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Self Harm and Parental Guilt


"I didn't want to address it. I wanted to believe it was the cat just like she told me it was. She was perfect, she was my easy kid, she was in between her brother with ADD and another brother with a rare syndrome. I didn’t want to connect the dots," said Allegheny Family Network COO, Maria Silva when asked how she initially became aware that her daughter Rachel was engaging in self-harm. "I was in complete denial. I attributed everything to teenage angst. I remember asking her what had happened and she told me it was the cat. At the time we had a not-so-nice cat so I decided to believe her, there was a part of me that didn't want to push it but I was becoming suspicious."

Maria and her daughter Rachel
Maria and Rachel

"It was smack dab in my face when there was an altercation where she was screaming and crying and slammed her door. She came out and said; 'Look what you made me do!' and held out her arm that was dripping in blood. Her sister and I were stunned by what we had just seen." said Maria, "I remember being terrified and not knowing what to do. If I took her to the hospital I was scared they would take her away from me. I had a very real fear of how this would look and of the system as a whole, and I absolutely hate that parents are made to feel that way. My mother had recently passed away at the time and I didn't know who to turn to for help." said Maria. "Rachel wanted to see a therapist and I got her one. We acknowledged her anxiety and depression."

Did you catch our webinar with Dr. Kristen Hennessy where she discussed how parents can help their child who is engaging in self-harm? Check it out here:

"At one point the therapist had discharged her and told her there was no reason to come back because she was doing great. Again I was back to being focused on my son because in my head she had a smaller challenge than he did. My son was the reason that I began working at AFN." said Maria. Allegheny Family Network is the parent organization of the Parent Alliance and exclusively serves families who live in Allegheny County. "Three days after I started at AFN Rachel attempted and ended up in a psych ward. That was the beginning of our healing journey," said Maria.



"I felt guilt every single day after that altercation. What did I do wrong as a mother? Her younger brother's challenges consumed a lot of my time. I felt such guilt about neglecting her; she was just a baby when he was born. They are 2 years apart. That's it. She got 2 years then my focus was on him. Even though I tried as hard as I could to give everyone separate mental health days where they got to spend 1 on 1 time with me at home it never felt like enough," said Maria. "I didn't work, I stayed at home and I tried to do everything right for them. I encouraged them to try any and all activities they wanted and I showed up to each and everything they did. We were very much paycheck to paycheck. We had everything we needed, but not what we wanted by any means. If I was working could we have had it easier? Probably yes, money-wise but then I wouldn't be there for after-school snacks. I didn't understand mental health and where it came from. So, yes I had a lot of guilt about a lot of things." said Maria.

Maria and her daughter Rachel
Maria and Rachel

As a parent raising a child who is struggling guilt is sadly a common emotion for you as well. All you ever want is for your children to be happy and healthy and during those really difficult parenting moments, it is so easy to turn inward and feel that gut-wrenching guilt. What we have found, that does help to alleviate guilt, is to hear the stories of other parents and recognize that you are not alone in this feeling. It is important to read that other families have challenges too and we are excited to hear that Maria and Rachel overcame these challenges and have continued to grow closer than they ever have before.


When I was speaking with Maria in preparation for this article I asked her if she had any advice for parents who have children who are struggling and I was very inspired by her answer. It is the kind of answer that showcases how valuable lived experiences are and how much a parent learns and grows as they help their children do the same. She said; "Don't damage your relationship or judge your child in the worst part of times. Don't react the worst possible way during those terrible times and damage what you have with them. Breathe, you'll get through it."


Is your child struggling? Don't worry we are here to help! Give our FREE and CONFIDENTIAL Family Support Partners at 570-664-8615 or book a time to talk here!

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