As we end August and head into September, the sports lull begins to finally cease. Baseball gets more compelling and football begins, as does my least favorite sport of all — parent shaming.
As teachers and students return to school, so do the constant “my kid would never do that” words, looks and judgments upon other parents and their children. In participating in forums across this region — whether on student assignment and “failing” schools or even this past weekend on suicide prevention in teenagers — it has never ceased to amaze me how much hubris we as parents can have when judging the circumstances of others.
At Queens College this weekend, The Mental Health Association of the Central Carolinas asked me to be on a panel following the screening of Tamlin Hall’s “Holden On” (2017) to discuss mental illness, substance use disorders and suicide. It is a passionately written true story of 19-year-old Holden, who develops schizophrenia and attempts to self-medicate with drugs before going through various forms of treatment. Holden makes progress but eventually dies from suicide.
In the movie, there is a subtle but powerful scene where Holden’s father is in church and overhears other members saying that they thought he and his wife were “better parents” than to let their son go down the road that he was on. I have seen this scene repeatedly in this town, whether it is in rationalizing why my kid’s school is an “A” school and the other school is an “F” or why “those kids” are addicted to drugs or struggling with mental illness and mine is not.
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In this movie, Holden had very supportive parents who attempted to do all they could, but ultimately lost their son to something bigger. Despite this tragedy, they are helping his story be told, carrying on the legacy of a kid awarded the senior superlative of being the “Friendliest” senior. Holden’s father, sister, and some friends sat courageously in the audience on Sunday.
Unfortunately, during the post-screening discussion, an audience member unwittingly criticized something she thought the dad “should have known.”
I want to invite all of us adults and parents to consider a cultural change amongst ourselves. Can we agree to cease with parent shaming?
Shame is a toxic emotion that leads to one of four options: avoiding; attacking oneself; attacking others; or withdrawing. In my career, I have worked with a multitude of families — rich, poor, black, white, rural/urban/suburban. What I have learned is that strife, trauma, mental illness, and addiction do not discriminate and the mythological perfect parent is just that, a myth. But one of the reasons people avoid help throughout our community is because of shame.
I had great parents and I have battled depression and anxiety in my life, at times questioning if I wanted to wake up. I now help others treat these illnesses while sharing my own story to fight against shame and stigma.
This year, instead of shaming, let’s compassionately support each other. Having two children, I can say parenting is a humbling gift. If you aren’t experiencing systemic oppression or parenting a child battling mental illness, addiction or other strife, instead of self-congratulating, maybe try saying “There but for the grace of God go I” and call-in (not out) another parent who’s not as fortunate.