We Believe in You
In August of 1994, the U.S. Congress passed a bill called “The Parents’ Day Resolution.” Within two months, President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law. Here’s the text of Public Law 103-62:
“The fourth Sunday of every July shall be established as “Parents’ Day” to be recognized as a recurring, perennial day of commemoration. All private citizens, organizations, and governmental and legislative bodies at the local, state, and federal level are encouraged to recognize Parents’ Day through proclamations, activities, and educational efforts in furtherance of recognizing, uplifting, and supporting the role of parents in the rearing of their children.”
We include that so that this Sunday, any parent reading this can show it to their teenage child or children and inform them that the laws of the land dictate that on this one day – at least – they should be recognized, uplifted, and supported for the love, commitment, and energy they put into the joys and responsibilities of parenting.
There are a lot of national commemorative days out there. If you believe the National Day Calendar, there’s something special to commemorate every day of the year. Some people call them hallmark holidays, some people call them frivolous – and we understand. For instance, July 20th is:
- National Fortune Cookie Day
- National Lollipop Day
- National Moon Day
- National Hot Dog Day
Okay, we get National Moon Day: it celebrates the day Neil Armstrong took “…one small step for man, and one giant step for mankind.” And who doesn’t like fortune cookies, lollipops, and hot dogs? But seriously: we can all agree these days are silly, and that’s the point, so we give the whole thing a pass – and play along, when appropriate.
However, we don’t think there’s anything silly about National Parents’ Day. In fact, we wish it would get as much attention as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Since it doesn’t, we’re here to make as big a deal out of it as we can.
How to Celebrate Parents on Their National Day
The organizers of National Parents’ Day celebrate parents in two primary ways:
- Community Events:
- Parents’ Day committees in local communities host events with the input of volunteers, community leaders, teachers, pastors/ministers, students, and other parents.
- Parents of the Year
- In conjunction with the Universal Peace Federation, each state nominates Parents of the Year who “exemplify parental love, service, and dedication to their family and to the broader family of their local community.”
- Nominees join sponsors, members of Congress, and others for a Parent of the Year Banquet in Washington, D.C., where annual winners are announced and honored.
We think those are great ways to celebrate parents, and we also think there’s a group of parents who need special attention and recognition: parents of teens with mental health, behavioral, or substance use disorders. We shortened that in the title of this article to “Parents of Teens with Mental Illness.” The people we really mean to celebrate are parents of teens with any mental health disorder, substance use disorder, learning challenge, behavioral problem, or teens who are, for the lack of a better way to say it, challenging or troubled.
The first thing we want to say to this group of parents comes in the form of an anonymous quote posted on the National Parents’ Day website:
“The greatest work of any individual, rich or poor, black or white, when it comes down to the evening of their life, is their children and grandchildren, the work of being a parent.”
That goes double for the parents of teens with mental health or behavioral issues. Your work is not necessarily harder than the work of other parents – because everyone has their own set of challenges to meet and overcome – but we do want take the time to recognize how much psychological, emotional, spiritual, and physical energy it takes to parent a teen with a clinical disorder.
Parents of Teens With Mental Illness: Take Care of You
No parent expects a medal or special award for doing the right thing. But if you’re the parent of a teen with significant challenges, we’re here to give you all the figurative medals and awards. You deserve them. We also want to recognize something else. On Parents’ Day, we celebrate parents, but how do we celebrate parents without talking about their kids? Especially when we’re talking about parents of teens with mental illness?
We can’t. Therefore, we won’t.
What we will do is share two things. First, we’ll share parts of an article published by a 17-year-old girl called “Parenting a Teenager With Mental Illness: A Letter from a 17-Year-Old.” Second, we’ll share parts of an article called “Preventing Parenting Burnout: “Meeting the Emotional Challenges of Caring for Children with Mental Health Issues.”
Both excerpts will help you, as the parent of a teen who has walked a mile in those shoes, understand you’re not alone, and remind you of things that you may already know, but need to hear again so your experience is validated, and you know you’re on the right track.
From a Teen to Her Parents, With Love
We’ll start with the letter from the teenage girl, who describes her teenage years and family situation this way:
“As a 17-year-old, who was first suicidal at the age of 11, most of my life has been lived in crisis mode for me and my entire family.”
