About eight years ago I stood in a funeral line for the son of one of the best people I know, Mac, whose young college-aged son had just killed himself. Mac and I worked together in the local hospital, and he was a wonderful, wise mentor for me as a young, new physician. I’ve never known anyone calmer, more patient, or more accepting than Mac. Unpretentious. Giving. Compassionate. Steady.
I’d just popped out a beautiful, feisty, little baby girl not too long before. The irony was not lost on me as I stood in that long, snaking, horrible line. Not on Mac either, I guess. When I finally made the front of the funeral viewing line, Mac looked in me (yes, in me, if that’s possible), with his face in jagged zig-zags, held together simply by sheer human spirit and said: “They don’t tell you about this part when you’re making babies, do they, Terri?”
No, Mac. No, they don’t.
So let’s carry on with my questions. Remember, I’m writing this as a mom who likes to think (probably over-think, as my kids tell me, “Enough already, Mom!”), not as a physician or healthcare provider. Don’t use anything on my site as authoritative knowledge or for treatment. I know you won’t. Onward.
Are you heeding warning signs that counseling or medical intervention is needed, such as suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, or anger that is physically manifested?
I know that teens are often unhappy and restless for no good reason at all! But sometimes there are signs of something deeper, and we can’t just expect frightening adolescent behaviors or words to go away on their own. The earlier we intervene, the easier it is to change faulty mindsets, perceptions, and reactions. There is NO shame in getting professional help, even if you’ve got one of those “good kids” or everyone thinks you’re the “perfect family.” When a child talks about suicide, get help. When a child acts out sexually, get help. When kids are doing drugs, get help.
Conversely, maybe it’s the adult in the situation who needs help. The things that I’ve seen or heard tweens, teens, and twenty-eens do or say blows my small mind. They can be enraging! If you find yourself losing your temper physically, get help. Even if you find yourself being verbally abusive in response to them, that’s no good. Strong people get help.
Despite the chuckling of seasoned parents, some kids don’t make it. Some parents can’t handle it. Get help when you need it.
Are you asking the hard questions?
One thing I learned early in med school is that you can’t be afraid to ask patients the hard questions. How much alcohol do you drink? Do you use crack, meth, or other drugs? Do you have sex? With who? Do you ever think of death? Hard questions that must be asked to take care of patients best. (I once saw 75-year-old woman using meth. Surprise!)
You THINK you know the answers your kids would give to hard questions, but you MUST ask. Start young. Start early. (But it’s never too late.)
Yes, it’s uncomfortable. It gets easier.
Do you have a boyfriend? Do you have a girlfriend? Is there someone you like? Are you feeling sad inside? Have you ever been asked to take drugs? Do you even know what drugs are? Do you think you’ll start your period soon? Are you scared about your body? Are you scared about your feelings? Do you know God loves you? Are you scared God doesn’t exist?
Ask the hard questions.
Are you listening?
Kids talk all the time. I can still hear mine talking even when they’re not talking!
Talk, talk. Listen. Chatter, chatter. Listen. Whine, whine. Listen. Blah, blah, blah. Listen. Problem, problem! Listen.
Problem, REAL problem, Mom!? I’ve got this daughter. I’m listening. I’ve been listening the whole time.
Listen even when it hurts your head. You’ll be surprised at how a listening environment will bring your children to you at the tough times. You don’t listen in the easy times, you won’t be trusted with the tough times.
Are you yourself seeking support and encouragement?
If you open up to the right people, you’ll be amazed at the powerful insight that those who have walked this path before you have gained. Even when it comes to heavy stuff like pre-marital sex and suicidal thoughts, these parents may surprise you with what their kids told them or did when they were growing up. They’re a treasure chest of support.
Are you letting go of your attachments?
I have an image of how I want my daughters to be, whether that’s how they are or not–or even can be. It’s based on what I think is important, what I think is important to survive and excel in this world, and ideas I’ve picked up from my church background. I’m attached to certain ideas for them. How they dress. How they talk. How nice and kind they are. How their education is. What activities they’re in. Who their friends are. How organized they are. If they go to college. What they go to college for. And so on. These are MY attachments overlaid on my children.
Not too long ago I was thinking about what kind of dad Gandhi had been, as he clearly endeavored for peace and was considered a “good” person. Reading about his relationship with his children made me stop and think about how I impose my attachments on my children.
In my brief reading, I saw Gandhi struggled significantly with his first son, who ended up with a very sad, tumultuous life. Gandhi imposed his acquired “enlightenment” standards on his family, which was not necessarily wrong, as he had exceptionally good reasons. But sometimes things just don’t fit, and by holding fast to his pretty severe principles, Gandhi alienated his son.
I believe children can tell when it’s YOUR attachment coming through, not necessarily what is best for them.
I’m about done, I think. I had a few more questions I explored but have run out of room to elaborate on:
- Are you creating consistent boundaries and sticking to them?
- Are you working on rooting out negative self-talk in the house?
- Are you being creative in your parenting?
- Are you providing spiritual guidance?
But I’ll leave you with just a few more questions, because, remember what Mac said: “They don’t tell you about this part when your’e making babies, do they?”
In what ways can I make myself more approachable? In what areas are my kids interested in that I could show a little more interest? In which areas could I look for more information to try to understand them better?
Photo credit: PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38370457