I haven't posted a blog in a long time! It's been a busy year for both Kathleen and me as we navigate this new territory in our writing life. Last July I published my first novel, Shoes on the Stairs, centered around a mother's love for her family even after her death. This story was a labor of love as I wrote about my own insecurities as a mother, questioning if how I am raising my children will ultimately screw them up later in their life.
Reality shows abound with adults who, because of their troubled childhood, have resorted to self-destruction in the way of drugs, alcohol, obesity, hoarding or prison time. How does someone get to be 600+ pounds? How does someone live in piles and piles of filth? Why does someone turn to drugs or alcohol or commit a crime that puts them behind bars? More than likely, it's due to a trauma in their life, especially during a time when they were most vulnerable. Not all trauma that leads to these behaviors happens during childhood, but that is when humans are the most vulnerable and the least capable of processing harmful events.
As parents, it's our responsibility to protect our children. I would take a bullet for my children without any hesitation; I would do anything to ensure their safety. But what if there is an unknown threat you never see? It's right in front of your face, but it's disguised as someone you trust, someone you would never consider to be a threat to your child. What then? And when you find out what that friend did to your child for years, there is nothing you can do to change the damage that has been done. Your child, the one you protected with your life, is now swimming in a tumultuous sea, her head bobbing under the water, disappearing for long, agonizing moments before coming to the surface, sucking in a breath and going under again. Each day I pray that she keeps fighting the white-tipped swells, that she continues to return to the top, that she continues to swim no matter how tired she is, no matter how hard the fight is. "We are fighters," I tell her. "Things will get better, the waters will calm."
But what cuts me to the core is that I can't save her--she must save herself. No matter how hard I try to get close to her, to pull her out of the water, my arms can't reach. All I can do is sit in my tiny boat and watch in complete terror, afraid that if I move one muscle I will create a wave that will push her under for good. The fear and helplessness are isolating, and at times, unbearable. "God, take me, save her."
I know more than I ever wanted to about the effects of trauma, about sexual abuse, in children (by children), about 5150s, suicide hotlines, CPS (Child Protective Services), PHPs (Partial Hospitalization Programs), IOPs (Intensive Outpatient Program), antidepressants, mood stabilizers, Neurofeedback, individual, family and group therapy. My days are spent driving my daughter from one therapy to the next, picking her up from school because she can't stop crying, getting an IEP established because she's unable to function well in school, hiring a tutor to get her back on track and trying like hell to find something, someone, someplace, that makes her happy--even if it's only for an hour or two.
So, while parents can be the ones to screw up their children, so can those who appear to be harmless, in fact, those are the ones you must keep your eye on. Don't let your guard down, don't assume that all your child's friendships are safe, even those of the same sex. Set rules, keep your child close, keep their door open. Never assume, just because you know someone or their parents, that the child is not capable of doing something unhealthy or uninvited to your child. Protect your child.
With social media dictating and directing our children today, I fear who they will become as adults. There is too much pressure to be "liked" or accepted and while they think this allows them to be unique individuals, it's actually taking away their ability to think freely because to be "liked" is to conform to what everyone wants to see. As parents, we are losing our grasp on our children and our children are quickly losing their grasp on childhood. Sex and drugs, a time when more kids are questioning their sexuality than ever before at younger and younger ages, and a depleting sense of self-worth are plaguing our children. More children are taking antidepressants, seeing therapists and killing themselves than probably any other time in history. This is what we are up against as parents and there is no margin for error, there is no time to "drop the ball" or shrug our shoulders. Instead, be the parent your child needs you to be, be vigilant, ask questions, and love them fiercely. Remember, we only get one chance to raise them, and we only get a short time to protect them.