In life, people like to blame people for things that happen, regardless of whether or not it was the person’s fault. If there is nobody to blame, things that happen are random and don’t make sense, so really we blame people to make the world tidy. When I was younger I lost my banana scented gel pen (it was a tough time in my life but I think I am just about getting over it), and in my head it was incomprehensible that the pen was just lost. I didn’t think at all about the fact its loss was probably the result of many little events, dropping it somewhere, someone spotting it and tidying it away, a gust of wind blowing it off a table under a chair, that was too much to think about, so instead who did I blame? My cuddly monkey, a culprit who made a lot more sense than some complex chain of events I couldn’t figure out. It was the perfect story, my cuddly monkey was clearly having jungle withdrawal symptoms living with me in Bristol, in my eyes he had heard the call of the wild and hankered after the scent of his favourite food in his homeland. I assumed he must not like the invisible bananas and cups of tea I provided (let it be known I did pretend to feed him and in my eyes this thievery was not an act of desperation out of hunger, I am not a monster who starves cuddly monkeys thank you very much), and that the taking of my pen was for nostalgic scent purposes. Obviously, my monkey did not really steal my banana pen (I am 99% sure he didn’t anyway…), and it was silly to jump to that conclusion before the idea that the pen was just lost, but like I said, people like to blame people to make the world simple.
Unfortunately, this desire to blame often happens when someone gets diagnosed with mental health problems. After the initial surprise has worn off and people have time to really think, they always look for someone to blame. They start wondering why someone is ill, what could have caused it, and often, especially in young adults or children, the conclusion will be that it must have been something to do with the parents. Even professionals say it sometimes. My mum used to work in a school and one day a nurse came in to talk about how to spot eating disorders in pupils. One of the possible causes for eating disorders listed in her presentation was “Troubled upbringing/home life”, which naturally upset my mum and had her worrying more than usual that the past decade of madness in our household has been because she failed as a parent. To her and to all parents I therefore want to say this:
If your child has been diagnosed with mental health problems, that does not mean that it is all your fault or that you have done anything wrong.
Your child does not have anorexia simply because you tried a lot of different diets when they were growing up. Your child does not have OCD rituals around washing because you insisted they washed their hands before meals. Your child is not depressed because you didn’t hug them enough and they don’t cut their bodies just because you didn’t give lessons in self acceptance over breakfast. Maybe you did all of those things, maybe you did none of them, but either way they are not the reason your child is ill. Many people with eating disorders grew up in houses that promoted a healthy relationship with food just as many people without eating disorders grew up in houses with parents who ran weight loss classes at the local leisure centre. The complexities of mental health problems are not as simple as A causes B, they are often frighteningly random, they don’t make sense enough to have someone to blame at all, and sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong.
Like all illnesses, mental health problems do not discriminate. Depression doesn’t go door to door and interview the parents to see how well they have brought their child up before it attacks. If depression is going to happen, it will just charge in and make itself known, it will not peer through a window, notice that you have a lovely home with a matching three piece suite and freshly plumped cushions and walk away to find someone whose mum didn’t cut the crust off their sandwiches.
Now I will admit, upbringing can have an impact on a child’s development and mental health, if you locked your child in a basement and beat them with a wet slipper every morning, that may have played a part in their low self esteem, but generally things are not that clear cut and the reasons are so numerous and so bound up in random life nonsense anyway that you can never pin point a cause. You can list a thousand reasons why I have mental health problems, a history of mental illness in the family, certain events, loss of loved ones, broken hearts, a desire to control a world whose unpredictability frightened me, being the geek with glasses, you can say anything and even then you could not grasp the reason why, because all of those potential influences are glued together with a million invisible things that nobody will ever know or understand. It is rare that an illness can be pinned down to one thing, just as you can’t entirely blame a cancer on the fact someone smokes, when it comes to any illness, it is too complicated to be anyone’s fault. If someone watches a man on a bus stop raise his arm and stop the bus they could conclude that the stopping of the bus was caused by the arm lifting into the air. Okay it may look like that on the surface and make sense as a neat tidy story, but it takes no account whatsoever of all the other knots in that chain of events stopping the bus. For example the driver had his eyes open to see the arm, his brain recognising it as a symbol for “stop” (and hopefully not “Heil Hitler”), someone else having already pressed the button, a foot had to go on the brakes and various cogs and things in the mechanics of the bus played a part too. Blaming someone for causing a mental health problem is like blaming that man for stopping the bus without thinking of all the other things that come into play.
If you are a parent and your offspring has mental health problems, I beg you, please do not blame yourself and assume you must have done a bad job in raising the baby you dreamed would grow up to have a perfect life, that is unlike the one you see in reality. In life, shit just happens and there is very little you can do about it. Your role as a parent is not to stop the bad things from happening, to wrap them in cotton wool so that the monsters don’t get in. Monsters do not give two hoots about cotton wool. Don’t blame yourself for things that were not your fault and that you cannot change (for even if you could blame someone, talking about whose fault something is will never resolve the situation), instead do what you can with what you have. Love and support your child even when those monsters get in and help them fight those assholes until they flee the house rather than checking the locks and wondering how the hell they got in in the first place. Nobody can raise someone to not have mental health problems and that is not a necessary requirement of a parent. Mental illnesses suck, but nobody can stop them, your only job is to offer love and support regardless of what is going on. That is what a good parent is, so relax, if you are doing that, then you are doing everything.
Take care everyone x
7 thoughts on “A Message To Parents Of People With Mental Health Problems”
I think sometimes it is the parent’s fault but you can easily tell whether it is or not. The ones who it’s not their fault are the ones who feel gutted and question if it’s something they did. The ones who it is their fault are the ones who don’t care if they had a part in it and automatically blame their child.
Too true xx
Parent’s are never to blame completely. Even in a dysfunctional house, a child’s eating disorder is still the cumulation of multiple factors. I think many parent’s have this intense guilt that they contributed to an ED and then shoulder a huge burden of now “fixing” it.
Yes! That is exactly how my mum feels! Because she used to go on diets when I was younger she has automatically assumed that she is to blame for my ED and wants to fix it when really my problems are a cumulation of millions of different things! Mental illnesses are so damn complicated! xx
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People are very complex. Kids can have issues no matter what. All parents make mistakes, anyway. There’s no such thing as being perfect at it (or anything). I don’t believe there is ever just one cause for anything. I think it’s easy for some to blame parents for things, because upbringing is important to a child’s development, but that’s never the whole story and it could literally have 0-99% impact. Biology… nature/nurture… etc.
Fun story about why I side a lot with nature:
I had 2 dwarf hamsters living together, Cinnamon and Pepper. I thought they were sisters. Turns out, Pepper was a boy. I soon caught on to this, but not before Cinnamon was pregnant. 2 weeks later, or however long it took for the little baby hams to bake, Cinnamon had 7 babies. They were these tiny little things that looked like baby seals, with closed eyes. I had to wait a couple weeks before I was able to handle them and take them away from Cinnamon. There were 4 boys, 3 girls. Oh, I forgot the most important part! Cinnamon was one of the most lovely hamsters I’ve ever had. She was so nice from day 1, and she took good care of her 7 babies. Pepper, on the other hand, was a little bastard. Very mean temperament. All of the 7 babies had the same exact upbringing, but once they were put into their own homes and I got to know their personalities, I discovered something VERY interesting. 3 of the babies were sweet and gentle, like Cinnamon. 3 were mean and nasty, like Pepper. 1 was kinda in-between the two hamster parents.
I love the fact you use hamsters to illustrate a rather brilliant point
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Yay!! 🙂 I actually used that example during a grad school class lecture. It was an interesting experience!