Suzanne talks Partnering Not Parenting
Parenting a child with a mental health issue really isn’t the same as parenting a child. Not only are there so many other factors at play – grief, guilt, shame, isolation, despair and deep, pervasive fear – but the typical and traditional parenting advice can jar with the harsh reality of a depressed or anxious teenager or when your child wants to end their life. Our actions and reactions can isolate our child and reinforce the belief that we really don’t get it.
And yet, we’re given the same advice about parenting a child – as if this is some kind of choice, some decision they have taken and can pull themselves out of their low mood or calm their sympathetic nervous system as soon as we tell them to. If only it were that easy.
Some information overlooks the reality of the reasons behind our child’s mental health. When my daughter, Issy, was depressed, the clinicians wanted her back in school days after an attempt on her life: the same place that had led her to feel compelled to end her life.
As I tried to follow advice that would probably be sensible if I hadn’t been dealing with the fallout of poor mental health, I saw Issy drift further and further away – from her belief that I was on her side and saw her pain and that recovery was possible. As much as I wanted to ‘fix’ this and force change, when I tried to I lost another piece of her. Something had to change, and it had to be me.
So I started to listen, really listen, to what she was telling me and what her behaviour was trying to share. I started to focus on communicating with compassion, living adaptively with flexibility to enable her to remain in an emotionally safe space, and speaking up for her needs and wants. And quickly in some ways and over the longer term in other, the dynamic shifted and our connection grew.
I realised that other parents in the PMH community wanted similar connection and change and so I developed the approach further and called it ‘Partnering not Parenting’ – a compassionate communication framework that supports parents to understand their experience and build connection and trust when their child has a mental health issue. I ran the first course in 2019 and we’ve supported hundreds of parents since then.
Changing our behaviour can feel counterintuitive and demands that we reflect on how we speak, what we expect, assume and believe. I know, I’m sorry – I wish I had a magic wand!
But if you embrace the adversity of this experience, there is deep connection and hope to be found. You’ll find videos on ‘Partnering not Parenting’ in the PMH community and if you search it, you’ll find many, many testimonials about how it’s helped parents reframe the relationships with their child, and themselves, including this lovely message of possibility and change from Elaine:
“Initially I was skeptical as to how an online course would ever help, guide or support me on this lonely, tough and challenging journey of parenting my young adult with mental health.
I was a lost soul plodding along aimlessly as I didn’t know what to do anymore to help my son. Everything I said he took as criticism. I was weary, had cried a river, exhausted every avenue and any connection we had was lost. I had given up trying and my self maintenance and survival route was to retreat further from my son and let my hubby deal with it. Not ideal but after 9 years, I was done!
I can’t recommend this course enough. It is mind blowing. It is informative, in depth, interactive, it makes you think and reflect but the most important thing is IT WORKS.
I wanted, needed to change as I love my son and I yearned for connection. I actively participated and listened to the course content and began Partnering my son. I didn’t tell him I was doing the course but allowed the Partnering lessons I was learning to gradually seep in.
I learnt that I can’t fix or change him but I can change the way I react. I started complimenting instead of criticising and he thanked me for my kind words!! He told me “I’ve noticed you are much more pleasant lately”!! Only last night he came into the living room and sat and chatted for an hour!!! This hasn’t happened in many years. This course has helped me find and build CONNECTION again. I can’t praise it enough. I truly believe that wherever you are on your journey and wherever you live in the world, no matter what age your child, young adult, adult is – this Partnering not Parenting course when grasped with both hands is life changing ❤️”
Our next ‘Partnering not Parenting’ course begins on July 25th 2022. It’s a 10 week self study course with a special Facebook community to connect and collaborate on the resources together. There are live training sessions as well as opportunities to chat and connect with other parents.
I’m in the course group regularly to answer questions and help you through the challenges of parenting a child with a mental health issue. All of the video and audio resources (with subtitles and transcripts) are accessed via your phone or laptop and you get to keep the resources so you can listen to them when you need them. (So far, I’ve heard of parents listening on dog walks, Couch to 5k, and in the bath!)
In the course, we cover:
– Understanding Partnering Not Parenting: learn about the concept of Partnering, why you are doing the course and the importance of self care through this process.
– Acknowledgement and shifting our mindset: Acknowledgement, changing your mindset, dealing with uncertainty, understanding your child’s reality and stepping down.
– Moving towards acceptance: acceptance, grief, guilt, your own mental health
– New ways of communicating: changing the ways you communicate, reflections on your behaviour, standing beside your child
– Dealing with disconnection: assumptions, short term vs long term thinking and expectations
– How to build connection:building trust, consistency and connection, patience
– Empowering your child: empowering your child with choices, reminders on your powers, dealing with frustration and anger – yours, theirs and others, boundaries
– Travelling together: difficult decisions, new opportunities, travelling together
– Steps towards the future: building resilience, how to move forward when you feel you’re stuck, illness, condition, destiny?
While I touch on it in my book, ‘Never Let Go – How to Parent Your Child Through Mental Illness’ the course is a much deeper dive into the process, and gives you an opportunity to put the approach in to practice while getting support and help for your specific challenges.
The course costs £150 for one year’s access ( the course is run 3 times a year) and Parenting Mental Health is offering 25 scholarship places on the course for parents who don’t have the resources to pay.
If you’d like more information on the course, and the link to join when we release it in under 2 weeks time, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’d like to apply for a scholarship place, please email email@example.com with Scholarship in the subject line and share a little of your situation and why you’d like to join the course. It’s confidential and we’ll let you know if you have a place on 20th July.
Artwork courtesy of Andrea Selley at Rafiki Art