I was inspired to write this post by a reader that always gives me amazing feedback and a lot of food for thought – thank you so much for your engagement. He replied to my Special Issue #12 newsletter with the following:
Your question about the impact of the last years is critical and of course there are no simple answers apart from the fact that the apparatus is lined up against us. It is a puzzle that even before the pandemic, mental health issues were so significant in a high percentage of the population. One wonders what all the elements of this relate to and it may be the subject of one of your future newsletters? Family breakup must be at the heart of this (I heard just a few days ago that only 20% of children in the US are now living in a family of 2 parents). Of course everything has been worsened by a government created state of fear.
So I have been mulling this around for a while now and it went straight to my core, especially as a single mother. My initial reply was a tad defensive and that especially inspired me to go a bit deeper into this topic. Here is my reply:
I am not so sure if family break-ups are at the core – it certainly has an influence. I can only speak for myself and what I am experiencing but I raised my two children on my own and I see their friends that have been raised by both parents. Of course, it is always best when children have both the influences of mother and father, and here comes the BUT. Often these couples stay together “for the children” which is often more toxic than a clean breakup. I have seen this so often and children feel this and they blame themselves – a straight road to mental illness. I believe it is how you treat your children and with what values you raise them, in the hope that they have internalized enough of it before one loses influence as a parent.
I stand by what I wrote but I believe there is a bit more to it. I have already skimmed this topic in my letter on family but this may be an addition to that letter – or not. Let’s see where it goes – unfiltered as ever!
I never wanted to be a single parent. I had this picture in my head to raise children with a loving partner but that was obviously not in my cards. On a side note, my children have a loving father, they are regularly in touch with him and I never did anything but encourage that – no matter what happened between him and me.
Being a single parent is really hard, it takes a lot of organizing and it can get very lonely sometimes. It also had advantages though. Children quickly learn to play their parents off against each other, and that doesn’t happen when you’re a single parent. The rules of one person apply. That is pretty much where the advantages end though.
I stayed at home with both children for 6 months and otherwise always worked full time and I did that by choice. I had to listen to endless reproaches and was often called a bad mother – which I certainly was on occasions, like most mothers and fathers. But it made me a balanced and happy woman and mother and the time I spent with my children was quality time and mostly positive.
I was always very consistent in raising my children. They always knew where they stood with me at all times. There were relatively few rules, but the ones that existed were irrevocable. If I said something, I followed it through – no ambiguities. Apart from that, I gave my children values. One of the most important for me was that they should question EVERYTHING – including and especially me! I also let my children make their own mistakes. We all know from our own childhood (yes, parents are not born old) that the big people were usually right in their warnings and predictions of what would happen if we did this or that. But there is always this nagging feeling that it could be different for me – which is very rarely the case if we are honest. But that is exactly how we learn and evolve. I gave my children a picture. Of course, I told them what would happen (when they confided in me about their plans) and I was usually right. But I let them experience it anyway. The safety I could give them was the picture of me holding a huge first aid kit standing on the sidelines. But I only ran to them when it really hurt or they came to me.
I also made sure I prepare my children for the real-life out there. I tried to make my children feel safe and loved at all times but I also taught them that all they do has consequences – good and bad.
However, my way of bringing up my children is also time-consuming and exhausting – and it is so worth it, especially when I look at my children today. Parenting comes at a cost and it always makes me laugh when I hear people say that noting changes with children. I beg to differ, EVERYTHING changes the instant a child is born – or it should.
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I believe there are several issues why more young people today struggle with mental illness, living a life in despair that much too often ends in suicide.
Home plays a big role, I absolutely agree with that. I don’t think it is necessarily relevant whether children are brought up by one person, mother, father, or same-sex parents. But that’s just my personal take. I think it’s not the quantity but the quality. As I mentioned in my answer to my reader, it is an incredible challenge for children to grow up in a household where the parents have long since fallen out of love and stay together for the sake of the children – at any price. It is not even about fighting in front of the children. It’s much more about what you show your children what a relationship should be – in many cases unfortunately only a cold cohabitation. As a result, married couples or partners are lonely together – in my eyes the worst possible form of loneliness! Children are smarter and more sensitive and empathic than you think and having to grow up in such a toxic atmosphere is torture. I know this all too well because I come from such a family. Children have the tendency to blame themselves and even try to fix things – which is impossible but puts an enormous strain on them that is often not seen by anyone before it is too late.
As parents, we start losing influence on our children when they start going to kindergarten and even more when they go to school. I always saw it as my job to give my children values that they can embrace all their lives, hoping that the outer influences would not completely destroy them. It would be illusory to believe that this works 100% of the time. But if all that remains is that children have a safe haven with their parents – regardless of the relationship between the two – then a lot has already been gained.
