“Don’t be their friend, be their parent. They have enough friends.”
It’s a sentiment going around a lot these days. There’s been another school shooting, and so we’re trying to figure out why this happens here, but not in other countries that closely compare to ours across multiple demographics. We’re trying to make inferences, and deductions. We want answers.
There are those who blame guns, and those who blame evil, and those who blame bad parenting, as well as many other groups who are just so mad that this keeps happening that they’re desperate to blame anyone, or anything. Because if we can figure out who’s at fault, we can maybe fix this.
And so we come back to the sentiment that I started this with…
First of all, some qualifiers: Parents aren’t always capable of parenting. There are a lot of reasons why. Their own mental illness, socioeconomics, and countless other issues that professionals spend their lives studying. This world is real dark, and hard, and people have a lot of reasons why they cannot be what their kids need. So, basically, there are two separate groups* here. There are parents who can, and want to parent, and there are parents who can’t. So, yeah, I’m talking about the parents who can.
I’m not shy about speaking up about my mental illness, or about the challenges I had as a teenager. I continue to struggle with anxiety, depression, and PTSD. When I was in junior high I was the loner, the outcast, the kid who in one swift blow lost every close pal that she had. To put it simply, I didn’t have enough friends. I did have parents, and they were incredibly traditional. They believed in discipline, and hard work, and they never once tried to be my buddy. But here’s the thing I needed parents just like every kid, but I also needed a buddy. I needed people to take an interest in me in the way that friends take interest in each other. I needed people to talk to who I didn’t have to worry about punishing me, or judging me. I didn’t have that with my parents, so I started going to chat rooms, and online forums. It was dangerous behavior, and had I been born a few years in the future, I may have stumbled across a dangerous community who took my tiny, vulnerable brain, and radicalized it. Y’all, I was the definition of at risk. I’ve told my therapist more than once that I’m so glad I wasn’t born a decade later. It was hard enough then, I don’t think I would have survived the new pressures of social media.
Here are some quick facts: I am a mentally ill adult. I was a mentally ill child. More discipline would not have changed me. More spanking, more grounding, more stern talks– none of it would have changed who I was, or who I am.
What I needed was a friend, and luckily I found one. She lived far away, and I only had her around occasionally, but she gave me the number to the suicide hotline, and I called that number a lot. Strangers were the friends I needed. But they weren’t really friends, and I was still very alone.
I may not have considered mass destruction, but I did frequently contemplate my destruction. And, personally, I think the loss of one life is as tragic as 5, or 15, or 500. (I think the parents who have lost a kid to suicide would agree.) I knew where the keys to my dad’s gun cabinet were. I sat in front of it, and I pictured taking those guns**, and shooting myself. I pictured the mess. I visualized my parents finding me. I remember crying, saying out loud to the taxidermy animals who lived on top of the cabinet, “Would they even care?” And, yeah, they would have. Because they were good parents. They loved me. But I didn’t really know that then. They weren’t my friends, and I didn’t need parents. I had enough parents. What I needed were friends.
Why didn’t I kill myself? Frankly, I don’t know. It wasn’t my family though, and it wasn’t divine intervention. Evil didn’t make me mentally ill, or suicidal, and good didn’t stop me from dying. Really, it was just luck.
So what was even the point of talking about all of this?
I guess I don’t know what to say other than that we’re probably all a little wrong, but also, maybe some are more wrong than others. Maybe people need to spend more time talking, and listening to the at risk. Really listening. Instead of calling them evil, and calling their parents failures. The picture is bigger than that. Maybe we need to be friends with our kids. That doesn’t mean we let them get away with everything, it just means we’re there for them in the way a friend would be. That we’re willing to listen with an open heart, and without judgement. That we love them unconditionally, and help them in a way that makes sense to them, and not just to us. I think we also keep guns out of their hands. We make them hard to get ahold of. Because, as many people love to say, there are those who will do anything to hurt others, but some people will give up if it isn’t as easy as grabbing a gun out of a cabinet. Restrictions may not end gun violence, but I do think they would restrict it. Which is a better place to start than just doing nothing.
*This is one of the reasons why the idea that we can fix this by yelling at parents is false. It shows an incredible amount of ignorance of specific privilege, and discounts the fact that there are kids out there growing up in homes with parents who are incapable of doing things, or being different than they are. Look, I’m not a professional, but I do know that we can’t blame kids for the lives they are born into, and we can’t just shrug and say, “What we need is more parents who are better at being parents.” It’s not a logical, or reasonable solution. What we do need is more people who are willing to recognize that the way they do things, or the way they were raised, isn’t always going to work for every family. So we have to figure out solutions that work not just within a single paradigm.
**”You would have just used a knife, or hung yourself, or overdosed” you might say, but you’d be wrong. Because I wanted quick, and what I viewed as something that couldn’t fail. I knew all of the ways the other methods could fail, but guns, guns were deadly, and permanent. I’d been told such for my whole life when my parents taught me gun safety.