So it has been a week since Mother’s Day. A long enough time, I think, to adequately devote to the mainstream mothers who spend their lives and their efforts devoted to the care of their young.
I am writing this blog entry as a tribute to a special subset of mothers. I discovered this special tribe of mothers several years ago when we placed our daughter into a rehabilitation center due to drugs and a suicide attempt. The Wasatch corridor is littered with treatment centers like the one we put our daughter in. Hundred, thousands of troubled teens, those with drug or alcohol issues, those with mental health issues. We met in group therapy, the parents. The shared distress was palpable, in every vocalized concern, in our movements, in our shock and disbelief that we had a common previously shadowed issue that was invading and attacking our homes, our family relationships, our lives, our communities. We did not know how we got there. We wanted to know how we could have prevented the unfortunate experiences that landed us in that community room.
This support group scene is parroted all across the country, all across the world. We just don’t talk about it, do we? Well, I am going to today because I think these parents need recognition and acknowledgement for their efforts.
Did you know?
Studies show that at least one in five children and adolescents have a mental health disorder. At least one in 10, or about 6 million people, have a serious emotional disturbance.
1.1 million youths ages 12 to 17 meet the diagnostic criteria for dependence on illicit drugs — a history of regular and chronic use — and approximately 915,000 are dependent on alcohol.
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition that becomes apparent in some children in the preschool and early school years. It is hard for these children to control their behavior and/or pay attention. It is estimated that between 3 and 5 percent of children have ADHD, or approximately 2 million children in the United States. This means that in a classroom of 25 to 30 children, it is likely that at least one will have ADHD. (Source: NIMH, http://www.nimh.nih.gov, accessed February 11, 2009)
- Autism Spectrum Disorder also known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs), cause severe and pervasive impairment in thinking, feeling, language, and the ability to relate to others. A recent study of a U.S. metropolitan area estimated that 3.4 of every 1,000 children 3-10 years old had autism. (Source: NIMH, http://www.nimh.nih.gov, accessed February 11, 2009)
- Bipolar Disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. About 5.7 million American adults or about 2.6 percent of the population age 18 and older in any given year, have bipolar disorder. Both children and adolescents can develop bipolar disorder. It is more likely to affect the children of parents who have the illness. (Source: NIMH, http://www.nimh.nih.gov, accessed February 11, 2009)
- Conduct disorder, also known as disruptive behavior disorder, is a disorder that involves chronic behavior problems during childhood and adolescence including stealing, fighting, or bullying others. Conduct disorder affects 1 to 4 percent of 9- to 17-year-olds, depending on exactly how the disorder is defined, and seems to be more common in boys than in girls. (Source: SAMHSA, http://www.mentalhealth.samhsa.gov, accessed March 18, 2009)
- Depression is a treatable illness. Major depression is more than a sad mood, depression affects a young person’s ability to think, feel, and behave in a normal manner. Major depression can lead to school failure, alcohol and drug use, and even suicide. At any point in time, 1 in every 10 children and adolescents are affected by serious emotional disturbances. (Source: SAMHSA, http://www.mentalhealth.samhsa.gov, accessed March 18, 2009)
- Eating Disorders are severe disturbances in eating behavior. There are two main types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Eating disorders frequently appear in adolescence. Although eating disorders are more common in females, approximately 5 to 15 percent of individuals diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia are male. Individuals with anorexia are up to ten times more likely to die because of their illness. (Source: NIMH, http://www.nimh.nih.gov, accessed March 18, 2009)
- Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is a persistent pattern of disobedient, hostile, and defiant behavior towards various authority figures. Some studies have shown that 1 to 6 percent of the school-age population is affected. The disorder is more common in boys prior to puberty but after puberty, both genders are equal. (Source: SAMHSA, http://www.mentalhealth.samhsa.gov, accessed March 18, 2009)
- Risk-Taking Behavior is any action that increases the likelihood of injury or death. 72% of all deaths among 10-24 year-olds result from four causes: motor-vehicle crashes, other unintentional injuries, homicide, and suicide. The 2007 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicated that over a thirty day span, 29.1% of high school students surveyed had ridden in a car with a driver who had been drinking alcohol and 18% had carried a weapon. Over a 12 month span, 6.9% of high school students had attempted suicide, 75% had drunk alcohol, and 47.8% had sexual intercourse. (Source: Eaton, et. al., Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance–United States, 2007, CDC, http://www.cdc.gov, accessed March 18, 2009.)
