Archive for the ‘Mother-Daughter Relationships’ Category

Mothers, Foster Care, and Mental Health

May 21, 2013

Brave Heart Lioness-Reduced Heart Work Photos of Bryant & Branden4

The Month of May recognizes and celebrates three important events and causes which are close to my heart: Mothers’ Day, National Foster Care Awareness Month, and National Mental Health Awareness Month. Already more than half way through the month of May, I’ve had ample opportunity to reflect upon personal experiences each of these brings  as both Mothers’ Day and Foster Care have each had a significant impact my Mental Health. Let me count the ways!

One of my earliest memories of Mothers’ Day, sheds a prevenient look at my sensitivity, as well as the temperamental relationship I had with my mother, even at an early age.  When I was about 9 years old I walked the couple of blocks to the neighborhood five and dime variety store to purchase my mother a gift for Mother’s Day. With my two or three dollars I selected a box of beautifully decorated and arranged handkerchiefs.  Somewhere between my purchase and Mothers’ Day my mother did something which made me angry (I don’t even recall what) and I decided that I wasn’t going to give her the gift so I hid it inside my room.  The details are blurry but I do recall that she demanded that I find it and give it to her. I felt entitled to give on my own terms just as she had ‘taught me’ when she withheld my gifts at Christmas because she thought I’d been behaving badly.

Most Mothers’ Days after that weren’t as noteworthy except for the sense that most times she didn’t seem to be as happy as I’d like for her to have been in my giving. Then there was MY first Mothers’ Day as a mom to my 9 year old adopted son. Dressed up in coordinating colors we drove the 50 miles to join her for Mothers’ Day service at her church. I knew it would surprise her and make her proud to have us there with her. The look on her face was priceless! This was the best Mothers’ Day ever for me, until…the minister asked for all grandmothers to stand.  My mother did not stand.  I waited for it to “click” for her that she was now a grandmother, but it didn’t. I looked at her and looked at my son and my heart sank. The gift of grandparenting wasn’t acknowledged and/or accepted by her. I felt hurt and angry and sad for my son.

As I share in my memoir, it was “Heart Work” being a Foster/Adoptive Mom myself as it was exciting, heart-warming, and challenging. Inasmuch as dealing with my now, TWO sons, dealing with the Child Welfare, Mental Health and Social Services took a toll on my own Mental Health.  Understanding that many of the behaviors exhibited by my sons were an expression of the impact of emotional and physical abuse and separation and losses experienced in their early childhoods, I found it difficult to get both the intervention and support needed to meet their needs while at the same time provide them with consistency, stability, and opportunities of a “normal” childhood. I even fought to keep my youngest son from being “medicated” for behaviors which I felt were unreasonably labeled as being “pathological”. Any of us would have acted the way he did if we’d been through all he’d been through. What did they expect?!

Feeling attacked, unsupported, and pathologized myself, depression set in and took me down a path I’d not experienced before as intensely.  I’d experienced bouts of depression before but not at this level. For the first time ever in my life, my sleep pattern was “off”, my desire to socialize with others was none, and rather than overeating, I stopped eating and began to lose weight.  I sought out my own therapist, going through a few until I found one I felt comfortable with, and who was a huge support during this time in my life. My feelings were validated, which in itself was major, as no one else seemed to understand; and I was encouraged to continue being my authentic self—which I’d begun to question.

I’d always wanted to be a mom, and thought I’d be a good one, having learned from both the good and the not so good characteristics of my own mother, who was an excellent provider but lacked in the area of “emotional nurturing”. Even in the midst of this extremely painful period in my own parenting she voiced that I’d brought it upon myself and that she didn’t think it made sense for me to invest my time and energy into them. Her advice was “let them go and go on with your life”. Of course this did not improve our relationship at all because I stopped sharing with her any of the details of my parenting struggles.

Feeling like a “motherless child” and a “childless mother” the depression deepened. My therapist explained that my depression was situational, however being in a prolonged negative situation had a significant impact on my body and brain chemistry. We also explored the correlation between my relationships as a daughter and a mother, and how my fear of becoming like my mother was a strong factor.  It was during this time the notion occurred that perhaps my mother had been depressed during my childhood. and that perhaps I was even biologically predisposed to depression myself. That made a lot of sense to me!

He recommended that I try a low dosage antidepressant, which I initially rejected but eventually decided to try.  Although I don’t recall feeling much different, I was able to get out the bed and as I look in retrospect, do some amazing things. I do know that my and others’ prayers and faith in God were all a part of it.

I’d tried to get my mother to join me in counseling previously, however was told “I don’t need counseling, you’re the one that’s crazy!”  When I shared with her my thoughts that perhaps our relationship struggles could be related to her relationship with her own mother, who died before I was born, she was in total denial, forgetting some of the stories she’d told me before about growing up. However, when I shared with her about the discussion and prescription for depression, surprisingly she was open to it and followed through with her doctor.  She later reported that she did indeed feel a difference.  Wow, who KNEW?!

My mother passed away six years ago at the age of 82.  During the later years of her life she experienced depression and anxiety attacks, which as a practicing therapist myself, I was able to recognize and discuss with her doctors.

As I’ve gotten older and experienced many losses and stressors of life as a single woman and caregiver, I have continued to battle cycles of depression which, though not as frequent, have seemed to intensify the older I become.   Being both a therapist and a Christian I’ve found myself again struggling with the idea of taking antidepressants or not.  In my journaling I frequently quote the phrase “Physican heal thyself”; and have questioned myself:  “Am I placing judgment on being depressed?” and/or “Am I placing judgment on how to HANDLE” the depression?” My conscious conclusion (which was subconsciously present all along) was that I  FEARED that others would think I was not a “good enough” Christian or Therapist if I needed to take medication myself.

My thinking is that like hypertension and many other physical conditions, there are certain biological as well as lifestyle factors which contribute to both, and even medical doctors receive diagnoses of conditions they treat patients for.  However it does no good, and can potentially become fatal, to refrain from treating those conditions—whether through Westernized or alternative medicine. We all have choices to be and feel better.

So in the midst of a recent “dark hole” of depression, the triggers of which I was very much aware and which were beyond my control, I made the choice to return to Western medicine,  in addition to prayer, reaching out others and making some changes in my daily practices. I’m glad to say I’m feeling more like my old (or should I say younger) self now!

I realize this may not be the choice for everyone, but the main thing is to choose to DO SOMETHING!  Just as with other areas of my life I’ve decided that “what you see (and don’t see) is what you get”!  Take it or leave it–no poll necessary!   The most important thing is that we make a choice that makes us feel better and stronger to fulfill our purpose and dreams—as long as it is not at the cost of the well-being of ourselves and others.

As far as my “mothering” and foster care, my boys are now grown and not necessarily making the life choices nor as close as I would like for them to, I did speak to my oldest by phone on Mothers’ Day this year–I called him.  I remind myself that although I may not always feel celebrated, neither do all biological parents, and that my purpose is fulfilled in having given them the gift of being two less “motherless children” in the foster care system.
I remain passionate about the hearts of youth in the foster care system; and  through the texts and couple of cards I received in the mail from those I’ve loved as an advocate and mentor, it was confirmed that I will never really be “childless” because they’re ALL “my children”.
Ending on a funny note, my favorite Mothers’ Day card read:

“If it takes a village to raise a child…
…where the HELL did EVERYBODY ELSE sneak off to?”!!

Don’t sneak away—hang in there, the children and village need us! 🙂

 

 

 

 

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