Guest post by Cinda Jo Bauman

Family communication is tricky!

Most kids go through a period when they shut out their parents. My daughter would have had a much longer list than this one, but for starters many of the reasons children might shut out their parents are: parents aren’t cool, we’re embarrassing, we judge them, and we’re too old to understand.

Parents also shut out their kids. Some reasons I have heard are: they’re too young to understand; I have to be strong for them, so I can’t tell them what is happening; I want to be the perfect parent, so I hide my faults; I don’t know the answer, so I avoid the question. Does this sound familiar? A lack of communication between parents and kids can leave our imaginations to fill in the confusing, sometimes frightening blanks.

In my middle-grade book, Only My Horses Know, the main character, Kylie, keeps secrets. She has seen many changes in her Mom recently that have her worried and confused. In the beginning of the story, Kylie tries talking to her dad about her mom’s changes. Her dad’s response is, “She’s been like this before. You just don’t remember.” And then playfully dismissing Kylie with, “You worry too much, kiddo.”

What would have happened if instead her dad had taken some time to sit with her, ask her questions, share what had happened before, and offer to try to talk Mom into seeing a doctor? Well, my story would have only been about 10 pages long. So, I decided against that.

However, Dad’s denial eventually leads Kylie to think that it’s somehow her fault that her mom won’t have anything to do with her, the horses, the barn chores, or the housework anymore. Also, if he would have told her that her mom may have been having some problems with her mental health before, but things got better, they could have had a discussion about mental illness. He could have assured Kylie it was nothing to be ashamed of.

Instead, Kylie hides everything that’s going on at home from everyone, even her best friend, Joey, for fear that they will all think her mom is crazy. Kylie has heard the way kids talk about people who they think are crazy!

If all that our children know about differences is what they hear at school, how can we eradicate the stigma attached to mental illness or to any differences they encounter? As parents, we can
communicate through our everyday conversations that not all kids are the same size, have the same skin
color, dress the same, or have the same amount of money, and we can still treat them how we want to be treated.

Kylie’s mom eventually gets the help and medication she needs for her diagnosis of bipolar disorder. In a scene when Kylie and her mom go for a horseback ride together, Kylie asks, “Momma, can I ask you something?” Her mom responds, “Anything.” Kylie continues, “When I used to hear you crying at night, I always wondered what made you so sad. I mean, I know you were sick. But, did something start it, the sadness?”

Mom takes the time to sit with Kylie to describe all of the feelings she had been having, and the silly, small things that caused them. As Mom talks, Kylie thinks, “Why didn’t you just tell me? Why’d you shut me out? Why’d you make me feel like it was me making you cry?”

After Kylie hears the rest of her mom’s explanation and takes the time to process it on the ride home, tears slip from her eyes as she realizes, It wasn’t me, God. She couldn’t help it; she tried to be happy. Without this conversation, Kylie’s mom would begin healing, but Kylie would continue to hold on to hurt and resentment.

I hope these examples have demonstrated the importance of communication in families. If reading this has made you feel like your family is lacking in communication, you are not alone! And the best part is it is never too late to change. Here are a few strategies:

  • Begin by taking time to make every family member feel valued and
  • Be open about difficult feelings or situations you’re going through or have gone through.
  • Stop and listen, or schedule a time when you’re able to fully listen when family wants to talk.
  • Be creative and come up with questions that aren’t possible to answer with, “Fine.”
  • Let them know that you realize you can do better; you are ready to try to change, and you hope they will do the same.

Communication is an important aspect of thriving as a family. When it comes to mental health, being open and honest can help remove the stigma and allow members of your family to get the support they need to heal. If you or someone you know is suffering from depressive symptoms, do not be afraid to communicate to someone and ask for help.

© Strength 4 Spouses LLC, 2021.

About the Author

Cinda Jo Bauman lives in Central Illinois with her husband and dogs. During her high school years, she took every art class offered along with every child development class. After a class where she spent part of the day at a daycare, child development won out over art. Years of story time led to a love of children’s picture-books, which made her wish she had stuck with art. 

Flash forward to today, and she still loves children’s books! After researching and much study; learning about writing and illustrating children’s books, she joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and found her passion. Besides writing children’s picture books and middle-grade novels, Cinda also creates with cut paper sculptures and paints in oil and acrylic. She loves iris flowers and the color purple.

Only My Horses Know is her debut middle-grade novel.

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