- Schizophrenia is a chronic and disabling brain disorder. It affects about 1% of Americans. Psychotic symptoms usually appear in males during their late teens and early 20s and in females in their mid-20s to early 30s. Symptoms seldom appear after the age of 45 and rarely before puberty. (Source: NIMH, http://www.nimh.nih.gov, accessed March 18, 2009)
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-to-24-year-olds, among this age group, suicide accounts for 12.3% of all deaths. In 2007, 6.9% of high school student surveyed through the Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicated they had attempted suicide in the last 12 months, and 14.5% had seriously considered attempting suicide. The warning signs and risk factors associated with suicide include: depression, previous suicide attempts, recent losses, frequent thoughts about death, and the use of drugs or alcohol. (Source: CDC, http://www.cdc.gov, accessed March 18, 2009)
- An estimated 19.9 million Americans aged 12 or older were current users of an illicit drug in 2007. This estimate represents 8.0 percent of the population.
- An estimated 70.9 million Americans reported being current users of a tobacco product in 2007, a prevalence rate of 28.6% of the population 12 years and older.
- Marijuana is the most widely used illicit substance in this country. In 2007, 14.4 million people were current users of marijuana.
- Vicodin is one of the drugs most commonly abused by adolescents. In 2008, 15.4% of 12th graders reporting using a prescription drug for non-medical purposes in the last year.
In addition to having to combat my own parenting monsters, I became outraged in these support groups. Outraged at the sheer scope of isolation and ostracizing felt on the part of the parents trying to help a troubled child. I was clearly not alone. The statistics bear out the reality that so many parents are in silent suffering due to pervasive challenges with their children. I became an instant advocate for mandatory parenting classes at the high school or college level, one that highlights the potential problems associated with raising a child. I became angry at a culture that perpetuates a myth that child-rearing is all about sugar and spice and everything nice, and felt it was the height of irresponsibility to not present all sides, not just the good but the bad, that comes with parenting. This kind of blindsiding is unacceptable because it leaves so many parents unequipped to prepare and deal with the inevitable fallout that comes with a troubled or struggling child.
So this tribute is to you, Mother’s with Grit. Please get up out of the corner of your room where you have retreated after the onslaught of constant anxiety from not knowing where your runaway teen is, or if they are even alive. Mother, please lift your head from the gravestone of that precious child who was sucked to the point of no return into the dark heavy world of drug addiction. You have walked through the valley of the shadow of death so many times you can map it out in your sleep. Distress, stress, despair and anxiety are your travelmates. You fear no evil, you fear nothing. You have seen it all and you have earned this right. You’ve lived those dark things that people try to imagine do not exist in the world of motherhood. You have earned the right to wield your inner sword against the greatest of life’s monsters. The fact you are still alive is a tribute to your strength.
In the battles of the world, I do not want to fight alongside the mothers who flutter because their child has an upcoming dance recital and they are feeling nervous. I do not want the mother who is complaining about being overworked because she is taking her children to soccer practice, or the mother who is empathizing with their 13 year old who got a B instead of an A on their term paper. While I do not want to diminish the efforts of these mothers, I know that you, as a Mother of Grit, recognize these women are milquetoast. They have no freakin clue. May they never have a freakin clue. I want you, a Mother with Grit. Do not isolate yourself, you stand up and ignore any attempts to stigmatize or judge you because of actions taken by your children. You are not alone. You will never be alone. As long as I am living I will trumpet the trials and tribulations of Mothers with Grit from the highest mountain peaks.
(This message is brought to you on behalf of a special Mother of Grit. My daughter’s 18 year old boyfriend hung himself in the garage of the family home and was discovered by his mother on the horrifying Saturday morning after. It took half a dozen emergency personnel approximately two hours to persuade her away from her son’s body so they could remove him. And it took my 15 year old daughter approximately three years to deal with the grief and trauma associated with this tragedy. We lose some of our life’s essence, essence that can never be regained with experiences like this. I know, because I am a Mother of Grit. You are partaking of this story because I am a Mother of Grit who will not suffer in silence. To be forearmed is to be forewarned. )