1. “You are a good mom.”
Too many of us carry around tremendous guilt that somehow, someway our child’s illness is our fault. Mental illness is still perceived as something that is based on nurture and not nature. I cannot tell you how many therapists, doctors and psychiatrists are still looking for a childhood trauma for the cause of my son’s anxiety and depression. There wasn’t one. Unless it was the time I let him cry it out in his crib when he was six months old. Or the time I made him finish his peas. Perhaps it was when I let him watch Monte Python’s Holy Grail when he was seven. (Nah, that just gave him a fantastic sense of humor.)
While that guilt may never go away, please somebody tell me that you see that parenting my child can be quite different, and maybe even more challenging than parenting yours. Books on parenting and conventional wisdom go out the window when your child is having a psychotic meltdown. Discipline, diets and rules do not work on my kid like they may work on yours. And yes, I have tried everything. And like you, I am doing the best I can.
2. “I cannot understand what you are going through.”
No you cannot. Just like I cannot understand your stress level when you are filing out college applications, something I may never have to worry about. But have you ever had your seven-year-old beat you in public? I have. All I could do was hold her tight and let her flail at me until her episode ended. And no, I did not appreciate the disapproving looks and tsk-tsks I got from the other moms at the park that day.
I know several moms who have called the police on their pre-teens. I cannot imagine watching my child being taken away in a squad care – even if for her own safety. I know you stress about the friends your son is keeping, or the way he talks back to you or how your daughter’s grades are slipping. I worry about those things too, but on some days I worry about things that are really, really overwhelming. Will my daughter ever live independently? Will my son ever hurt himself or someone else? Ya, some pretty heavy stuff.
3. “I see your child is <say something positive here>”
Both my children are beautiful and brilliant. They each have their own gifts and personalities. Please acknowledge something, anything positive about them. I don’t get much positive feedback about my children. I don’t get to cheer my kid on at soccer games or attend the honor roll ceremonies. But I still need to hear something nice about them, and trust me there is plenty nice to say. Don’t worry if it sounds minimal. “Bridget’s hair cut looks nice, Charlie smiled at me today.” I will take it.
4. “Happy Fathers Day”
Not all dads walk away from their families. But the divorce rate for parents with a special needs child is 80 – 90%!!! And as we know, in our culture, mothers are almost always left with the burden of care. I for one, don’t like to rag on my children’s father. Not much anyway. But it would be nice to know that people understand that I am both mother and father, caretaker and breadwinner. And frankly it wears me out. So I will take flowers on Mother’s Day and a new necktie on Father’s Day, thank you very much.
5. “What do you need?”
Childhood illness is always heart breaking and incredibly difficult on families. When the illness is physical – friends and family come to the rescue offering support, prayers and even casseroles. But when the illness is a mental one, friends and family stay silent or as far away as possible. Here are a couple of ways you can help.
- see items 1 – 4
- Send a card, just knowing someone is thinking about me will brighten my week.
- Give me a big long hug
- Invite my other children out for a few hours. Siblings of kids with mental illnesses need a break too. They rarely get the attention they deserve, so a little from you would go a long way.
- Make a casserole – any meal for that matter. My kid may not eat it, but I am tired of cooking to his palate. A woman can only eat mac and cheese so many times. When you drop it off, join me for a glass of wine and let’s have a chat about anything but our kids. You know, like a real adult conversation.
For more information on the impact of special needs children on families visit –
Currently @Wit’s End is solely funded by the founder’s credit cards, the energy of more than a dozen volunteers across the country and the hopes of millions of parents. Funds raised will go toward finding a programmer who can bring the final product to life, and other less glamorous things like incorporation fees and registration fees for the 2015 National Alliance of Mental Illness Conference where we hope to spread the word. Please note: donations are not deductible.