My mantra over the past few years: Raising teenagers is not for the faint of heart. With two teenage boys, I sometimes find myself waiting for the next ball to drop. Let’s face it, kids don’t always make the best decisions. Remember when your toddler lied about getting into the chocolate cake. It was so cute. The frosting was smeared all over his chubby little cheeks. Well, that adorable tot is now driving a car and hanging out with friends you haven’t met.
Don’t get me wrong. I have great kids. They still give me hugs (sometimes) and still tell me they love me, but they can leave me speechless. Whether it’s missing curfew, getting a traffic ticket (or three) or a note from school that they’ve missed an assignment, there are days I feel exhausted and worried. Sometimes I feel like they try to worry me for fun. My favorite incident: as I was drifting off to sleep, I received a call from my younger son at 10:30 p.m. He was at a friend’s house, and the first words out of his mouth were “Mom, I have really, really bad news.” My heart immediately sank. He goes on to tell me how they were fishing in a lake behind his friend’s house and … he dropped his fishing pole in the water. What? All I could think was “Lead with that next time!”
In today’s world, our kids are facing so much. They’re living in an environment where there’s violence, money is king because you have to “keep up,” and many are children of divorce; not to mention the struggles teens have always faced like cliques, drugs, alcohol, breakups and bullies. I worry about my kids—a lot.
My younger son sometimes sleeps until 3 in the afternoon. Is he just being a teenager or is he depressed? My older son hasn’t called from college in a few days. Is he just having fun and studying hard, or is he withdrawing?
Yesterday, I gained some perspective and some much—needed peace. It came in the form of a class teaching Mental Health First Aid. The class was focused on adults, but I found the lessons just as applicable where my kids are concerned. Are they using drugs? Are they depressed? Are they anxious about the demands of school? I learned how to spot the tell-tale signs. And even better, how to approach my kids. After all, a mom sitting down on her son’s bed asking him about his recent breakup doesn’t exactly elicit a lot of response from a 16-year-old boy. I now feel better equipped. Will I still annoy them with my seemingly overly open line of communication? Probably. But that’s ok. They’ll know I’m here to listen. I’m no longer afraid to ask the questions.
I also learned an equally, if not more important tip, the importance of self-care. I have failed miserably at this since the day my kids were born. I have instant buyer’s remorse If I buy myself clothes or shoes. If I make plans, I’ll cancel if one of the boys has something he needs. I serve myself dinner after everyone else has been served. I have had one girl’s weekend in the last 10 years and haven’t had a professional pedicure in 12. Yes, that’s embarrassing to admit, but It’s hard to put myself first. Why do I feel guilty? It’s something I think a lot of moms struggle with. But my Mental Health First Aid instructor made good sense. Taking care of others’ needs, especially mental and emotional needs, is tough. You have to give yourself an opportunity to recharge, destress and take a break. Many times, you take on their emotional struggles.
Hmm, I guess I can do that. Immediately when the class was over, I made an appointment to get my hair done. I usually feel guilty spending the money, but by golly, they gave me this gray hair and now I’m getting rid of it, replacing it with peace of mind that I can be there for my kids and myself—and have good hair.
If you have ever worried about your child, your family, a friend or a coworker, learn how to help them. Mental health challenges and substance use are more common than you think. You always hear the statistic that 1 in 5 people will battle a major mental illness in his or her life, but just in my class of around a dozen people yesterday, several discussed their experience with panic attacks. It’s common, and you could be the help someone needs. It’s given me so much peace, I wanted to share with you. There are several classes scheduled throughout the rest of the year. To enroll, go to www.goodwillar.org/Academy