Family

Parachute Parenting: When You Can’t Drop Out Of The Sky Even If You Could

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Parachute Parenting. When You Can’t Drop Out Of The Sky Even If You Could

Each night at bedtime, my twelve-year-old daughter and I have a window of time to chat candidly about whatever is on her mind.

After a long day, with her homework done, after her period of chatting with friends has concluded, and after I have patiently waited for her hour-long pre-bed bathroom rituals, it’s time for her and me to connect.

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We have had many honest and revealing conversations. There, in the sanctity of her room, her small voice tells me big things. Such was the case the other night. My daughter had real worries about her closest friend.

Parenting a child with anxiety issues and depression.

To lead you, the reader, into understanding, I will tell you that my daughter, like many other children today, deals with anxiety, depression, stress, identity issues, and self-esteem as typical for this age.

The difference was that my daughter’s anxiety used to be debilitating. It would send her into physically freezing up, unable to move her body while her mind grappled with whatever stressor was presently torturing her. That would lead to depression, self-doubt, and often tailspin into frustration, anger, and anguish.

I said “used to be” because I managed to find her professional help. At my daughter’s request, I found a proper therapist. A woman that specializes in her age group, with her specific issues. Through consultation and discussions between the therapist and our family doctor, we chose to go forward with suggested medication and maintain regular therapy sessions to support her mental health.

We, her mother, and I, along with my daughter, have been brought into the modern parenting model that includes mental health awareness facilitated by the excellent mental health awareness program through her Catholic elementary school.

The consecutive years of consistently speaking about, embracing, and normalizing the topic of mental health removed the stigmas accompanying this avenue from previous generations. Our family is positively engaged in open and supportive discussions regarding our child’s mental health.

It did take some getting used to. It took real soul searching to understand that we could do all we could as parents and still have a child that suffered from serious issues.

But, for me, the change in perspective and action came when the therapist brought me into her office to communicate that my daughter, the most important person in my life, was clinically classified as “at-risk” for personal harm or worse. It shook me to my core. But, I acted immediately and have remained vigilant and attentive to my daughter’s mental health.

We, as a family, have come a long way since those early frightful days. My daughter is doing very well. She has re-engaged in her activities, sports, social, and personal passions in art, music, and writing. But, without the correct professional help, I shudder to think where things might have ended up. We didn’t recognize the gravity of the warning signs.

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A loss of interest in participating in her usual joyous activities, yes, Covid had a significant and severe impact on that. Everyone knows how restrictions have affected lives, sports, and so on. But, beyond that, she had steadily lost interest in all her previous preoccupations.

She stopped creating her art, and she stopped reading her books. My daughter didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything outside the home, and she stopped talking to friends, cousins, and extended family.

She lost her enthusiasm to get in the kitchen and cook with me. I couldn’t get her to come along when walking our dog, whom she loves with all her heart. Even her usual distractions failed to hold her attention.

Minecraft, that thorn under my skin that I would have to shut down after hours of creating worlds and all the other things, had gone by the wayside. About the only thing we still had her engaged in was watching movies together as a family. We tried everything to get her to light up again. We failed over and over.

Seeking the correct professional help

Thank God for therapists like hers. She is nothing less than a savior. My daughter loves her, and if she could, she would gladly speak to her twice a week versus twice a month. So, I explained that to convey my daughter’s awareness of the positives of proper counseling and even the benefits of medication.

My daughter is doing great. Her school marks are strong, and her social interaction is solid. In addition, she’s back in sports and loving it. Hockey and Jujitsu are her passions, and she is excelling in both. In addition, she’s sought out leadership and mentoring roles for younger girls and last week started her role as a coach’s assistant to the under-9 girl’s hockey program.

In the application process, they asked, “What are your goals in this program?” Her answer: “I want to help girls be their very best on the ice and inspire them to be their best self, off the ice” I choked up with pride when I read that.

Supporting your empathetic child

Now, back to the issue and point of this. My daughter explained that her closest friend, her best-bestie, who I will name 12, suffers from many of the problems my daughter deals with. The difference is that her friend has no support seemingly.

According to my daughter’s account from her friend, 12’s parents do not actively engage with the topic of her mental health. From 12’s confession of having spoken to her mother about it, her mother rebuffed her idea that children need therapy and possibly medication, saying “it’s not good for kids.”

