Parents magazine editor-in-chief Liz Vaccariello shares the moment she learned that it's her responsibility to care for her daughters' heads and hearts as much as their bodies.
The car was unusually quiet when, apropos of nothing, Olivia, who couldn’t have been much older than 3, said: “My head is a good place.”
“Tell me what you mean, sweetheart.”
“If I had to pick anywhere to be,” she said, “I’d just pick inside of it.”
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These quotes are real because I went home and wrote them in a journal I kept just for “cute and interesting things the girls say.” (Do this, guys. You think you’ll remember it all, but you won’t.)
I prodded a little more, and it turned out that Olivia was playing a counting game in her head as we drove. She’d discovered she could amuse herself in all sorts of secret ways just by thinking.
I remember that drive as a watershed moment for me as a mom, coming just as the fog and physical exhaustion of raising twins was starting to lift. I thought, OMG, my girls already had inner lives, that their minds percolated with more than “I’m hungry,” “That’s funny,” “I like,” “I don’t like.” And I was reminded that it was my responsibility to care for their heads and hearts as much as their bodies.
Anxiety, OCD, and depression can be found on both sides of our family tree. So Steve and I have been vigilant about watching Sophia’s and Olivia’s mental health and getting them the help they need as issues have arisen over the years. Our brief encounters with child psychologists and talk therapists have been efficient, low cost, and enormously helpful.
No one argues when you monitor your child’s safety or obsess about a fever. But when I called a teacher to ask how one daughter’s anxiety might be playing out in the classroom, I was surprised by the reaction from some friends and family. One person said to me: “Don’t let the therapist call the school! She’ll get a label she can’t shake.”
I’m so glad I didn’t listen to that “hide the problem” advice. More than half of parents have worried about their child’s mental health, yet 70 percent believe mental-health diagnoses carry a stigma, and only a third say they’d speak about their child’s diagnosis outside their family or closest confidants. (These statistics are part of a survey we conducted with the Child Mind Institute.)
Thanks to a handful of professionals, my girls have an emotional vocabulary, tools to self-soothe, and the confidence to admit when things start to feel unmanageable. These will serve them well throughout their lives. Steve and I have served them well by seeking help.