“Are you just a parent who is suggesting?”
The words on the screen stopped me cold. I had written to someone fairly well-known in the mental health advocacy community, and wondered if I could get some suggestions about approaching our school district to see about implementing some pre-emptive programs in our schools. (Suicide prevention, that is.)
She asked me a series of questions, and then, that.
That was my response. But it wasn’t. Yes, I’m a parent, and yes, I’m suggesting, and no, I’m not “affiliated” with anyone, and no I don’t have a corporate backing or even a degree in mental health. I don’t have a side agenda, I don’t have some major following on social media (I don’t even do social media that often). I don’t have money, I’m not a company, and my life hasn’t been rocked by a high-profile tragedy that would give me “street cred.”
But I’m not “just” a parent. Because parenting isn’t “just” something we do. It’s all-consuming, whether your child is healthy or not. And that little word suggests that being a parent isn’t enough, isn’t powerful enough, isn’t connected enough, isn’t influential enough, and isn’t enough of a reason.
This person is also a parent, and she has had tragedy in her life, and she is influential. And because she’s a parent who will forever deal with her tragedy, I find it odd that her first choice would be to diminish, discourage, and dismiss someone who is taking a stand and trying to make some positive contributions.
So I spent the evening feeling a little like I had been sent to the corner by the teacher. But by the time I went to bed I realized that her words say more about her than me. She’s got experience, and she knows how hard it is to change conversations, to effect real change in the way we relate to our kids’ mental health as a society. She knows this, and I know she knows this. She maybe didn’t even realize she was being dismissive, and was maybe just trying to get at how influential I could be by myself.
I do know all of this, too. Having tried to talk to the appropriate people for a few years now, I do know that school boards and superintendants generally don’t listen to a lone voice in the wind, no matter the cause. (Which is why I was asking for her advice! Which she didn’t give me, directly, but ultimately, I guess she did.)
I also realize that she probably gets hundreds of emails every day, asking for her time, her knowledge, her voice. And it’s possible she feels as though people will take and take that knowledge, or maybe just want to catch her wave.
I can understand that.
But I won’t be dismissed. Not by her, not by anyone. I might go away and cry for a couple of hours when someone hurts my feelings, but this isn’t something that is going away. Our schools are a perfect place to have the conversation about kids’ mental health, and despite the ever-growing chorus of babble in the media, there is woefully little actually being *done* in schools. There are teachers who can’t cram in another thing in the day, who are stretched beyond their resources. There are school boards who are faced with closing schools because their budgets are being slashed. They’ve got enough to manage.
We talk the talk, and there are articles written about stigma and don’t be afraid to talk, and get help if you need it, and on and on. A lot is just talk, and talk is … well, talk is empty.
Still, there has to be a way to start. Someone has to start somewhere.
I’m a parent, yes. And I am suggesting.