As we have attempted to bring to light suicidal ideation and prevention, we have focused on the details of our story. Yesterday, we emphasized the importance of listening to kids amidst telling about our own experiences. Here’s why…
Kids need someone they can trust. They are actually starving for it. And let me tell you, you can be the shiniest, happiest, most Christian, fun-loving, honest, open mom the world has ever seen, and your kids may not trust you.
Kids don’t want you to fix them…sort of. Oddly, kids want you to listen for the purpose of helping them. However, they want you to listen WITHOUT immediately trying to fix them. That’s a whole conundrum, I know. If they think you’re going to immediately clap back with a fix, they might not be open to you.
Kids need to see that you are not perfect. Not only do kids shy away from opening up if they feel like you’re going to come back with a fix, they won’t talk to you if they think you’re perfect. It’s intimidating to tell someone your dirt if they come across as Mr. or Ms. Perfect.
Kids need you not to doubt them, judge them, or make excuses. If you want kids to talk to you, you better be ready to listen thoughtfully ONLY. If your response is one of “you don’t know how good you’ve got it” or maybe “the world can be hard right now, but this will pass” or even “that’s not a very nice thing to say”, you can forget having kids share with you.
Kids don’t want to feel stupid or small. Thoughtful listening must happen without dismissing the other person’s feelings. Nobody wants to hear they are wrong, dumb, off-base, or unstable (even if they are). You have to listen thoughtfully and tread lightly.
You want kids to keep talking. Oh, this one! If you don’t come across as a thoughtful, deliberate listener, your kids will shut down. You can only hope they will find someone who WILL listen. Otherwise, they will keep all their thoughts and feelings inside. That’s how powder kegs form and eventually explode.
Early on, I had to show my daughter I was trustworthy, and it didn’t come easy. I’m a fixer, I ask too many questions, and I don’t have a poker face. All that had to go.
I had to resist the urge to respond. Oh, how I wanted to ask a million questions, suggest a million solutions, reason with her, and convince her. When it comes to mental health crises, there are seldom any answers and hardly any logic. It was hard to come to terms with the fact that some questions do not have answers and some things can’t be explained.
I had to stop acting like a mom and start being a person. Being the all-knowing, boo boo-kissing, solution-having, college degree-toting, perfectionist had to go. She needed to know I struggle, too, and she was not “less than” me. (And boy have I learned a TON about myself!)
And finally, I had to STAY wide open and available. I couldn’t be tired, let my guard down, or be afraid. She had to know I was ready to listen and would not be horrified by whatever she had to say. On the inside, I was so horrified I could scream. I was sick of it. I hated it. I never wanted to hear it again. Yet at the same time, I wouldn’t have wanted anything but to hear what she had to say and help carry the burden with her. To listen is to learn, and to learn is to know. You have to know what you’re up against to fight it effectively. You MUST keep them talking.
Therapy has helped. I am thankful beyond words to have a child willing to spill. She has always been super forthcoming with me, Daddy, and the therapist. Absent that, I’m not sure where we would be. I know there are a lot of people out there whose kids refuse to talk at all and would especially never share with a therapist. We are fortunate.
As part of suicide awareness and prevention, I want you to look at your own heart, evaluate what kind of listener you are, and examine what kind of listener you’d be if you were approached by someone struggling. If you find you’re not equipped to listen or don’t have the emotional bandwidth (some of us just can’t possibly hear hard things, and that’s ok), do you otherwise have a game plan for how to direct someone in need?
And finally, DO NOT JUDGE. This is not a game for armchair quarterbacks, mother hens, and do-gooders. Keep your opinions, suggestions, and free advice to yourself if you haven’t been in the trenches or suffered through your own suicidal ideation. Your mouth should stay shut (except to pray), your eyes peeled, and your ears open…that’s it. None of us have any idea what goes on inside another household – and most of all, none of us know what goes on inside another person’s mind. If you can’t be nice, be quiet. Suicidal ideation needs listening and love. That’s it.
(Oh…and it is on my heart to add…we told nobody about any of this early on, and I am only now blogging about it. Other people are going through things they don’t talk about, too. Don’t be a keyboard warrior and give them a life lesson when they post something. Don’t try to set anybody straight in a comment. Keep your two cents to yourself, even if it’s “in love”. You don’t know that person and what they go through, who they are, or what they are about. You don’t know their heart or their mind. Stay in your lane, love big, and pray for folks.)
The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline can be accessed by calling 988 (or texting).