Since school started this year, I had been dealing with something quite unexpected: David had severe emotional disturbances. Since starting first grade, he has struggled with adjusting to a new schedule, a classroom, and a playground. The school psychologist said he exhibited symptoms of abandonment. My divorce, Grace, has put a strain on my boys’ lives–on all of our lives. I am still buried in therapy and managing his behavior while still going to work full-time and coming home to resume my duties as a mother.
Grace, I am exhausted from my day’s work. But when I heard about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, I was even more emotional. I cried while reading every story. Then, I silently prayed, thanking God for blessing me with the understanding of how important our mental health is. Therapy whether for emotional disturbances, life changes or other challenging times in our lives is significant in helping us become functioning individuals and bettering our life circumstances.
And although, I have not reached out to you, Grace, I want to thank you for always being present to me whether in your words, silence, or spirit.
I came across these words from Erica Hoitsma, who is a marriage and family therapist and works with at-risk (at-promise!) youth in Los Angeles County. This is what she had to say about the tragedy and mental health.
What Can I Do to Support these Families?
By Erica, Hoitsma, Guest Blogger
I, like all of you, have been in shock since the news of the shooting in Connecticut. I have tried to ignore it, not listen to the news, not engage in conversation because the horror of it is so profound. When I have responded I have calculatingly only shared or spread things about those who showed courage and the beauty of the human spirit in the face of this tragedy.
When I read “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” this morning I was finally moved to comment more fully. Many of you know I work with children and adolescents with sometimes severe and persistent mental illness. I work with their Moms, Dads, Grandparents, foster families and schools to help these children not end up on the fringes, outside of us, looking in. I have learned repeatedly over the last six years what makes THE difference for these families is a support system. Often when you have a child who acts differently than others, you as a parent and a family are ostracized. After a few awkward and sad incidents you find you are no longer invited to holiday parties, birthday parties… your own shame kicks in and you stop asking others to you home. Suddenly you, your immediate family and your child are alone. Often marriages dissolve and it is only one parent and the child. Now there is no one for your child to see boundaries modeled, no other reinforcement to support families in persevering to show love, look for the right treatments, groups, activities to keep your child attached meaningfully to the world around him or her, to have a chance to overcome the darkness that haunts them. Isolated the darkness grows and spreads.
So when I think what can we do in response? It is the following. I can urge all of you to find your local facilities and schools that work with these children and ask “what can I do to support these families?” These agencies are all looking for volunteers to befriend these kids, take them to the movies, notice the things they are good at, build their esteem, and keep them connected to the greater community at large. We must not lock them up and hide them away, but embrace them and keep them close so they develop their own sense of compassion and investment in the world. Their parents need friends too, cheerleaders, people to take them to coffee and let them talk, other compassionate and creative minds to come up with solutions to keep their child interested and invested in the beauty of the world. Be that person who doesn’t ignore the struggling families around you. It is absolutely and utterly true that it takes a village to raise children these days. We are that village and how we choose to be in this world will continue to manifest itself around us.