As a mom, almost every day there is a moment where I think to myself, am I messing up my kid? Is she eating too much sugar? Am I on my cellphone too much? Is the TV on too often? And, even when she has my undivided attention – is it truly undivided if my mind wanders? Can any or all of these concerns screw up my kid for life?
As a therapist, I know how ridiculous this line of thinking is. Every day, I see kids whose lives are truly negatively impacted by their past or present. Their parents are on the streets as drug addicts and we now have a teenager questioning her very existence and contemplating suicide. A youth diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD is moved in and out of various residences and can’t quite connect to anyone because he was severely emotionally abused as a child. Sugar, phones, TV, and thoughts do not cause trauma as drugs, abuse, and dysfunction do. And while it is important to consider all factors when raising our children, I also know that somethings are more harmful than others.
But let’s back up. Why would a parent turn to drugs? What leads someone to take their frustrations out on a child? How can someone sexually abuse their own? Are they only an individual problem? Many agree that most of these issues are systemic, inter-generational and related to widespread trauma. When these associated effects accumulate in certain communities, the possibility for these terrible social side effects multiplies for everyone involved.
As a Metis and white person, I’ve never had to wonder in which generation things went “wrong.” Fortunately, I’ve never had to live with the stigmas that come with addiction, trauma, and other mental health issues. As a Metis person who looks fully white, I’ve never had to live with discrimination on a daily basis. But I do live with dissonance – like feeling exceptionally close to the First Nations community but always considered to be an outsider, treating racist individuals in therapy, and raising my multi-race child to be open and inclusive and loving to all, while protecting her from the problems of the world that I see everyday.
The biggest way I could screw up my child would be allowing her to live a life of ignorant bliss. As a society, we mess up our kids by allowing them to embrace or ignore the discriminatory racial values of society, to view mental illness and trauma as an individual problem, and by not embracing, helping, and loving those whose lineages constrain the choices for their future course in life. Next time you see that an allegedly “thugged out” POC kid walking around downtown – give her a smile and then get to work on educating your kids about these important subjects. A little compassion goes a long way to breaking social isolation and she needs to know that you care about not messing up kids.
Erin Newman, M.Ed. is a mental health therapist specializing in the treatment of youth in both private practice and in the public sector. She is also passionate about feminist issues, Indigenous rights, and advocacy for children and youth. Academically, Erin was the recipient of the Indspire Scholarship and the Metis Bursary Award for social services. She hopes to pursue further graduate studies exploring how movement, dance and therapy can assist in healing trauma. Erin uses gardening, nature, and animal therapy for her own personal growth, is a dancer with the integrated and political performing group, CRIPSIE, and spends the rest of her spare time chasing after a toddler.