when your child tells you that a classmate snorts cocaine at parties, do you freak out and tell her she can’t hang out with that person anymore, or do you have a calm conversation about what your child thinks of this?
When your child is comfortable talking to you about big issues going on around them, they will be comfortable talking to you when they have big issues in their own lives.

2. Talk to other parents (not just to complain about your kids)

This is your first time parenting, so find other people that have been through it. Find people you can trust, that will not spread gossip if you discuss specific situations you’re dealing with.
First, you’ll have to admit that you have no idea what you’re doing. Be okay with that. The sooner you do, the sooner you will be open to some really helpful advice.

3. Mental health is not an excuse

When we first received the diagnosis, we made it very clear to our daughter that it was in no way to be used as an excuse to not be successful. Knowing the diagnosis will help you develop strategies to overcome obstacles, but success is never off the table. The route to get there may be harder and a bit longer than you expect, but always be looking forward.
As parents, we suddenly became accountable to change our approach with our daughter. We had to learn to be compassionate and understanding despite our frustrations.

4. Seek professional help (it’s not a sign of weakness)

Some people think that professional services are only required in serious situations, but I disagree. The diagnosis that our daughter received was incredibly minor compared to many others that we’ve talked to.
We’re so thankful to have received the professional help when we did but had we received it even two years earlier, her high school career would have been so much less painful.
So, if you suspect mental health issues, or feel that you just don’t understand your child. Get help, and don’t delay.

Mental health is incredibly complex, and there are so many facets to it. I will not pretend that we got this all figured out. I’m sure there are some ways that we’re screwing up the next two coming up through their childhoods.

You will make mistakes as a parent. You can’t change them, so face them and determine to do better. Have honest conversations with your kids, and you’ll be ok.

Oh, our daughter, is leaving in September to go to College. Yes, college!  Her path to success was difficult, and never looked like we imagined it would, but she got there.

Have you dealt with mental health issues in your family? Encourage someone today!

Leave a comment below with your thoughts.


One thought on “Graduation Season: Can We All Give a Deep Sigh of Relief?”

  1. Totally tough. I’m going through a similar challenge with my adolescent child, didn’t see it coming either. As parents, we want them to be independent and be able to support themselves. Just them overcoming it and trying to live as ‘normal’ a life as possible is indeed a success


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