I was recently in a debate on Facebook with another mother about the suicide of a young athlete, Bryce Gowdy. I commented about his mother’s tone as she said “he was talking crazy” and “he asked to hold my hand but I told him to toughen up.” The woman, who took offense to my comment that Bryce Gowdy’s mother should have gotten him some help instead of pushing him away, was adamant that the young man’s mother had done “the best she could”. This defense made me start thinking about all the times in my life I had heard parents’ explain their actions by saying it was the “best they could do.” Well, I’m here (as always) to throw a wrench in this. Sometimes, fellow parents, we can and we must do better.
Saying we’re doing our best is a great way to shut up the naysayer and pat ourselves on the back. Granted, there may be days or times when you genuinely are doing your best but is that something that we can honestly all of the time? When it comes to our children and their mental health, I don’t believe we do our best nearly as much as we should. We do with physical health because there are laws and sanctions that can be imposed if we didn’t. We can’t hide our child’s physical ailments the way we can hide their mental illnesses. So we fight one with fervor and deny the other when both can be equally fatal.
One very striking piece of evidence that we don’t do our best when it comes to our children’s mental health is the fact that the majority of public schools still offer awards for perfect attendance. Despite understanding the tremendous amount of stress and peer pressure our children face in school, we still continue to send them to public schools that offer awards for perfect attendance and pressure both parents and students about the importance of being present every day as opposed to educating them on the significance and necessity of mental health days. Simultaneously, we speak about ADHD and other disorders that affect our youth as if it were some pop culture myth when they are, in fact, real conditions.
I’ll go out on a limb and be a trailblazer for the cause by openly admitting that although I would like to say with conviction that I am doing my best, I am not. There are times when I am barely doing the bare minimum. There are times when I could have taken a second and been more patient, more understanding, less irritated, but instead, I did what felt right for me. And I’m not alone. I see it all the time. The parents who won’t allow their children to be in special education because they say they don’t want them to be treated differently but really it’s because it makes them uncomfortable. Or the parents who say that they don’t want their sons playing with dolls or their daughters can’t play sports, or certain toys are for certain genders. In these moments, we dramatically fall short of our best and our children need more.
In an attempt to stop perpetuating the lie of doing my best, I have recently taken a more honest approach with my boys. When I make a mistake, I go back and rather than say “I am doing the best I can” I tell them what motivated my less than best behavior. I say “hey, I yelled earlier because I was frustrated.” Or “sorry I didn’t listen to you when you were talking, I felt rushed because we had an appointment and I ended up rushing you too.” Whatever the case, I make the time to talk it through rather than let them believe that this is the best I can offer. I also take my boys to a therapist regularly because I realize I fall short of perfection and there will be days that they need more than I can give.
As I shared my musings about the lies parents tell themselves about doing the best they can with a friend, I was confronted about whether or not I was being too critical. I’m going to have to thoughtfully say no. I’m not being critical, I’m being honest. Sometimes we don’t want to hear the truth because it makes us feel less than. It shouldn’t. It might, but it shouldn’t. My hope is that you read this and realize that your child deserves better and you can do better because your best (especially in the age of Google) can always be better than what you merely know. Parenting is an endeavor that requires lifelong learning. You can never know everything so you always have more to learn and, subsequently, more to offer. If we wake up with the mindset that we can offer our children more today than we did yesterday, imagine the difference we could make! The parents we could be! When we fall into the rote of believing we are doing the best we can, we forget to even try to do better. For the Bryce Gowdy’s out there, we have to do better.