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Teen Suicide Attempts - Help for Parents
A perfect storm of disappointing circumstances lead our daughter to a suicide attempt. I’ve reflected on this event many times and have come to some conclusions as a parent…
Parents are not mind readers. Yes we need to attempt to stay connected, observe, ask questions, and be involved in our kids’ world as much as we can, but we will never be able to read their minds.
Parents can create opportunities. Opportunities can be created by putting ourselves in our kids’ shoes.
We could have said, “Honey, sports has been such a huge part of your life. It’s been disappointing not to be able to play. How are you doing with that?” As parents we have to remind ourselves our part is to attempt to open the door to dialogue. We cannot create the dialogue. We cannot control the willingness to respond and let us in. Our part is to be intentional/creative with the attempts.
Be transparent. Parents can also create empathy with personal transparency about our own life experiences. Telling our stories of growing up, especially stories of disappointment and hurt can create opportunities for dialogue.
Try to grasp their perspective. I did not realize that my daughter’s perception of my relationship with her was built around our common love of sports. I coached and we went to her games. When that was pulled from her life our relationship suffered. I did not recognize the vacuum of relational time created by the injury.
Make sure they know you love them, unconditionally. I realized how important it was to keep reassuring her of how much we love her; no matter what. Kids sometimes get the idea that our love is based on superficial things like how well they play sports or how good their grades are…When our daughter lay in that hospital bed, the only thing I wanted her to know was that I loved her NO MATTER WHAT. We left a note at our daughters’ bed, which said, “We want you to know we love you. We are not sure what caused you to take this step but you will make it through this.” Unconditional love is very important.**
Parents need caution with accepting blame or credit for their child’s actions. When our daughter attempted suicide some of our first thoughts were “What did we do wrong? How have we failed?” My wife reminded me of a significant truth, “Kids have to make their own decisions. We made ours and they will forge their own path with the decisions they make.”
Children become increasingly independent. In the progression from childhood to adulthood our relationship with our children changes from one of control to one of influence. When children are young, parents can, to a significant extent, control their world. As they grow toward adulthood, that control decreases as independence grows. The goal is to continue to influence through a healthy relationship and open communication.
Release is hard. Each of our 4 children received some version of the following in a conversation and/or in a written note somewhere in their journey toward independence.
“We are not the enemy. We love you. We are attempting to give you suggestions on a course of action that we are convinced will give you a better future. We realize it is your choice. You need to realize that for good or bad you will live out the consequence of your decisions. You are shaping your future just as our decisions have shaped our lives.”
When one of our daughters turned 20, we expressed concern about one of her decisions. She responded by saying, “Mom and Dad you raised me right, now you have to trust me to make good decisions.” We were encouraged by this statement but it was still hard to release her.
Parenting is not a formula. A plus B does not always lead to C. I thought if I did A and B my child would end up at C. For example A’s and B’s might be living in the right area, sending your kids to the right school, teaching them good values, giving them a foundation of faith in God, being involved in their lives/activities and being a good example. This should be the right formula for parenting and for producing great kids. I did not factor in the many other influences in our kids’ lives. We are not their only influence. As parents it is critical to try to understand and be in touch with the impact of other influences on our kids. We were naïve and made assumptions about the positive and negative influences that gave us a false sense of confidence or security.
Prayer… A friend of mine once said, “Before I had kids, I taught about raising kids. Now that I have kids I teach about prayer!” Prayer is an expression of faith and dependence on God. God loves our children more that we do. There is something very comforting about committing them to his care and protection.
Some Final Thoughts
We never imagined we would ever have to walk through this experience. We are so thankful that our daughter realized she made a mistake and needed to go to emergency to get help. Our hearts go out to any parent who has walked a similar path. To those who have lost a child to suicide we express deep grief and empathy. We were so close to that reality.
We so appreciate that our daughter is willing to let us tell our story.
** If you have never experienced unconditional love, this concept may not make a lot of sense. My wife and I both would say understanding God’s unconditional love has helped us to be able to communicate this type of love to each other, and to our children. Helping them understand God’s love provides a foundation that never changes. God’s love is unconditional. He loves them no matter what.
The following is a suggested prayer that you can pray. When we open our lives to Jesus Christ, He will come into our lives and fill us with God's unconditional love and wisdom.
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