(A story of adolescent suicide attempt)
It was his summer between 2nd and 3rd grade. It was a Friday and i had just picked up from the summer program that our local city hosted for the kids. We were arguing (what else was new) over screen time, or rather, the lack thereof. At some point, something had been done to either “not earn” or for me to “take away” screen time (depending on which side of the same coin we were using at the time to try to modify behavior — which, as a complete aside, NEVER worked for us). He was hysterical. I always thought that he was a bit over-dramatic when he was trying to get his way. We never had temper tantrum problems when he was two. Then three hit and he never outgrew them. I never caved. Not a single time. So here we were, him throwing a full-blown temper tantrum over not having his screens and me STILL not caving.
And then something changed. The energy shifted. He quietly said, “I just can’t do this anymore. I’m going to kill myself.” And then he tried. Because of the laws of physics and the fact that his 8-year old brain wasn’t able to fully formulate a viable plan, he failed. And he was devastated at his failure. This wasn’t a temper tantrum. He wasn’t trying to guilt me into getting his way. He was DEVASTATED that he was still alive.
Next, he ran to the kitchen to get a knife and I was able to stop him. Next he started hitting his head into the walls and the windows. I was able to restrain him from taking it further and I had to call the Crisis Line. Who had to call the police due to the volatile nature of the situation.
The police. For my 8-year old. Who wanted to die.
Any notion I had that I was rocking this mom gig was gone. I was afraid and deeply sad. I thought I was going to lose him. I had no idea what the future was going to look like. What would the police do? Would they take him away? Put him in a mental health facility? Somehow determine that it was MY fault and take him away from me? All of these thoughts were running through my head as I just held him to keep him safe as he tried to break free. And thoughts of “What am I going to do when he is strong enough to break free of me? What happens THEN?!
I felt helpless, hopeless, and lost.
When the police arrived and I opened the door, he ran into his room. He was calm. Crying, but the intensity of the moment was over. We spoke with the crisis team when they arrived and got some action plans… buy a lock box to put all sharp objects in, start an after-school physical activity, schedule counselling. Fortunately, we were already seeing a counsellor, so we were able to get in pretty quickly.
We talked. A lot. There had been a kid in the summer program that was bullying my son. And my son was too afraid to tell anyone. My son had TRIED to tell one of the employees, but “If they didn’t see it, they couldn’t do anything about it”. I was so angry. All of the acts of defiance that i had been seeing were because he was struggling. And i had missed it. The people that my son was supposed to turn to when these things happen had failed him. The things i was doing as a parent weren’t working. I added to my toolbox. I had his back after that. From that moment forward, if he told me that something happened between him and another person, i believed him until i had reason to believe otherwise. It was years later that I discovered what really worked for us and that I learned a saying that says, “Children aren’t GIVING us a hard time, they are HAVING a hard time”. This one phrase was my lightbulb. We have experienced tremendous healing as I repeat this to myself during his meltdowns (they still happen occasionally, but not as severe). The more i started treating his acts of defiance as him “HAVING a hard time”, the easier it became to just sit with him and empathize and try to help him articulate what was going on in his brain and his body that was making him feel the way he did. It’s still an ongoing thing. We have still gone through some heavy, scary times since this first incident.
It has made me more compassionate. I’ve always tried to see the best in people, but now i seek to understand them. It has helped me learn to find my own center. I need to be the calm in his storm. Which means that I need to not BE a storm. I have to react more slowly (unless there is danger) and thoughtfully. Sometimes I need to not react at all. First, assess the situation, THEN respond accordingly. I need to speak without judgement to help him sort his own stuff out. In turn, I have spoken with less judgement toward MYSELF. I have learned to be bold on his behalf when I need to. In turn, I have been more bold on my OWN behalf. I learned that it’s not too late. I made so many missteps when he was little. I had no ideas the battles in his head that he was struggling against. I could either beat myself up for my contribution up to this point, or i could acknowledge it and move forward trying new things. I chose the latter and things slowly improved. It’s the same for anyone. When we lovingly seek to understand, we can save a life.
Things I wish I could tell “broken me”
There IS a better way.
Stop being so afraid of what kind of parent other people think you are.
Always respond with love first.
You are NOT alone.
You ARE rocking this mom thing.
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