It used to be inappropriate to admit you had a mental illness. Maybe in some circles it still is, but as a whole, I think we have progressed enough as a society to at least in most instances be aware that mental illness is a real and valid thing.
Let’s face it; I think all of us know someone who is suffering from some form of depression, anxiety, and all the other forms (sorry I don’t know them all), and if you think you don’t, think again.
I’m still quite reliant on my antidepressants, and although they are the minimum dosage, I haven’t yet been able to wean myself successfully from them.
So with all this awareness and tolerance, why is that some people can’t understand that kids suffer from these things too?
It’s so easy to look at a misbehaving child in a shop, or a painfully shy child at a playgroup and cast judgement. To list in your mind all the ways the parent should fix this behaviour, while really, you know nothing about what is causing it.
I’m guilty too. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I have cast stones. I have looked in disgust at awful children and parents with their lack of control, and wondered who is the boss.
I have no right.
I should not do it.
Heaven knows, neither me, nor my kids are perfect.
Now we, as a family, are undoubtedly blessed. We have no children with any physical or mental disabilities. None of our kids are on the spectrum. They can all communicate beautifully, and have achieved their developmental milestones with ease.
But my little Ava, she has separation anxiety.
At almost 22 months, developmentally, that’s not abnormal. Separation anxiety is a natural occurrence in children after 7 months, and anywhere up to about 3. It’s only after that, if your child’s separation issues meant that engaging in social situations was just about impossible, that you would see someone about it.
We are not at that stage.
And she is not bad in all situations. She can play happily at playgroup, so long as I stay seated in the same place the whole time, where she knows she can reach me.
She will sleep by herself, the whole night, in her own bed.
She can do things at home independently and with her siblings.
She is fine for me to go out (or to Melbourne) and stay with Tim.
She does not like, however, me to leave her with anyone else.
Now a lot of kids are like that. Let’s be honest; most kids prefer their mothers company over someone else’s, but will generally settle down happily in a familiar environment with familiar people.
Not miss Ava.
Every Sunday, I attempt to leave her in the Kids Church room at Church, and I have only achieved this successfully once. Despite the fact that she knows the room (has been in there since January), knows the people, and I have spent time in there with her to show her it’s ok, she will not stay.
Now when I say, she won’t stay, I’m not suggesting that she cries when I leave and I give in.
I gently inform her I will be going in five minutes and she will stay with Bailey and insert-teachers-name-here.
I explain that I will be in church for a little while, and then will come back and get her.
I let her know when I leave, so that I am not sneaking out and abandoning her, which can further compound anxiety.
Then I leave.
And she screams.
And works herself up in to a hysterical, hyperventilating, sobbing mess, that no one can console.
And they come and get me.
It’s been about three minutes.
Once, it didn’t happen, but only because Taylah was in there with her and she clung to her like glue.
Since then, we have had no success.
Bridie was very similar. Except that she would work herself up to vomitting when I left her, an escalation I am keen to avoid with Ava.
Now I know that this is a phase. It is frustrating, but it is not the end of the world. I will continue to be with her for as long as it takes her to work through her anxiety.
At almost six, Bridie is now fine. She has moments, but it is manageable.
What I can’t stand though, is the judgement from parents who have never had a ridiculously clingy child, and don’t understand why I don’t just leave her. Who assume that I must give in to her every want and desire, and that she is just manipulating me.
I’m not a push over; if she is pushing me, I’ll stand my ground. I know what is best for her, because I am her mother, and sometimes it means being firm, and other times it means that I won’t leave her upset.
(To clarify, this judgement does not occur from church. No it is rather from others in other situations where people ask me to leave her in a completely unfamiliar environment. I know that if she can’t cope at church, she has no hope anywhere else.)
In a society that is generally more accepting that many adults struggle in social situations, why is it so far fetched to conceive that a toddler might have genuine fear and anxiety about being left, even if she knows the place or the people? Really, is that such a stretch of the imagination?
When I speak of Ava’s anxiety, I am met with instruction and helpful advice.
To be honest, I’m not looking for it. I’ve read the books, I’ve had four kids, I know what to do.
But I also know my daughter, and she is not text book.
Rather, I’m looking for understanding. Even if people don’t understand the situation because they have never been in it, maybe they could just show some compassion.
It’s really not that hard.
Here endeth the rant.