"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
September 10, 2014
Something's Wrong with My Child
by Emily S. Jorgensen

When my first baby was born with a minor birth defect — a cleft lip that would require two surgeries with an optional third one later in life — I was racked with self-doubt and guilt. Did this happen because of something I did? Could I have prevented this? Could this happen again if I had any more children?

And then, when I participated in a study about cleft defects and some of the questions I had to answer made me realize, yes, there probably were things I did while pregnant that could have caused this, I had to deal with a fresh wave of guilt.

And once again, later, when reading an article about cleft defects in children that suggested they can be caused by eating certain foods in pregnancy, I pursed my lips and shook my head and thought, “If I had only known!”

Gratefully, my daughter’s birth defect was incredibly mild and somewhat easily fixed if one lives in a nation with decent healthcare and has medical insurance.

But, it often happens that parents are faced with the realization that something is wrong with their child, and there is no easy fix.

I recently overheard a fellow parent talking about how a child in their ward’s nursery clearly had some type of developmental problem and the parents appeared to be either oblivious or in denial about it. I don’t know anything about the specific situation being discussed then, but I have seen this type of thing happen before.

It made me wonder if I have done that. Have I excused away warning signs or clues that one of my children needs help beyond what I can give him?

It is devastating to face that your child has a serious problem, be it an addiction, a mental illness, or a tendency to bully others.

It is tempting to explain away the evidence. “Oh he’s just tired today” (but he does this every day….), “I’m sure it’s just a stage he’ll grow out of” (but all the other kids his age I know grew out of this a year ago…), “It only happens when someone else sets him off” (but school/church/life will ALWAYS have other people who ‘set him off’…).

It is painful to admit that your child is facing a problem you can’t fix for him. It is painful to realize he or she may have to bear this burden for his entire life. It is painful to wonder if it is your fault or if you could have prevented it in some way.

The question for the parent then becomes, “Do I care more about the pain and fear this causes me or about the potential help I could get for my child if I just faced up to it?”

No one likes to be judged or told what to do, even if it is by “well-meaning” family members or friends. It is a hard pill to swallow when people tell you they think your child needs special help.

And sometimes these people are wrong. Sometimes it is just a stage. Sometimes we have a child with a personality that is just a bit outside the norm, or a developmental pattern that operates in fits and starts instead the nice smooth arc of the pediatrician’s growth chart.

But, are we humble enough to at least give it some honest, objective (as objective as we can be when it comes to our own children anyway) thought?

Do we turn a blind eye to the aggressive, or depressive, or obsessive behavior our child is displaying? Or do we crack a book, get on our knees to pray, and place a call to seek professional help if we can’t find the answers we are looking for on our own?

I have a dear friend whom I admire very much. She realized when her son was about four years old that he reacted very strongly to certain situations in ways she had not seen other children do. She was humble enough to realize she didn’t have all the answers, and she found a counselor she liked and got his take on the situation.

It helped her to both understand her son’s personality, and to put her concerns in perspective. It gave her peace and tools to help her parent him in a way that was best for him.

It is a sad truth that some of us parents, either through pride or fear or even ignorance, make our children’s lives harder because we are not willing to ask for help. We are in such a hurry to prove what great parents we are that we fail at our parenting job by assuming we already know the answers — or that answers are not even needed.

Now, of course there is such a thing as being far too sensitive or worried about every little thing our child does that qualifies as an outlying dot on his graph of life. No two children, even in the same family, will do everything in the same way or with the same speed or attitude. It is a mistake that only amps up both a parent’s and a child’s anxiety to be constantly comparing children to each other or expectations to reality.

But that is also where a professional can be helpful. A counselor can help a parent know what is in the Realm of Normal. He can help allay fears, and give perspective.

I write this the evening before I take one of my children in to be evaluated in the morning for a mental health issue. Although, at the moment, it is not a deeply concerning problem, I know it may get better or it may get worse from this point. It brings tears to my eyes to know this child may have to deal with this problem for a lifetime.

But, I decided something a long time ago, after seeing someone I love suffer because his parents didn’t get him the help he needed.

I got educated about the clues and warning signs of mental illness. I decided that if I ever saw these things in one of my children, I would act. I would be my child’s champion. I would be brave and ask the tough questions. I would hold his hand at the doctor’s office. I would listen to what he had to say without interrupting. I would put my pride and fear away and fight for the best help I could find him.

Maybe my child has this problem because of something I did, or didn’t do, or just because I gave him poisoned genes. Regardless, the question is, what will I do about it now?

I’m going to love him. Smile at her. Hold his hand. Drive her to the counselor’s office. Pay for his prescription. Accept that this is who she is. And move on.

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About Emily S. Jorgensen

Emily Jorgensen received her bachelor's degree in piano performance from Brigham Young University. She earned her master's degree in elementary music education, also at BYU. She holds a Kodaly certificate in choral education, as well as permanent certification in piano from Music Teacher’s National Association.

She has taught piano, solfege, and children’s music classes for 17 years in her own studio. She has also taught group piano classes at BYU.

She is an active adjudicator throughout the Wasatch Front and has served in local, regional, and state positions Utah Music Teachers' Association, as well as the Inspirations arts contest chair at Freedom Academy.

She gets a lot of her inspiration for her column by parenting her own rambunctious four children, aged from “in diapers” to “into Harry Potter.” She is still married to her high school sweetheart and serves in her ward’s Primary.

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