The three words my child's psychologist said that changed everything

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images 

I know what it's like to parent a child with depression and anxiety, and to feel helpless. When my 16-year-old son was in his late tweens/early teens, we went through a period where he was so low and so impulsive, that I worried he wouldn't live through it.

He tried to end his life a couple of times, with one attempt landing him in hospital for several weeks. I remember on that occasion a psychiatrist telling me my child had "an ambivalent relationship with living". 

I still find it hard to type that phrase without tearing up.

As a single mum, I made it my job to keep my child alive. After he was released from hospital, I watched him like a hawk, never leaving him alone, and refusing to allow him to even be locked away in his room for more than an hour or so at a time.

School was instructed to call me straight away if he didn't show up to any of his classes, and at night, I would stare sleeplessly at the ceiling and listen for any noises that suggested he was up and about. 

I had emergency numbers on my fridge, and a crisis plan for myriad courses of action my son may choose to take, if things got too much. 

While all this was going on, I was also navigating my way through a bitter divorce, running two businesses, and trying to parent two younger children. 

All through this experience, we were lucky enough to have a psychologist that my son was seeing regularly. It took her a while to gain my son's trust, and for him to open up to her, but eventually they formed a strong bond. 

After we'd been seeing her for about a year, I remember having a moment alone with her in her office, close to tears, burnt out and exhausted from the relentlessness of parenting this desperately sad child on my own.

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I told her all the things I was doing to keep my son alive. I said I was exhausted, that I didn't think I had much left to give, and that I had started to switch my feelings off just to cope.

That's when my son's psychologist gave me the greatest gift I could imagine.

She said that she was a trained and experienced mental health professional, and she was working with my son to help him to get better. She told me that if my son really wanted to hurt himself, there was nothing I or anyone else could do about it, but that she was working very hard to ensure that wouldn't happen. 

"'I've got his mental health covered," she told me. "You just parent."

It was what I had no idea I needed, but being released from the pressure I felt to keep my son alive helped me to restore my rightful place in his life. I'd been trying to be everything, and to do everything – terrified that one wrong move would mean I could lose him.

But "you just parent" gave me permission to step back and just be mum, and to know I couldn't control everything.

That was a few years ago now, and my son is doing a whole lot better. He told me recently he loves life now, and he's so happy he stuck around. He's even thinking about studying psychology when he leaves school so he can help others who are struggling, and I think he'd be great at it.

The "you just parent" lesson is one that has stuck with me too. As I help my three kids navigate their way through life's challenges, I play to my strengths and call in the experts whenever I need to.

Being a parent doesn't have to be a lonely road. "Mum" is a role I think I'm pretty good at, but I'm calling on our village to help with the rest.