It is my daughter’s birthday this month and I want to tell you about her. She has such a big heart. She cares deeply when we pass homeless people and we aren’t able to help them that day. She closes the basement door to ensure her toddler brother is safe. And last week when she was feeling bummed that her little sister could snap and she still can’t and I shared with her that when I feel that way I try to remember my own talents and gifts so that I can celebrate mine and others.. she took her little sisters hands and said, “When I grow up I am going to be tough, and when you grow up you are going to be a princess and one day a queen and maybe even own a beauty shop!” She believes none of those things, but she sure as hell knew it was going to make her sister’s world swirl with excitement.
That same girl feels so deeply that some days it’s just too much for her. She loses her cool and wreaks havoc in our household. She told me she wants to die to get out of her feelings.
She was seven years old.
When she told me she would kill herself, I called the pediatrician who asked me to decide if I should go to the ER based on how likely it was that she was really going to act on that impulse. I was stuck. The ER felt too excessive and yet I knew that it could take weeks or months to get her the care she so desperately needed. I called a friend who reminded me I could not possibly know how close Ainsley was to acting impulsively on her desire to escape. So we went.
That ER visit triggered all of the things we needed. I can’t say that we have always had that good of an experience, in fact part of my hesitation in taking her was because of the previous failed visit. But this time it worked and we are getting her exactly what she needs.
I want to take a moment to address some things people have asked me about all of this, because maybe you too are a mom who needs to find connection in my story.
Q: How do you know she wasn’t just doing it for attention?
A: She was, she is doing it for attention. She is asking me, her mother, and her dad for help. It is exactly what we want to her do. We want our kids to know that when they are in complete despair we will be there for them… ALWAYS and FOREVER. Secondly, when an adult commits suicide, our social media posts go wild about creating safe spaces for adults to speak up and ask for help if they are in this particular kind of despair. So, why when kids do this do we want to dismiss it as attention seeking. My guess is that it’s our own fear of our ability to walk through that pain with our kids. By saying that these are just unruly kids needing to be put back in their place, we are actively avoiding our own fears of adequacy. Let me add one more thing here. The first time I went to the ER I was told that this was my fault on some level as a mother and that I needed better training. It was deeply painful. It was also FALSE. I told the social worker that her telling me that was like telling an abused woman that she just needed better training to ensure she wouldn’t get hurt again. When we show up for our kid’s pain we have to speak truths that leave us vulnerable to stupidity and stigma even at places a wonderful as Children’s Hospital. But we have to show up and stop suggesting our kids are just being unruly, attention seeking brats that need to be reminded their place.
Q: But aren’t you raising a snowflake? Kids need to know that life is hard and they need to toughen up.
A: Maybe you need to get curious about your own stigma around mental health. The truth is that a kid who has the courage to speak his or her truth in a world that will remind them readily that it means they are attention seeking brats takes more courage than most of us have. Most adults don’t have the courage to walk into a therapist office and speak their truth. Just sit with that for a moment. Most adults don’t have the courage to walk into a therapist’s office and speak their truth. My seven-year-old is terrified to start weekly therapy and speak to a stranger about her life. But she is brave and courageous and she is going to do it. I am not raising a fragile child by letting her walk toward her pain. I am raising a resilient child who knows that pain is what we go through so that we can rise. I am raising a child who isn’t afraid of tough things. I am raising a child who knows that facing pain won’t disconnect her from love and belonging.
My job is to show up for my kid, even when it means facing my own pain and judgment and failings. I am not a snowflake. I am a resilient, badass mamma who will go to the ends of the earth for that child.