Tag Archives: support groups

Leaving A Support Group After Leading It: Parenting & Young Adult Mental Health

iStock_000044753522Large doors

“If you founded the parents’ group, then why did you stop attending?”

A legitimate question I could not readily answer.

That question was posed to me in the Q and A after a Mental Health talk I gave a few weeks ago.  I had been invited by a Northern California synagogue to speak as part of their open-to-the-community “End The Silence” series on mental illness. They asked me to talk about the parents’ support group I started – and led for 6 years –  at my own synagogue in DC.

If you’ve read this Blog, you may have come across my post from September, 2014 – titled a “Different Kind of Kvelling” where I first mentioned our P/YAWS – short for “Parents of Young Adults Who Struggle.”  The Washington Post then published a version of my post in its @OnParenting section – and word spread.

One of my life goals (truly) is to foster the creation of support and strategy sharing groups for parents of young adults who struggle with mental health challenges such as anorexia, anxiety disorder, bipolar, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and schizophrenia at synagogues throughout the U.S.

So I was thrilled to come to California to explain why I started our P/YAWS group, how we ran our meetings and why our network of parents had been so helpful to me and to many others.

Many hands raised with questions during the Q and A session – most I could easily answer, but when asked if, after I stopped leading the group, I remained a regular participant, I stopped to consider. I gave a short response, which I forget (blame it on the bad cold I was getting over that night).

Now that I’m back home I’ve been pondering the real reason I no longer attend our P/YAWS meetings.

At first – so I tell myself – I didn’t attend because I wanted to give the parent co-facilitators who replaced me some space to develop their own style. Running a group like ours isn’t easy. Parents come with heavy hearts and worried minds. Sharing stories is painful. We support each other, offering ideas for doctors, therapists, meds, local and distant treatment programs and strategies to use with challenging young adults. Tears flow, laughter too; sometimes everyone wants a chance to talk, sometimes people want to talk too much. There is a different rhythm to each meeting. My personal “weapon” of choice was a strong sense of humor – perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea but it seemed to work. The group thrived.

And it continued to thrive without me.

After I stopped going to meetings, I was surprised at how relieved I felt.

For years I had been carrying around in my own heart and head everyone’s else’s stories. I could facilitate the back and forth based on what I knew –  I would ask S. how her son was doing on his new med or remind C. that the last time she came to the group, her daughter had been hospitalized, how was she doing now. Not being the sole person in charge freed me up to let go of the knowledge weighing on me of other participants’ pain.

The more I thought, the more I realized didn’t want to go to the group anymore, even as a participant.

In part because I didn’t want to scare anyone away.  Mental Illness happens on a spectrum. When a new parent comes to his first meeting, it can be because their young adult son has just had to leave college because of a mental health crisis. That parent is confident that there will be an effective medication, a promising therapy and that next semester their child will be back in school. And sometimes it works out that way. Our group has had many successful “graduates.”

But for those of us on the longer-term, “work in progress” path, our stories are more like roller coasters than linear tales of successful coping. I didn’t want the new parent to listen to my longer-term narrative and fear that their trajectory would resemble ours. It might or might not.

P/YAWS has been amazing for me and my husband. We could not have gotten through all that we did without it. From a wisp of an idea to a thriving monthly group for eight years, I’m proud of my role. It was through our group that I learned that a parent can only do so much. Most young adults with mental illness can change, can grow into stability but the parent cannot do it for them. Your young adult child has got to want it more than you do.

For now I’ve facilitated all I want to; I’ve encouraged, I’ve supported, I’ve shared plenty. I’m not letting up on my plan to prod other synagogues to create groups similar to ours. The need is clearly there.  But I’m going to be on a hiatus from participating around the table. Let others speak, share and be comforted. I’ve had my turn, time to sit back for a while in silence (unusual for me!) and apply the lessons I learned.











