My son was only five years old when he was diagnosed with depression and anxiety along with ADHD, ODD (oppositional defiance disorder), and Aspergers. It was a lot to take in. My husband and I were partly relieved because up until the diagnosis, life with our son had been very hard. We just thought we weren’t cut out for parenting. I can’t tell you how much I yelled the first five years of my son’s life. He didn’t know how to cope with all his inner turmoil and I was beyond frustrated. I thought he was just being defiant and rebellious. I would yell, and when that didn’t get through to him, I would resort to negative name calling in the hope of motivating him. What shame I felt over that. I had become my father. What I swore I would never do, I was doing. Still nothing was getting through. My son was getting increasingly frustrated as well. He would yell, scream profanities, punch walls. This is when I would send him to his room and tell him he could come out when he was ready to be a “good boy”. I didn’t know any other way to parent.
When my son was only eight years old, he was threatening to kill himself and us. We had no luck finding help and we had now reached rock bottom. A psychiatrist had told us to take him to the Children’s Hospital if he threatened again, so we did. We didn’t realize he would be there for three weeks. In one of the counselling sessions, the hospital psychologist asked me what I did when my son threw fits of rage. When I told her I sent my son to his room, she said something I will never forget. She replied, “Oh no, you never send the hurting away from you… you bring them closer”. I had never heard this before. When he was released from the hospital I decided to take this new approach. There is much to say about the long journey we have taken between the hospital and to my son’s restored health and our connection at this point. There are no words for the amount of shame I felt as a parent for unintentionally adding damage to my son’s mental state. It took me months to forgive myself. To this day I have to decide not to listen to shame’s voice telling me I failed as a parent.
I wanted to provide help to parents who are in the same boat I was. What’s ironic and only added to my shame is that I have been working with youth at risk for 20 years. Aren’t I supposed to have this parent-thing down? I realized through my experience that the parenting journey is truly a courageous one. Some of the issues our children and families are facing are incredibly hard, and I don’t know one parent who wants to fail. We are all doing the best we can with what we have. That’s why I wanted to start Village – a place where parents can break away from shame, find support, and become courageous enough to face the adversity that is breaking down today’s families.
Before we go on, it is important to know that at Village we believe every adult has the ability to impact a child’s life. So, whether you are a parent, step-parent, foster parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, older sibling, teacher, coach, counsellor, mentor, neighbour, bus driver or other adult in contact with children and youth, you are welcome here. In other words, if you are an adult who cares about the children and youth in your life, you are a vital part of their village, and we want to invite you to be part of ours. For simplicity’s sake, we will be referring to all these categories in future posts with the term ‘caregiver’. When you hear, or read this, please know that it applies to you in whatever role you fulfill in a child’s life.
Our ancestors may not have been as advanced as we are today, but they got it right when it came to raising children- it really does take a village. Unfortunately, our fast-paced and competitive modern world has all but erased these natural and supportive communities, and many parents, educators and other caregivers feel isolated and alone. The resulting stress and shame such isolation creates makes it difficult to be present and connected to the children in our care, and is ultimately damaging to our relationships with them.
Caring for kids is one of the most important jobs on the planet. It also happens to be one of the most difficult. The amount of time, energy, and resources required to raise a child is immense; so immense in fact, that nature never intended for us to do it alone. As infants, we are born with an intense physiological need for social contact – it builds our brain circuits, calms our stress responses, and nourishes our souls. As adults, we tend to forget that this need is still present within us. Society’s myths of perfection and competition sink their hooks into us; often causing us to view our need for help or support as ‘weakness’, and to berate ourselves when we fall short of our own expectations.
This is especially true of caregiving. When confronting a challenge with the children in our care, our first thought is often about how others will judge us for our perceived failure. We feel helpless, ashamed, and alone. Rather than motivating us to improve however, these inner feelings of inadequacy often cause us to disconnect from, or lash-out at our children, which only leads to more feelings of failure. It truly is a vicious circle, and if you’ve been caught in it before or are there right now, know that you are not alone.
It’s okay to feel like you’ve messed up.
It’s okay to not know what to do.
It’s okay to want to throw in the towel.
And it’s definitely okay to need help.
At Village, our belief is that when we nurture caregivers – we nurture children. We also believe that when children and caregivers struggle, it is often due to a lack of support, not a personal failing. So, whether or not you already have one, our desire is to be an extension of your village – a place where you can find accessible information, relevant resources, and an accepting community. We want to challenge you to grow into the caregiver the children in your life need you to be, and to know that you are not alone while doing so. It is our hope that in creating a safe place for caregivers to find tools, resources, and support, we will create a safer world for our children and youth.