I spend a fair amount of time on facebook. OK, I spend way too much time on facebook. It's a nice distraction, and for now distraction is my friend. If you're a parent and have friends who are parents, you may have noticed the many links posted by your friends on facebook to articles and blog posts about parenting. Links to lists of things to do with and for your kids. Links to articles about ways to boost your child's self-esteem, or methods of positive discipline. There was even an article discussing the reasons why kids these days self-report depression more so than previous generations, with broad leaps to conclusions without proper consideration of all the variables, much of the blame being placed squarely on the shoulders of their parents.
I used to read these articles and blog posts and take it all to heart. I'd read the recommendations and evaluate my parenting making mental notes about the things I needed to change. I'd pat myself on the back taking full credit for my kids' successes. And worst of all, I'd look around at what I thought other parents were doing wrong and pass judgment on them. Self-righteous and judgmental.
Then an ugly disease called depression landed on my doorstep. Suddenly all the parenting advice in the world wasn't enough to combat a force beyond my control. For those of you who think what my son did was somehow due to my parenting, think again. For those of you who think you can ward off a chemical imbalance in the brain with positive discipline techniques, you can't. And for anyone who's been wondering what I did wrong and why my kid did what he did and yours didn't, stop.
I'm a stay-at-home mom. Nineteen years ago I was working as a CPA at a public accounting firm about to head out to a client's office when my water broke in the reception area of my office. That was my last day of full-time work outside the home. Staying home with my kids was important to me, so I put my professional life on hold to tend to my little people. Over the years I've read countless children's books, mated innumerable socks, applied band-aids, guided, comforted, listened, just like any other parent.
My husband read an article about the importance of family meal time and made it a priority to be home for dinner every night. And I made the dinner, from scratch, trying to keep it healthy, always including fresh vegetables and fruit. As my big kids got older, the conversation moved from just checking in, highs and lows, to lively discussions about current events, politics, movies, or the probability of a massive earthquake taking out all of California. (Some of my happiest family times include sitting at the table chatting with my older kids long after the little ones had finished eating and wandered away. What I wouldn't give to relive one of those nights with Mark!)
A friend of my oldest was over one summer day when they were about seven. When my daughter asked if they could watch TV, the friend said she wasn't allowed to watch TV in the summertime. This gave me an idea. Much to the dismay of my children, I implemented a TV-free summer policy. If you think this was easy, it was not.
All this to say, I took my role as a parent very seriously, which is why depression came as such a shock to me. I couldn't protect my son from the thoughts that plagued him. He was a happy, resilient kid, and then he wasn't. No amount of denying TV in favor of creative play, or engaging him at the dinner table, or implementing any of 100 different parenting techniques could overcome the chemical forces at work in his brain.
My experience as a parent, my skill, couldn't keep mental illness at bay.
Don't have a child with cancer? Dumb luck.
Don't have a child with autism? Dumb luck.
Don't have a child with food allergies? Dumb luck.
Don't have a child with a chronic disease? Dumb luck.
Don't have a child who suffers from depression? Dumb luck.
Don't have a child with Down syndrome? Your loss. (Seriously, I'm the lucky one here. Just ask anyone with a child with Down syndrome.)
The best parenting won't prevent cancer. It won't prevent autism. It won't prevent allergies, or chronic disease. Or depression. So don't confuse dumb luck with skill. If your life is easy and your children healthy and happy, breathe a sigh of relief and know that you're very, very lucky.
As for me, it's summertime and the TV is on. My kids had chocolate chip cookies for lunch. I've quit reading parenting advice. And I won't be giving parenting advice either.
Oh wait, just one thing: please do your kids a favor and teach them to chew with their mouths closed. That's all, just teach your kids to chew with their mouths closed.