"I probably started to feel isolated when I was experiencing postpartum depression. My daughter was premature, and I had a very different motherhood experience than any other parent I knew. I was living out of state and far from any family or old friends so that time was difficult. As I compared myself to other moms, I could see how much harder of a time I was having and that made me realize I needed mental health support." said Amanda a single Pennsylvania mom of 2.
Amanda went on to share with us that this feeling of parental isolation has been present for the majority of her time as a mom. Now that her children are 13 and 14 she is still battling this feeling but has expressed that sharing her story and listening to the stories of other parents is a huge way for her to alleviate some of that isolation.
"When my daughter was in preschool, she was that kid who you couldn't detach from her parent when she was dropped off. She would cry and cry and not want to go into the school. The preschool teacher had to literally hold her on her lap for the first 15 minutes of class and soothe her." said Amanda.
Amanda's now 14-year-old daughter has struggled with anxiety her whole life and has since been diagnosed with GAD, Social Anxiety, ADHD, and OCD. Amanda who struggles with her own mental health challenges noted how isolating it can be to raise a child when both of you are struggling with your mental health. "You're struggling, your kid is struggling, and you feel like you're the broken ones. Like; 'What did I do wrong with parenting? What is the right next step?' and no one is there to make me feel like it was going to be OK." said Amanda.
It has been finding that "next step" that Amanda has found particularly isolating while parenting a child who struggles. "I think part of that lonely feeling is you often don't have anyone who has a template for you to model after. As your children grow and you encounter various common struggles you ask friends, "Oh hey what did you do in this situation?" But my daughter’s struggles are not common, and they are unique to her. You don't have an example that offers what that best “next step” might look like. Do I pick her up from school to help ease her anxiety? Is that what she needs right now or am I enabling her? But maybe she does just need that break – but if I pull her out she’ll get behind on her schoolwork… it's such an internal battle. And I feel like I am the only parent having to manage something like this."
"Daily around 10:20 am, like clockwork my daughter sends me an onslaught of texts about how awful her day is, how rude her friends are being, how anxious she is, or how her stomach hurts. If your child is constantly texting you from school about things that are stressing them out and you can't do anything about it - that's a hopeless feeling. To know that your child is alone and sometimes crying about what is making her anxious in the school bathroom, and all I want to do is take that pain away from her. Even when you know that what they are dealing with isn't the biggest problem in the world, you know it is to them." said Amanda.
"However, I don't know of any other parents who are receiving these texts. They don't understand the panic that puts you into, so I have trouble connecting with other parents in that way. I feel like they don't get it, and sometimes that they are judging my every move. Like my mom for example. Her generation was not as in tune with their mental health. She is always telling me; 'You have to be careful sending her to a psychiatrist!' and then God forbid putting her on medication. Some of the older generation is really judgmental and not open to the current style of treatment and support for children who are struggling."
While Amanda finds these sometimes-well-meaning comments from friends and family to be frustrating, she doesn't feel like it's a new challenge for her. "I mean to be honest parents are shamed every step of the way not just with mental health. From how you feed your baby, to what preschool they go to, and everything in between parents are judged. So, it kind of feels like "Oh this isn't new." It starts from the very beginning of motherhood." explained Amanda.
Feeling isolated from other parents and their parenting experience has been difficult for Amanda but she said it doesn't even come close to the feelings she has when she thinks about how isolated her daughter feels. This brings on a lot of mom guilt only making her own isolation worse. "I think kids in general feel so alone, you know? Maybe it's the self-centeredness of being a teenager but they genuinely feel like they are the only person in the world who is experiencing their hardships.
"I remember one day I was trying to help my daughter process her mood, and I stated that it was ‘normal’ to feel highs and lows and she could be feeling teenage angst more than it being mental health related. She paused, looked at me intently and said, "Mom, there is no way that how I am feeling is ‘normal’. Listen, I am telling you - this is not how other friends of mine feel." Amanda recounted with tears in her eyes.
"I compare my daughter's own experience to what seems to be the carefree, easy social-life and school experience her friends are having. Looking at them and their parents having such a vastly different experience than us is really hard to see and again….a lonely feeling." said Amanda.
Amanda tries to balance these ideas with positives. "What gives me hope for my daughter's future is the reminder that we all have different life journeys, and we will all experience hard things along the way. Maybe anxiety and mental health are one of her hard things early on her path. She's experiencing these struggles early on and she’ll develop and add coping skills to her toolbox. These tools will help her as she matures and later into her school career and beyond. She will know how to handle challenges that a lot of kids her age haven't experienced yet, and I know it will make her stronger. I also think her hyper-sensitivity in some ways might help her navigate adulthood too." said Amanda.
As our teary conversation drew to an end, I asked Amanda if she had any advice for a parent who may be feeling isolated as they raise a child who struggles. She took a long pause and then said; "I do feel like it is important to reach out to someone in whatever way you are most comfortable, and I think as you need to be honest with yourself if you are struggling. If you are hesitant to do that then you need to be honest with yourself to figure out what is preventing you from taking that step because it will be hard and you will feel vulnerable and it might bring up some messy things, but you can't internalize everything."
"Another thing that I feel is hard for parents of kids with mental health challenges is perfectionism and knowing that you might not make that next first step. It might not be the right one and you're going to just have to be give yourself that grace. You know you feel like that next step is so critical and you might not make the best next step but at least you did at least you made some progress. You did something for your child. Oh! Also, comparing yourselves to other parents - it will never, ever help you." said Amanda.