Why Partnering rather than Parenting helped me help my daughter when she was having a Mental Health Crisis.
It’s 2015. My daughter, 14 at the time, has stopped going to school and is hurtling towards crisis point, dragging all sense of normality with her and us into the deepest, bleakest hole we could ever imagine.
She struggles to leave the house
She can’t face her class
She’s not able to sleep and spends hours awake in her darkened room with just the light from her phone as company as she listens to ASMR to try and drift off
She’s barely eating
The black dog of depression and its companion, anxiety, are leading her away from the path we are on, and there’s nothing she or we can do to stop it.
People pass seemingly helpful comments about ‘just’ making her do things like go to school, sleep, eat even. And when this doesn’t work, blame about how we got to this point is clearly on their minds.
The question they want to ask but don’t is, “what kind of parent are you to allow your daughter to act like this?”
In their world, they wouldn’t let their child stay up all night
In their world, they’d make their child go to school
In their world, they’d take that mobile phone away
In their world, their child would do as they’re told
In their world, parenting is a simple power system where parents rule
But not so in the world of depression and anxiety.
What I learned as my daughter became seriously ill is that our behaviour as parents impacts hugely on our children’s ability to get better, and that Partnering with them, not Parenting them, can help get everyone through this dreadful time and ease the frustrations and fear that we feel when faced with these invisible illnesses.
She needed me to stand beside her, to understand, to listen, to not judge, to suspend my role as parent and become her partner in her illness, and her recovery
She needed me to create an environment where the rules had changed, and that was ok (even though it felt alien and wrong to me)
She needed me to stand up for her when she couldn’t explain to the professionals why she no longer cared about herself and wanted to die
She needed me to listen to her at 3am, just the bleakest time of night, when she wanted to end her life with an overdose
She needed to know that I understood that the depression made her unable to get out of bed, she wasn’t lazy, she was ill
She needed to know I didn’t judge her for the state of her matted hair or the fact she was so emaciated her clothes fell off her
She needed me to say I’ve got you, and I’ve got this, and we will come through this together, even when I didn’t know if we would
She needed me to understand, to not judge, and to not fix, but to accept the situation and do whatever was necessary to get her well
Well, that’s just parenting, you may think…
The difference for me is that with parenting you expect your child to do what you say!
With partnering, you acknowledge they can’t and accept that in order to get them better.
Partnering is a gift you can give your poorly child. It’s not an easy thing to do, because all of our parenting tendencies are yelling to just get them back into the ‘normal’ structures and routines and it’ll all be ok, or to assert authority over them to get them to do what we want. But if your child is in crisis, that’s unlikely to happen, or help.
Partnering your child through this tells them that you believe they are ill, you accept them for who they are, and you are there to walk beside them until they are better.
In my experience, it breaks down the barriers of expectation, it stops the silence of their pain, and it forges a respect and closeness that endures beyond the point of crisis.
If your child is in crisis, think about Partnering, not Parenting. Partnering gives your child the stability to believe that there are options, that they’re not alone, and that they’re not being judged. And that freedom can often give them the space they need to begin to get better.