Filed under Adult Kids, College, College, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Parenting, Talking, Women, Young Adult Mental Health

A Different Kind of “Kvelling”

womantalkingThere were a few regularly-used  Yiddish words in my house when I was growing up. Like the word “kvetch” to refer to my great-aunt who was a known complainer. Now was “Aunt Kvetchie”, a nice thing to call her?  Probably not.

Or “you are such a klutz – heard this one often. As in uncoordinated. An accurate description of my always bumping into things, not the least bit athletic self.  And “what a schmuck he is” –  my dad describing someone who was a real jerk. You probably know what schmuck means, whether you are Jewish or not.

One Yiddish word I didn’t learn until I became a Mom is “kvelling” (noun) – when a person is bursting with pride and pleasure. As in – “His mother was kvelling over his early admission to Harvard.”

Kvelling is done by all mothers, Jewish or not, when discussing their children.

In my lawyering years, I ate lunch (carry-out salads around a conference room table) several days a week with younger female colleagues at my firm. There was a lot of kvelling among us. My friend, Lisa, would tell us about her daughter’s star soccer skills. And Michelle would let us know that her son got an A on a tough social studies test. Denise was naturally thrilled when her daughter was elected class president in 6th grade. I shared my kids’ accomplishments as well.  And when your kids are young, you have lots of achievements to kvell about. It isn’t boasting or bragging; you are just proud of your child. And o.k, maybe patting yourself on the back as a parent too. I confess to that as well.

When Lisa, Michelle and Denise’s and kids were in elementary school,  mine were of high school and college age.  Kvelling gets a bit trickier as your kids get older. Especially if your kid happens not to be on the do-not-pass-go direct path from high school to early admission into Harvard, then on to elite grad school or Wall Street or a fancy internship.

What happens to kvelling if your kid is on his or her own very different path?

By the time one of my kids was in high school we were on a first name basis with mental health struggles. In college the same mental health challenges grew worse. An elite grad school, Wall Street or a fancy internship did not seem likely. (although hope does spring eternal.) Since I’m not one to sit back and watch life happen, I sought out other parents whose young adult kids were also on different paths to adulthood. Not finding such a group, in 2008 I created, with the backing of our rabbi,  a support & resources sharing group at my synagogue in Washington DC – called – wait for it, very clever name coming –“Parents of Young Adults who Struggle”. We have met monthly for the past nearly 6 years to share our stories, to talk about the rollercoaster rides that our kids put us on, to strategize on how to cope as parents and to laugh. Lots of laughing. We even have our own Facebook page!

In our support group we kvell often.

One of us will say how thrilled she was that her son, David, managed to get up on time on Tuesday morning and get to his doctor’s appointment. Yay, we respond.  Or that Matt remembered to take his meds. Terrific, we cheer. Or that Rachel is taking a class at community college and hasn’t dropped out yet. Great news!

And while this different kind of kvelling was going on, I was still having lunch on weekdays with friends whose kids’ accomplishments were of the more typical variety. While my work friends were true pals, I wasn’t always comfortable talking about my kid’s struggles. I was dealing in two parallel universes here – I was certainly happy for my friends and their kids, even if I couldn’t always keep up in the kvelling department.

And when minor (to me) problems were shared  – a son got a B- on a test or a daughter didn’t make the soccer travel team –  I had some trouble summoning up the required murmurs of sympathy. I would think – you just have no idea what real problems are until you’ve met some of the people in my support group. There was perhaps a reverse pride in having tougher stuff than a bad grade or a missed goal to deal with.

So the next time you are having lunch with friends, and the talk turns, as it often does, to what your kids are doing, at any age, and the kvelling begins – one of the Moms is happy that her daughter aced the SAT’s, the other’s son just got into law school, a third mom glows about her daughter’s engagement, and you see that one of your friends around the table, is sitting silently, fiddling with her drink, just waiting for that part of the conversation to pass. Consider the quiet Mom; she loves her son or daughter just as much as you do. Smile at her, and ask her how her child is doing. She may need to do a different kind of kvelling.





Filed under Mental Health, Parenting, Women