A few weeks ago, my one and only child turned 12 years old. As we all know, kids at this age go through changes so fast we can barely keep up. I’ve enjoyed watching my daughter hit several milestones in the last couple of years and expect there are many more to come. Not all milestones are given. We don’t know if or when they’ll happen. One such milestone, for example, is the need for extra mental health support via a professional therapist. This is the newest development in my daughter’s journey through adolescence.
I’ve always been an advocate for therapy. Everyone should go for regular mental health check-ups, like we do with the dentist. Unfortunately, the stigma associated with mental illness prevents us from giving our emotional well-being the same routine care we give our teeth. A therapist can see the areas we’re lacking in our mental health, like the dentist can see if you’re not brushing adequately or flossing less than you should.
I have seen several therapists over the years. For me, it’s an intermittent need, usually corresponding with a major life event. Sometimes therapy is helpful during periods of growth and maturation. The support of a therapist has helped me shed some early programming and forgive myself for past mistakes. Every therapist has helped in different ways and to different degrees. I’ve never been worse off after a few therapy sessions.
But… For My Child?
With my first-hand experience and my general pro-therapy attitude, you’d think I’d have no qualms about my daughter going to therapy. As usual, life’s standard logic fails when applied to my own child. It came to light recently that my kid is having some emotional struggles related to self-esteem and identity. It’s the kind of thing that, to me, seems rather normal at this stage. Even so, my baby’s in pain, which is very distressing.
I firmly believe that people in emotional pain that’s bigger than they can manage should go to therapy. So why is it so hard when that person is my child? I suspect is has to do with my feeling of adequacy as a parent. I’m her mother, I should be able to make her feel better myself, right? Am I a bad parent? Did I cause my daughter this turmoil? These thoughts show up uninvited now and then. I have mostly been able to keep a level head and not take this personally, which is a testament to my own therapeutic success.
Sometimes things need repair, even people. When my car needs a repair, I don’t beat myself up for being a bad driver. Maybe I could have been more careful around potholes or done less speeding. But even if I had, I know my car would have inevitably needed a repair anyway. Perhaps this is why we call them, “mental breakdowns.”
Therapist = New Voice
I got to sit in my kiddo’s entire first therapy session and it was remarkable. The therapist heard my daughter’s complaints and told her the exact same things every adult close to her has been telling her these past months. We explained how to reframe your thoughts and accept the self-deprecating voice as an over-protective passenger, but not the one in control.
Despite not getting any new information, my daughter came away from the session visibly unburdened and enthusiastic about the next session. It’s not news that hearing it from an expert makes a difference. When my partner tells me I need a new car battery, I grumble skeptically. When the mechanic tells me the same thing hours later, I swipe my card and sign on the dotted line.
Sending my child to a mental health specialist is probably the best thing I can do as a parent. I could drive myself wild dissecting the situation and trying to figure out why, or I can accept that people are complex and life is nebulous. I’m choosing the latter.
The issues my daughter is having are mostly what I would consider, “part of the human experience.” It makes me wonder if baby’s first therapist is a more common milestone than I’m aware. Is this one of those elements of parenting we don’t talk about enough? I suspect it is. So, consider this my coming out – my child goes to therapy. For any parents out there navigating this too, I want you to know, you’re a great parent.
Need help finding a therapist for your child? Check out the Colorado Springs Guide to Adolescent Health for lots of great resources.