During the past three months I’ve been called by five sets of parents whose children, attempted or committed suicide. All of them were consumed by feelings of depression and guilt. The concern they all shared was “what did I do to cause this?” This article is about them and for them. But, if you know anyone who has shared their experience, please give them a copy of this paper, along with your loving support.
First let me stress, (NONE OF THEM WAS TO BLAME). Were they perfect parents? Absolutely not, but every child with imperfect parents doesn’t look for a permanent solution to their temporary problem. The fact is that much more contributes to suicidal behavior than just how you were parented. Therefore, you cannot take total credit or blame for your behavior. But, that truth doesn’t stop parents from doing so. Despite the fact that designating blame does nothing of value; parents, siblings, and friends continue to think, “I woulda, coulda, shoulda.” This behavior by the way only increases their guilty feelings and causes them to excessively dwell on the past.
Your alternative is to benefit from the past in order to live better in the future. How do you do that? First, you learn that time is the best medication. It helps to sooth your hurt and mitigates your pain. Both of which, unfortunately, will never fully disappear. Second, your realize that time can also act as a healing agent. It eventually enables you to live better with your past, to view it with less sadness, to talk about it more openly, and even to laugh about some of the good old times. Later, after you’ve grieved and mourned sufficiently, you will come to peace with both the past and yourself.
It’s then that you can introspectively question, “Why wasn’t my child able or willing to talk to me about his or her feelings?” Note, however, the purpose of asking isn’t to blame yourself. It’s to discover what you need to do in the future to better demonstrate the love you feel inside to others who are dear to you and desire your presence in their lives. To do so requires that you look primarily at yourself because in the end, you are the only one whose behavior you can change. (I should add that the questions I’d have you ask yourself can be asked by any parent who wants to improve their relationship with a child, spouse, or friend.)
1. If you fear that your child is a suicide risk please avoid trying to be their therapist. Plying them with questions won’t help. Oftentimes, they don’t know the answer themselves. You may, however, ask if they’ve thought of harming themselves. If their answer is yes, it is essential to stress that thinking about it doesn’t mean they’re crazy and that no matter what their problem is, they can count on you. That’s what they need to hear.
2. What children don’t need is your hysterics, your anguish, your blame, or your guilt. They already have their own. Nor should you look to them to vindicate or reassure you that you’ve been a wonderful parent who isn’t to blame for their behavior.
3. Honestly, ask yourself, “Am I so emotionally dependent that I control and manipulate others to do my bidding to prove they love me or over indulge them and negate limits or punishments I’ve doled out for fear I won’t be loved?
4. Do I prostitute myself by neither speaking out or up to my children and/or anyone whose love I desire?
5. Am I excessively critical, harsh, strict, unbending, or lacking in understanding? Even if it’s your way of healing the soft vulnerable caring person inside you, it’s not effective. It’s destructive to the recipient.
6. Consider whether you’re a physical or emotionally absent parent who is too busy to spend time with your family or similarly, ask am I so preoccupied with my own problems that I have no awareness of the problems others have?
7. Question, do I live through my children by using their achievements, mistakes and failures as an index of my worth; thus making them responsible for my wellbeing?
8. Do I portray myself as so weak, sick, helpless, and self-centered that others think I already have enough problems and shouldn’t be burden by theirs? As a result, do they feel I’m too weak for them to lean on?
9. Do I emphasize their short comings, their weakness, and their insufficiency as opposed to their attributes and strengths? Not because I don’t care, but because I can’t own or accept my own shortcoming and can’t allow anyone I love to have them either?
10. Am I really there for others emotionally? I’m not questioning whether you care or love them. What I’m asking is, are you able to be vulnerable, i.e. to share yourself and your emotions with them? In effect, do I allow others to see me as a person, instead of as a parent, wife or husband? There is a difference?
Essentially, I’ve tried to give you some examples of POOR parenting that are used by all too many of us. I’d like you to look at them, but not use them to bludgeon, find fault or increase the stress you may already experiences regarding your relations with your children. Instead I’d have you know that eventually the grief, lamenting and tears stop and its then you need to begin looking forward not backwards. To do so, you need to accept yourself as a human being with imperfections, who has made mistakes and is open to learning how to be the parent your child needs.
Hopefully, the do’s and don’ts I’ve listed will supply some initial guidance and support for you to follow. You may, however, also need to seek professional help in order to fully understand what more you need to do to heal your wounds and enable you to live with one another, your past, and yourself in an emotionally healthy rewarding fashion.
For now, however, the message all children need to hear is, “we are going to climb out of this together and as a result we will be healthier than we were before.” The key to your success will stem from the honesty and transparency you display while sharing you. Will you be scared? Yes, if you genuinely care. Will you have all the answers? No. Should you be honest about that fact? Absolutely, but most of all, will you try to demonstrate and verbalize your feelings for them? I hope so.