by Beth Ayers Family Peer Support Lead
April 4, 2023
The hardest person I’ve had to forgive is myself.
I was ill-prepared for taking care of a child with behavioral health challenges. I didn’t understand mental illness and neurodiversity. I hadn’t heard of trauma-informed care. I had little tools in my parenting toolbox. I parented a lot of the time from a place of fear, control, embarrassment, fatigue, and ignorance. I also parented out of a deep and all-consuming love. Unfortunately, often times my love involved fixing and overprotecting, and could lack compassion and empathy. I just wanted to be the best parent I could be. And I wanted my child to be happy and healthy. But I didn’t know how.
The first major decision my husband and I had to make involving psychiatric and medical care for our child came when we found evidence of self-harm. We called a trusted counselor who suggested going to the emergency room for an evaluation. Once there, I questioned everything. Was this the right decision? What if they discharged us and our child began self-harming again? What if they admitted our child? Were we making too big of a deal out of this? Were we damaging our child more? Side note: If we had taken our child to the emergency room for a possible broken arm, I would not have once questioned if I was doing damage to my child. We were unfamiliar with the process and spent a lot of time waiting for someone to come and talk to us. I didn’t understand what was going on. Either because nobody told me or because I was too upset to process what the hospital staff were saying. Probably, a little of both. In my experience, if I didn’t ask the right questions, which I didn’t know what the right questions were, I did not receive clear explanations or the knowledge I needed. The professionals talked to me like I knew the processes and procedures of the hospital. They used words I didn’t understand or know the meaning of. Making decisions for our child’s care was hard in the moment. There was no manual handed to us at the door that I could refer to. No decision tree or flow chart that showed where each possible choice would lead to. There were no guaranteed outcomes. We hadn’t taken our child to the emergency room before. We had no experience in any of this! And yet we were responsible for making decisions. I heard it said that, “Experience is something you get after you need it.”
Since then, my husband and I and our child have made numerous decisions regarding psychiatric and medical care for our child. This has included decisions regarding schooling, treatment, medications, hospitalizations, psychiatrists, therapists, discipline, and boundaries. We sought education on mental health and specific diagnoses. We participated in family counseling and support groups. Through it all, I mistakenly believed that if I made the “right” decisions my child would find health and happiness. Health and happiness the world defined for me through social media and “normal” life paths. Success the school defined for me by grades and achievements. Good parenting stigma defined for me as obedient children and good outcomes. With this perspective, my only conclusion had to be that I was not a good parent who had done it all wrong.
There is no room for forgiveness in judgement and perfectionism. There is no healing in blame and shame. I have come to realize that I made good decisions and bad decisions, loving decisions and decisions made out of frustration, decisions I am sure about and a lot I am still unsure about. I will continue to make decisions that only time will tell the effects of. I have come to understand that mental illnesses are physical illnesses and should be treated the same. I know that I have made decisions that have hurt and a lot that have helped. It is easier for me to forgive others and their choices than it is for me to forgive myself and my choices. It is easier to forgive the effects mental illness has had on our family than it is to forgive myself for the effects I have had. Forgiving myself is a process of knowing better so I can do better, accepting I am imperfect and human, loving and valuing myself flaws and all, apologizing to those I have harmed, and being gentle with myself. I have found healing and joy in forgiveness, especially forgiving myself.