I asked my daughter what she’s done or discussed with 12 about this. My daughter told me she had spoken often about her therapist, the fact that she is taking medication, and informing her flat out, that it helps.

My daughter said, “I told her that I feel the sunshine. Before, I felt like I was always standing underneath a raincloud, and I felt cold. I feel more confident, and I feel warm and happy. I think that’s good for kids.” Her friend replied, “Well, my parents would never go for me having therapy, and they think medication is bad.”

Laying on my shoulder, with tears running down her cheeks, my daughter asked, “Dad? What can I do to help her? What would you do?”

Responsible parenting advice to your child

I had to pause and think about this. This is the tricky spot about being a parent. In a moment like this, raw and painful, with your child asking for your help and advice, you have to be aware of how much they trust you. How much they will believe whatever you tell them to do because they will listen and believe you. You had better be cautious and, hopefully, correct in what you say next.

I told her I needed a few minutes to think about this carefully. Finally, I told her, “We can’t tell her parents how to parent. That’s a line between adults that you can’t cross without consequences. There may also be more to it than what we know.

Perhaps her parents are well aware and have or are trying to help her. We don’t know all the facts. We only know what 12 told you.” I paused then and looked at my daughter. Her face carried lowered eyebrows, and her gaze fixed to a spot on the ceiling. I continued, “It doesn’t mean you can’t help her. You can.” Her posture changed; I felt her body relax a touch.

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My advice went like this. “When we did the school orientation, I remember that lady counselor who showed us her office and lounge space. That it’s a place set aside for helping kids chill out and decompress from any stress or emotional issues they are having, and she seemed pretty nice to me.

My advice is to take 12 in there. Or even go yourself and talk to the counselor about 12. Then you can bring 12 in with you, so the counselor is prepared. Then, hopefully, the counselor will talk to 12’s parents as she sees necessary.”

“We know 12’s parents and their family. They are good people, love their kids and there’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t do everything they could to help 12. But, maybe they need to understand from another adult, a teacher or counselor that the issues 12 is dealing with are serious and there’s help available.”

My daughter smiled, hugged me, and said, “I can do that. 12 told me that she wished she had a therapist. Thanks, Dad.” Then, before tucking her in for the night, I reminded her that the most important thing she can do is continue to be there for her friend, listen to her and let 12 know that she cares.

Be mindful of your child’s concerns and let them know you listened.

I turned out the light and left her room. I made it to the stairs when I realized something even more important I should have said. I returned to my daughter’s bedside.

“Hey, I forgot to tell you something, and it’s important,” I told her.

“Yeah, Dad?” she answered, propping herself up on her elbow.

“Make sure you’re listening to her when she’s talking. If 12 says anything about hurting herself or running away or anything that sounds scary or dangerous, you tell mom or me. You don’t wait. If it’s at school and you feel like something bad will happen, you tell your teacher or go to the counselor right away. Even if 12 gets mad at you. It’s ok. It’s not wrong.” I explained with a firm voice, and I knew that my daughter understood what I was talking about.

“Promise?” I asked.

“I promise, Dad.”

The thing is, I’m still thinking about this because of how quickly it became so very serious with my daughter.

The what-ifs came calling. What if I was too distracted, or busy, or with work to listen to my daughter? What if I disregarded the concerns my wife expressed when she first started taking serious note of the changes our daughter was experiencing? What if I just thought my wife was overprotective? What if I didn’t want to listen or gave up because I didn’t know what to do?

In the worst scenarios, those are wrongs you can never make right.

Is there more you would do? Less? I feel I gave the right advice. I’ve also told my daughter it would be good to bring this up during her next therapy session. Get the expert’s opinion; after all, I’m just a dad, I have no training to say I’m right.

It also makes me wonder how many other children might be worried about friends or siblings even. For the briefest moment, I thought about the guilt or responsibility my daughter would feel if she did nothing, and then something terrible happened to her friend. And to be honest, that’s a proper motivation for me to help my daughter help her friend.

Arpad Nagy is a proud Hungarian-Canadian in his late 40's. He is co-editor for Kitchen Tales.

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.