One of the first things a psychologist said to me was that we are only one of many influences on our children and that they come pretty much with their temperament and personality in place. Also, that their peers are far more important influences on them than we are once they reach about ten. This is hard to grasp at first when so much is laid at the feet of parents. We are led to believe that anything that goes wrong with our children is our fault. This gives society a false sense of control. The fact is, very little is within our control and that is scary.
Parents are expected to fix everything, be aware of everything, know everything, and work, keep our marriages together and monitor our children’s use of screens. Well, how do you do all those complex jobs successfully? You can’t, not when you have a zillion responsibilities. As parents we can give love and security, we can nurture, we can guide (or try to) and we can pass on our values, both consciously and unconsciously. But we are not given a blank slate when our kids are born.
I loved my daughter and was her biggest cheerleader. So how come she felt so worthless she wanted to die? Wasn’t my love and pride enough? Nope. It was important, very important, but it wasn’t enough to immunize her against mental illness, nor was it enough to immunize her against what society tells us is failure and success.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it sure as eggs takes a village to kill one. I have often thought that if my girl had been born into a simpler, rural society with no Internet technology and clear-cut social roles, she would have flourished. But she was born at a very confusing, stressful time for young people. It overwhelms them. How can they be a ‘success’ when that goal post is always shifting and getting harder and harder for them? Jobs, housing, work-life security, dating apps, and hook-up culture, impossible body images to live up to, and much more. All of it weighs on them.
This is not a problem to be defined by failed parenting. It is a society thing. We are failing our young people, our elderly, our disabled, our lonely, marginalized, broken people, our grieving people. We worship success and yet we have very little chance of achieving ‘success’ as our neurotic society defines it.