If you can relate, read on. Her advice is short and simple. She has three main pieces of advice:
- Your teenager is more than their diagnosis.
- They have the same needs and desires as anyone else their age.
- You can’t fix your teenager.
Her first point is crucial: your teen is a person first, a person with a clinical diagnosis second. That’s important to put into practice. In most cases, teens with mental illness need to feel like they’re not treated as something or someone unusual or damaged. They’re teens first: their diagnosis doesn’t change that.
We need to qualify her second point. With few exceptions, a teen with a mental health disorder needs professional support and treatment. Those needs are not identical to anyone else their age. With that said, we completely agree with what she says.
Here’s what we want you to take away from these three points: your teen is still a teenager, going through teenage things, going through puberty, and, in addition to learning to manage their diagnosis, they’re experiencing all the same stressors other teens face. Mean kids, romantic hiccups, embarrassment – none of it is easy, and they need to learn how to deal with it all independently. As a reminder, during adolescence, your teen will undergo drastic transformation in three life domains: ethical and moral decision making, independence and emotions, and sexuality.
To learn more about these changes, please read this article in the Parenting Tips and Advice section of our website:
There’s one more thing to learn: how to put her third point into practice. What this really means is that while you can arrange treatment, take your teen to therapy, and create the conditions that allow them to thrive in recovery, you can’t recover for them. Here’s the author of the article says it:
“At some point, you have to let me make my own mistakes.”
That’s a tough ask for the parent of a teen with mental illness, but it’s absolutely necessary. They have to learn to live their lives on their own terms and in their own way.
Now let’s look at that article on preventing parent burnout.
How to Take Care of Yourself
First, accept that it’s okay to take time for you.
In order to help your teen grow into the best version of themselves, you need to lead by example, and be the best version of yourself. That means you need to take care of yourself. By that, we’re not talking about creature comforts, although we do advise you to take a spa day, start yoga, go on a girl’s/guy’s/non-binary night out, or treat yourself and your spouse or coparent to a nice dinner out – or whatever you consider self-care or pampering yourself.
You totally deserve all that.
What we really mean by taking care of yourself, though, is how you manage your day-to-day life with your teen with mental illness – without burning out.
Here’s a summary of the best points in the article we cite above.
How to Prevent Burnout
1. Recognize that all your emotions are valid.
You may be mad at your teen for having a mental health disorder, which probably feels wrong. It’s not wrong. You’re allowed to have any emotion you have. That’s a fact. What matters is how you react to those emotions, not that you have them. If this one is hard for you, then we recommend seeking professional support, yourself, to work through those emotions.
2. Make outside connections.
If you spend every waking hour outside of work focusing on your teen, you’ll probably burn out quickly. We advise seeking friends and activity partners to bring balance to your life. Keep a regular and consistent schedule. Find a gym buddy, a bowling team, a bridge club, or anything to get you out of your house and remind yourself that you actually exist as a human, all on your own.
3. Make a list of the things you love/loved.
You can do this in your mind, with pen and paper, with voice-to-text, or on your computer. When we say things you love, we mean the things you love about your kid and the things you love about being a parent. This list can include big picture things, like “My kid taught me what means to be selfless,” or it can include other things, like “My favorite memories are of our afternoons at the playground.”
4. Don’t take it personally.
Teens with mental health issues get overwhelmed by emotion. They may say and do things that hurt. When that happens, remember it’s not about you. They’re in pain. Therefore, allow your love for them to transcend what they say and do. It may be challenging, but as a parent, when you lead with love, empathy, and compassion, good things almost always follow.
5. Double down on the love.
We just said this, but it’s so important that it’s worth repeating. Lead all your interactions with empathy, understanding, and above all, love. When you see your kid, smile. Hug them. Surround them with compassion. Make sure they know you’re there for them. Make sure they know you love them unconditionally, and that will never change.
In closing, we want to remind you that we work with parents of teens with mental illness every day of the year. Some of us are parents of teens with mental illness, ourselves. That means that while we don’t know you, specifically, we do have experiential knowledge of some of the exact things you’re going through. When we say double down on the love, we mean the self-love, too. Your job is not easy, and we admire you for everything you’ve done so far.
That’s why we’ll end by saying this:
We see you, we honor you, and we believe in you.
Happy National Parents’ Day!
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA. He writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.