ELKHART COUNTY — The life of a parent is bombarded with the question, “Am I doing this right?” Having a child with mental health challenges, like depression, schizophrenia or autism, only doubles those questions, leaving the parent uncertain of what to do for the child and for themselves.
There’s no manual on raising a child. That’s when Parent Source, a free Elkhart County parent support group, steps up.
Parents are helping their child, but their own mental care is often overlooked. PS is a group where they can meet with other parents who lead a similar life with similar situations. The goal is for PS to become a local chapter of the National Federation of Family Mental Health Care, which will provide emotional and resource support to parents.
“I want parents to feel confident that they’re doing the best they can. If they’re getting their kid to a doctor and are going through therapy but their child is still struggling, it’s OK,” explained Family Engagement Coordinator Brenda Ayala, mother of five adopted children. “The child will get there. I don’t want anyone to think that these parents are at fault somehow or that the kid is doing these things on purpose.”
Sometimes parents don’t know what’s normal or not until someone points it out. Information about local mental health resources isn’t always readily available — most of that information is exchanged through word-of-mouth. PS circulates that information between parents who can share those opportunities with others.
PS nurtures the mental health of parents by giving them a safe, trusting and judgement-free space to let out their worries, frustrations and questions. This decreases the stress in parents, leading them to parent better. According to Ayala, “ Hopefully their child can learn some coping skills. If the parent can model it then the child can learn it.”
“You don’t know your rights or what to expect. The school doesn’t tell you everything, and when you don’t get support, you feel let down,” expressed Jazmin Ceron-Ruiz, single mother of two. “You feel supported with someone like Brenda.
“In this group you’re going to know your rights and other benefits in the community. You can trust this group to give you good advice. Brenda and the group motivate me. Your family motivates you but sometimes you need that outside person.”
The whole family is invited to each monthly meeting, where everyone eat a family dinner before the children make a craft in a supervised area, leaving the parents talk. Parents attending the meeting can expect to feel at ease, have their confidence built up and let go of worries of being judged.
“It’s nice. My oldest has been in a lot of programs and got the help she needed, now I can get help,” said Jamie Stitt, mother of two. “Parents can be with others who are going through the same thing. It’s ‘normal’ for them too. You can be yourself and your kids can be themselves. I’ve learned that when you try to make them behave in a way they can’t, they start thinking they’re not good enough because you’re trying to change the behavior that’s a part of them.
“It’s good for them to see other kids just like them, but this focuses on the parents and what we can do for ourselves. We do-do-do for our kids but what’s that little bit we can do for ourselves?”