As the flowers begin to bloom and the signs of spring increase each day, from my allergies to having my taxes done, to the Easter/Passover holiday- this week had it all.
What could possibly make this harder? Ahhh, yes. Being a family raising kids with mental health needs. While it's true that school vacations, and this particular week, would put pressure on many families, there is a special set of challenges parents raising kids with emotional health needs face.
For instance, this vacation week has been very challenging for my family. My son has gained enough independence to be able to play in our neighborhood. And while I celebrate something I wasn't sure would ever happen, it has raised a new set of issues. See, my son still struggles greatly with social skills. He is friendly and will introduce himself to other kids, but in short order these kids realize something is different. Of course, my son doesn’t go to the neighborhood school the rest of the kids attend, so there is already a “clique” he is trying to penetrate. Also, there are racial issues which are becoming a problem. The kids have learned that he is easily set off which has set up a lovely bullying situation. Now, I’m no fool, so I’m certain when one of them does or says something to him, that he responds in kind. However, he is one against several and that is just too much for him to handle alone. So we have reserved ourselves to the house and activities together this week. Luckily, I have been able to be around for him, which typically isn’t the case on school vacation weeks. Did I mention they're all in middle school?? #SendHelp
This is only 1 week. We and many other families have been dealing with these numerous challenges for years. Some families are just finding out and others have passed these years. Here are some of the problems families face:
Lack of activities
Local YMCA's, vacation clubs and other places where kids gather for school breaks, while often striving for inclusion, are often too much for our kids to handle. The staff/kid ratio is too high, the noise is too loud, the lack of structure is overwhelming to understand for merely 1 week.
There are programs which are therapeutic in nature, depending on where you live and your financial status. Some families who have a therapeutic after-school programs may have the benefit of full day programming for vacation weeks. There are some places that have specialty programs. They fill up fast and are often quite pricey, but they do exist.
Lack of resources
So I mentioned programs. Many of these programs will accept funding from school districts, state agencies such as child welfare or the department of mental health, and others may offer scholarships. Often times as families, we don’t even know they exist. THEY EXIST! It takes time. I would suggest starting months ahead of time. Often, families will need to apply and qualify for services which can be time consuming. And get ready to advocate. One thing that bothers me is when funders tell me about the needs of the other kids they are serving. I don’t care and you know what? That’s OK. And it's OK for you not to care either. We have to advocate for our own families first. Us families care about each other-- honestly sometimes it seems like we are the only ones that do. Still we must advocate for our own children and let the entities that be figure our their budgets in a way actually meets the needs of all our children. But, I digress…
Lack of support
As parents, we already miss a lot of work. We have the typical sick kid, physical and dentist appointments that all families face. But additionally we have meetings. LOTS. OF. MEETINGS! School meetings, treatment meetings and crisis meetings. And we have appointments. LOTS. OF. APPOINTMENTS. Therapy, psychiatry, family therapy, psychology testing appointments, blood levels appointments, I could go on and on… and ON. So, when the time comes for school breaks; as parents raising kids with mental health needs, we are usually spent. I have a wonderful friend who often says that since she uses all her vacation time for her child’s appointments, the least someone could do is serve her any beverage with an umbrella in it to have some semblance of vacation day. Also, many of us don’t have family or friends to help, either because of their own schedules or because of their own worries of what spending time with kids like ours would be like.
Personally, I have found success with other families like mine. This is, of course, another lengthy process. To meet a family and get to know them and then trust each other with our kids... and praying the kids like each other! But it is a way not only to be a support to each other but also to allow friendships for our kids, and even ourselves, to grow within our own communities.
It is not lost on us that the moment spring break ends, we have to turn our attention to preparing for SUMMER VACATION! And for those out there who are new, start now because some therapeutic camps over the past few years have started enrollment as early as October! You think 1 week is a problem…
8 weeks is Mt. Everest.
But in the end, there are many, many people who have scaled Mt. Everest successfully. They have seen the glory of the summit, felt the air in their lungs and basked in the sun on their face. They even have a bumper sticker to show the world what they accomplished. And since we deserve one too, I scoured the internet for a place where you can get the bumper sticker you so deserve. Click here for that. Even though I don’t know this store (disclaimer alert - lol); they rock for having it!
Do I have time to start a bumper sticker business? Hmmm...
I get back to you on that.
Kristi Glenn is Co-Founder of Pinnacle Partnerships and a professional with lived experience of raising her own child with emotional health needs. She has worked in government, community, and direct service to support family driven care and advocate for family voice at the highest levels.