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(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

There are no guarantees when raising children, no matter how hard you try to do the “right” things for them—for some families, getting those children to adulthood leaves behind plenty of scar tissue for all involved. For the most part you try to move forward despite the scars. Then something is said or happens that is like a spark to the tinder that is your buried emotions—anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment, and whatever else connects you to the pain.

From personal experience, I understand my children are not easy to help, so I do have some empathy for those educators and mental health professionals who worked with them. However, I’d have appreciated receiving empathy back from more of them. It’s hard enough to deal with challenging situations with your kids without encountering people whose presumptions get in the way of resolution—when the people in the helping professions turn the problems back at parents based on what they assume is true, we parents feel very alone and begin to lose trust in finding answers from professionals.

For example, just because one of the big problems facing educators today is uninvolved families or families who do not support those in authority does not mean that every student having difficulty fitting into a school system has that problem.

Two of the closest friends I met through PTA and school accountability committees also raised boys every bit as beat up by their school days as my boy is. Again those families had two parents in the home, regular family dinner times, attendance at church, expectations that they would respect authority, and parents who volunteered with the schools and participated in the community activities. In our own ways, we were the Ward and June Cleavers of our generation. We were the families whose kids should have fit like gloves into the schools, but did not. And when our families turned to the schools for help, we were rebuffed. Of course, we also looked to outside help—paying for counselors and tutors—but first received few answers from the schools and little empathy. Each (now) young man and his family continue their educational struggles to this day.

Our son’s troubles began in grade school while our family was dealing with his grandfather’s terminal cancer. Those troubles never went away, but we did keep searching for solutions. High school found him older, but us not much wiser about dealing with his difficulties or how to work in partnership with the school.

Despite having read the 27-page educational analysis report our son had received after costly consultation with a trusted local university, the special education director at our son’s high school asked him questions such as, “Do you want to be here? Don’t you think you should do your work?” Nothing the report said or that his experienced tutors said in 504 accommodation meetings ever changed the school’s willingness to follow the university’s suggestions.

And for us, “Do you check the school’s online system often to see if he’s turned in his work?” Of course, she knew the answer—the system recorded logins. We had stopped checking frequently because the data was updated too infrequently for us to base consequence decisions on what we saw. Besides, why did she think we spent money out of our pocket to have his abilities/difficulties assessed? Partly because we wanted to see if some knowledge could help him to keep up with his work better.

Meanwhile, while our family life had become more and more disruptive due to the homework battles waged with our son as we tried to be responsible parents who supported the school, our daughter was falling apart. She did her work—and worried about her twin brother. She tried just as hard not to cause any more trouble in our family. Add in one grandmother on her way to becoming lost to Alzheimer’s and our girl became one sad kid. Did the family conflict and her grandmother’s illness cause her depression or did her biology exacerbate the problems?

What I do know is that when she was finally hospitalized for those problems it was hard to find mental health professionals who really attempted to recognize the role of biology within her difficulties. So much focus from them fell on the family. My kid didn’t do chemicals or sneak out of the house, but was treated as if her depression were a form of rebellion and we were treated as if we were just too stupid to see that she was lying to us—just as all the other kids did. We tried so hard to complete the prescribed family counseling (20 weeks or so) but finally stopped when we realized it was making things worse for everyone. I could have understood if they taught us and her to work with her biology but the program acted as if biology had little to do with her problems.

What did I learn from these experiences with schools and mental health treatment? First of all, that too many professionals believe that a one-size-fits-all approach works for all. And, secondly, that if it doesn’t then the problems stem from the family.

So, we muddle on on our own. Thankfully, we have met helpful educators, disability coordinators, tutors, student services advisors, and counselors along the way—I thank them with all my heart.

But to those who questioned our devotion, just know that if we could have made our kids fit better into the world just by trying, it would have happened. Please stop blaming the families who seem to have been dealt more challenging cards than others—so many of us are trying so much harder than you’ll ever know. Somehow the systems also need to try harder to figure out how to help those who don’t fit the molds.

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