Just a Parent

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“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.

Yes.

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.

Well, damn.

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.

Daily Prompt: Pattern: Snowflakes

via Daily Prompt: Pattern

Since we’ve been riding this rollercoaster called MDD (Major Depressive Disorder, or, as I call it, Many Dismal Days), I see patterns in behaviour, patterns in triggers, and even patterns in communication.

Parent-blamers would call her a “snowflake,” which they mean to be a delicate type who can’t withstand the pressures of daily life. The implication of the word “snowflake” is negative. Its cause is assumed to be that parents, by not letting their children fail at things, have created patterns of weakness in their children, where they fall apart at the slightest provocation because their parents have traditionally done everything for them.

The reality is far more complicated, as are real snowflakes. Maybe in some cases, the parental influence is a factor. Maybe in some cases, kids are wired in such a way that things seem more challenging for them. Maybe in some cases they’re actually trying desperately hard to face life’s issues, joys and obstacles, trying really hard to succeed, but for whatever reason the weather changes and they melt.

I think that the human tendency is to insist on patterns in order to make sense. Even if the patterns don’t always fit, we force things (and people) into categories because that’s how we make sense of them. Kids who are struggling, be it because of depression or anxiety or whatever, are difficult for us to figure out, and challenging to treat. We want to relieve their suffering, but because the causes of these mood disorders are often elusive, we find easy targets (parents, or even the kids themselves) and impose a structure that may not always fit.

Thus we label these kids “snowflakes” because it makes us feel better to have someone to blame. We see patterns in their behaviour and reduce them to the lowest common denominator.

We forget, though, that snowflakes are beautiful, unique, intricate and complicated. Snowflakes are forces of nature, with immense power in their beauty. They sparkle like diamonds in the sunlight, and they have the strength to bend tree branches under their weight, or even crash down a mountainside in a ferocious, roaring avalanche.

Let’s take some time to reflect on the labels we use, and the patterns we impose. Let’s remember that the people we categorize are exactly that: people. With individual thought processes, unique ways of processing information, diverse ways of making it through life’s challenges and joys.

Let’s remember that even snowflakes can be strong.