A lot of energy goes into changing the world for our children, and that’s before childhood mental illness joins our parenting struggles. If it’s been a rough day for my son, in terms of his disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) especially, I have barely enough energy to make dinner, let alone “change the world.” Making change for our children is important to me, though. After dealing with childhood mental illness the last few years, I’ve realized that, sometimes, the world around my son needs more of a “cure” than he does.
Making a Change in the World for Our Children Is Easier Than it Sounds
Advocate for Your Child
When it comes to changing the world, your first thought may be politics or protests. Those are definitely options, but it doesn’t have to be that intensive. It can be as informal as sharing your experience with other parents or pushing harder for what your child needs in that individualized education plan (IEP) meeting.
When you tell your story, you chip away at the stigma of mental illness. Breaking that stigma in your own social circles starts a chain reaction. The same goes for when you advocate for your child’s needs with that one social worker or teacher. Other children like yours benefit from what those providers learn from you. If you’re not the type to make a fuss face-to-face, then all it takes is filling out those feedback forms we all usually throw away. Letters, emails, and after-hour voicemails work well, too.
Volunteer Somewhere–You Will Make a Difference
If anything, volunteer. When teachers at school see you in the halls or encounter you at events, they get to know you and your child better. I’m pretty sure my son’s former principal was terrified every time she saw me at a meeting. You know what, though, if fearing I’d have something to say to her at the next school activity inspired change in my son’s classroom, that worked for me.
Disability-specific organizations have volunteer opportunities, too. County and state boards/councils often require a parent or “consumer” representative, if you’re interested in joining at that level. In my state, we have school district, special education, advisory councils (SEAC), and there’s always the school board. Contact your school district or special education department and ask how parents can get involved. Their websites usually have that information, too.
Side note: if you join any state or city boards, your personal information may be made public since you are in a public seat.
Prepare to Tell Your Story to Change the World for Our Children
Regardless of how you decide to make a change, be prepared to tell your story. I’ve been chattering about this for a year and a half since my son’s hospitalization. It’s become easier, and stigma doesn’t exist in my head anymore. I realize it’s present in the world around me, but talking about mental illness is as natural to me as talking about what I ate for dinner last night.
Maybe you’re not there yet. You may have family, cultural, or professional restraints on what you can share. You may have only just started your mental health journey with your child. Regardless, I encourage you to record your thoughts. One day, you may want or need to talk. One day, you may be sharing your story at your state capitol to influence special educational initiatives or mental health insurance coverage. Maybe you’ll write a blog, and you’ll have to summarize complex parts of your life in 600 words or less.
Whatever the case, know that your story can change people. You’re not alone, and sometimes, the best thing you can do to change the world for our children is let others know they’re not alone, either.