Raising a child is difficult. There are countless challenges to overcome, uncertainties to face, and a literal lifetime of endless responsibilities. But it can be even harder to raise a child affected by a long-term or chronic mental illness.
When we spend every ounce of our energy and existence doing the best we humanly can to care for the ones we love the most, we often find ourselves with no time for ourselves. But even while you’re being adamant about placing your child before yourself – and you should, of course – letting your own sanity and wellbeing deteriorate will only serve to make life harder for those who care about you, your child included.
It’s a tough world, and for parents raising children with mental health issues, it also feels like a terribly lonely one. But you are not alone. Far from it.
Parent support groups are one way to get in touch with other parents with similar stories and experiences. They help us find other people who can truly relate to what we’ve gone through. They can help us locate resources to continue taking care of our children while taking care of ourselves. They help create a community for us to belong in. And so, so, so much more.
What Are Parent Support Groups About?
A parent support group may be run by an organization, a clinic, a treatment facility, a practice, a local community, or a number of parents who banded together to create a local space for other parents with similar experiences to visit and talk.
Parent support groups are largely informal gatherings, with either regularly or sporadically scheduled group sessions where parents meet and talk about their individual worries and thoughts, problems, breakthroughs, hopes, frustrations, and moments of gratitude.
They’re a place to share and breathe hope, as well as a place to define and break down despair together.
And, crucially, they are also a place to share critical resources, spread information, talk about treatments and treatment providers, help seek donations and financial support from the community, and gather more knowledge on coping mechanisms, parental self-care, and mundane life tips that are life-saving, more often than not.
Parent support groups usually define themselves by a certain cause, illness, or disease. There may be support groups specifically for teens with drug abuse problems, or children with special needs, or handicapped children, or teens with rare disorders.
Some support groups are founded to help parents come together under a more generalized umbrella of shared experiences, usually categorized by either physical or mental disability, or mental health problems.
Why Would I Need a Parent Support Group?
The first and biggest reason why any parent with a disabled or troubled teen might want to consider joining a parent support group is to be around other people with similar experiences.
Parent Support Groups Remind Us That We Aren’t Alone
There is something so very different about being able to speak up about what you’ve been going through with people who were in the very same boat. It’s not quite the same talking about it with your friends or family, if none of them can quite relate.
You are not alone! There are many others who have been going through something similar, and who may be much farther along their journey than you are.
No one’s experience is going to ever be a one-to-one comparison of what you have gone through, but there is still a lot to learn from listening to the experiences of others, and sharing in their hopes and frustrations, their sleepless nights, and their journey towards coping.
Parent Support Groups Help Us Identify Ways to Cope
Coping is critical when facing down something we have no hope of defeating. Many progressive or chronic illnesses are not curable yet, and while treatment can help children reduce symptoms, improve quality of life, and live a fulfilling life, they will always have a life experience that is not only totally different from that of anyone else’s, but also much harder than what most people live through.
Learning to cope and overcome our own emotions and despair in the face of something inevitable is a crucial part of becoming a better source of support for our loved ones.
There are many things that happen in life that we have no control over, but we always have control over what we do next, how we react, and the actions we take as a result of the things we experience. A parent support group can guide you in taking the right actions, feeling the right things, and working through your experience the best way you possibly can.
Parent Support Groups Give Us a Place to Talk
Parent support groups give parents a space to truly be heard.
It’s one thing to be able to say what you want, but it’s another when you know that what you’re saying resonates with those around you – when you know that they’ve felt similar feelings, thought similar thoughts, said similar words. That shared experience is crucial, both in times of pure distilled joy, and utter sorrow.
Parent Support Groups Share Resources
Parents and teens with disabilities or mental health issues need all the help they can get. Healthcare is expensive, both mental and physical, and it’s exhausting. Having a full-time job while taking care of your loved ones can leave you feeling lifeless at the end of the day.
Resources to help out with the bills, seek the right health insurance for your family, get in touch with the right doctor, or simply learn more about local and state healthcare policies and the newest in clinical trials can be very important.
Parent Support Groups Help Us Find Hope
When there isn’t anything left to do but survive for the next day, a parent support group can become the emotional backbone you need to rely on, just as your child has relied on your support for years. No man is an island. We all need help, and some days, we need it more than others. The experiences, the highs, and the lows of those around us can help remind us to cling to hope.
Parent support groups are a powerful and important element of self-care for any parent with a special needs child. Not only can they help you be better equipped to care for your children, but they’re there for you in times of need.