How do we love our children while simultaneously releasing them into the universe? For most parents of teenagers, this question is followed by thoughts of choosing a University or supporting our youth in safe relationship and vocational choices. But for parents of teenagers with mental illness; whether it is addiction, trauma, autism, or something similar, the fears and worst -case scenarios run much deeper. We worry about outliving our children. We worry about visiting our kids in jail or the emergency room. We worry they will never fit in or be “normal.”
After working in residential treatment with foster youth in 2010, I ultimately left the job in order to pursue adoption of one of the children with whom I had worked for over a year. I cannot tell you why I adopted Nick opposed to the hundreds of other children and teens with whom I had worked. All I can say is it felt right and I knew he needed the support. I wish the process had been smoother. I wish I could say he thrived once in a stable home. But unfortunately Nick’s Reactive Attachment Disorder coupled with Intellectual Disability has made it very hard for him to function within societal norms. It is heartbreaking to watch your child try to fit in but not be accepted. It is scary to hear that he has hurt someone because he does not know how to control his anger. As a parent, and a therapist at that, I want to make the world work for him. The most humbling and painful thing has been to realize I need to get out of his way and let him make his own choices and mistakes.
The most helpful things I have heard from other parents of kids with special needs have been that I am not alone, they get it, and we have to find humor and connection amidst the hardest of days. Community has been vital to surviving the hardest moments of parenting. I suggest all parents of kids with addiction and mental health needs to seek their own therapy, find a group, and invest in activities that feed their soul. Don’t feel guilty for taking a break and going for a walk or to a movie. Parenting is hard and parenting kids with mental health needs is a marathon. Give yourself a break. Our kids are going to make their choices and all we can do is guide them on the path towards recovery and connection.