I believe it is essential that all people involved in the education of children pull together and pursue the same goals. I truly believe that children need clarity. One of the worst things you can do to children is to involve them in a separation war. Parents too often use children as weapons against one another in a break-up and maybe they don’t realize what they are doing to their children or they don’t care – either way, the damage is done.
Children are a lifelong responsibility and commitment – a wonderful one if you ask me and also a tough one.
I made that very clear to my daughter when she was about 15. She wanted to go to a friend’s house after school and then to a party. I allowed it and asked her to send me a short message when she was at her friend’s and later at the party. I could literally hear her rolling her eyes. I had to laugh. I then told her,
“Sweets, let me make one thing clear. It’s my job to worry about you for the rest of my life and it’s your job to be terribly annoyed by it. Can we agree on that?”
We both had to laugh. She then told me that she actually thought it was nice that I cared because other parents often didn’t.
I believe that if we as parents, no matter what constellation we are in, try to give our children a sense of security, we have done a good job.
But when we look at reasons why more and more young people are suffering from mental illness, especially depression we have to look farther than the home and the parents. I am the last person to claim that everything was better in the past. It was different, very different and it was, in my opinion, so much easier.
I elaborated a little on parenting and one other really crucial aspect is, I believe, technology. With social media, we have become really good at putting a filter on things, showing only the sunny side of life, and sending the message that life is amazing even though I am depressed. On social media, everyone seems to have it all figured out -until reality kicks in again, and then they are lost. It is truly not the fault of this generation, you could say they were dealt a bad hand. Engaging with smartphones and social media at all times, hearing that ping when you get a text, or getting a like on a post releases dopamine, a chemical that gives a pleasure sensation in the brain usually associated with food, money, and sex. It is highly addictive and getting that hit of dopamine makes us feel good and that is why we keep on going back to our messages and our social media accounts. Dopamine is the same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, when we drink, and when we gamble – addictive. Unlike our smartphones and social media, there is an age restriction for cigarettes, alcohol, and gambling. So the dependency on mobile phones and social media does not really come as a surprise. As this has nothing to do with the real world we live in it is easy to get lost when you have not learned how to deal with real-life issues. These can easily be overwhelming and what often follows is anxiety and depression or other mental issues.
We are not going to change this, just like we will not abolish alcohol and drug abuse, or gambling. We have to take it seriously finding and offering ways to detox and find a balance to support this generation without alienating them any further.
🎶My Song of the Week
Is one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite singers. His voice caresses in an amazing way – Greg Brown.
📚My Poem of the Week
Once again I turn to W.B. Yeats (1865-1939)…
A Prayer for my Daughter
Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle
But Gregory’s wood and one bare hill
Whereby the haystack- and roof-levelling wind,
Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
And for an hour I have walked and prayed
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.
I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
And under the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms above the flooded stream;
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come,
Dancing to a frenzied drum,
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.
May she be granted beauty and yet not
Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,
Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,
Being made beautiful overmuch,
Consider beauty a sufficient end,
Lose natural kindness and maybe
The heart-revealing intimacy
That chooses right, and never find a friend.
Helen being chosen found life flat and dull
And later had much trouble from a fool,
While that great Queen, that rose out of the spray,
Being fatherless could have her way
Yet chose a bandy-leggèd smith for man.
It’s certain that fine women eat
A crazy salad with their meat
Whereby the Horn of Plenty is undone.
In courtesy I’d have her chiefly learned;
Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
By those that are not entirely beautiful;
Yet many, that have played the fool
For beauty’s very self, has charm made wise,
And many a poor man that has roved,
Loved and thought himself beloved,
From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.
May she become a flourishing hidden tree
That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,
And have no business but dispensing round
Their magnanimities of sound,
Nor but in merriment begin a chase,
Nor but in merriment a quarrel.
O may she live like some green laurel
Rooted in one dear perpetual place.
My mind, because the minds that I have loved,
The sort of beauty that I have approved,
Prosper but little, has dried up of late,
Yet knows that to be choked with hate
May well be of all evil chances chief.
If there’s no hatred in a mind
Assault and battery of the wind
Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.
An intellectual hatred is the worst,
So let her think opinions are accursed.
Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
Out of the mouth of Plenty’s horn,
Because of her opinionated mind
Barter that horn and every good
By quiet natures understood
For an old bellows full of angry wind?
Considering that, all hatred driven hence,
The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
And that its own sweet will is Heaven’s will;
She can, though every face should scowl
And every windy quarter howl
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.
And may her bridegroom bring her to a house
Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious;
For arrogance and hatred are the wares
Peddled in the thoroughfares.
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn,
And custom for the spreading laurel tree.
My little family in 2003 – time really flies…
Wishing you all a wonderful day and can’t wait for your feedback and comments!