With things opening up in our area, we’ve seen a big shift to focus on mental health and wellness. As I listen and read stories of people struggling with mental health, I realized that there’s a central theme to their beginnings: many mention their childhood growing up in difficult, abusive, or toxic households.
It’s a theme that hit home for me as a mom who is petrified that I will do something that will negatively impact my children. It also struck me to my core as a woman who spends every waking hour trying to make a positive impact in children’s lives.
The other theme I saw, however, was about how people learned to develop coping and adaptive skills to manage these negative experiences. What’s striking to me isn’t how much they’ve been hurt (although I feel for each and every story I hear) but how they’ve been healed. How they’ve found their purpose.
The theme of connection and finding one’s self is one I talk a lot about when working with parents. What these stories tell me is that the best skills we can teach our children is how to adapt, cope, and overcome.
Hopefully, we won’t have a traumatic, toxic, or negative impact on our kids. Hopefully we’ll be that beacon of light, hope, and support for our children whenever they need it. But, if our children experience a difficult life event, the most precious support of all is the ability to find themselves and their purpose.
We can’t save our kids from all the bad things in this world and we can’t even save them from interpreting something we did as bad. But as I hear all these inspiring stories, I have hope.
It may be my fault (as it was my mother’s and her mother’s before her) and that’s fine. However, if my children can hear me in their head during the bad times, if they learn through my experiences and my attempts to teach them that they can and will overcome the bad things, then maybe I’m doing something right. Maybe they’ll have the ability to invent and reinvent themselves when they need to. To push through and move forward and to break down and then pick themselves back up.
When I think about mental health, I think about the mental foundation we want and that we want to model for our kids. As parents, we need to focus on building that foundation not by saving our children from all bad things but by teaching them what to do when bad things happen.
To everyone that has struggled in a difficult childhood, who has experienced trauma, who has felt incredible loss, I encourage you to think about the “how” you overcame. Then, look at the kids in your life, and teach them how. It’s time to support our mental health foundations so we raise a generation with the skills they need to get through tough times and find true happiness.
One day, perhaps my kids will be on a podcast or talking to a friend about how they grew up in a blended family, how their mother got divorced and moved to a new town and how they learned to manage new feelings and thoughts. Maybe someone will ask them how they learned to handle changes in their life and maybe my kids will look at that person and say, “it’s all my mother’s fault.” And they’re right… it is.
Sarah Allen is a pediatric neuropsychologist nicknamed the “Brain Gal,” who is on a mission to help parents raise happy brains. She specializes in teaching people how to use brain science to their advantage. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.