Learning To Listen As Your Teen Advocates For Their Mental Health

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My phone pinged one day and I was surprised to see that it was from a friend of my high school daughter’s.

“Mrs. Cain- I think I have really bad ADHD, but my parents just think I’m not behaving or doing my best. What should I do?”

I stood, breathless, staring at the words on my screen.

“You need to initiate a conversation with them. A serious, not goofy or dramatic conversation. Take a few days to think about how you want the conversation to go. But the most important thing… MUST remember that they love you and they may not understand exactly what you’re telling them.”

In a world where teens are judged in just about every way possible- this one wanted to be understood. By their parents.

As a parent myself, I have been battling mental health issues alongside of my own children for four years now. Every day I feel I learn something more, understand a little better, and can fully advocate for them better. While our journey started out hard and dark, I feel it has become illuminated- still hard- but less hidden spaces. While the world jests at my “helicopter” parenting, I shrug and acknowledge that my children are in a very different place than I was at their age and that they require a different kind of effort from my parenting. This article isn’t about me, but let me just lay some groundwork for you…

Four years ago, I believed my son was acting out because we had moved him from his only home, his lifelong friends, and familiar routine to an unknown city in a far away state in a culturally different region of the United States- all at the onset of adolescence. It was fair to be upset, right? The chemicals would settle and he’d be fine. He was always so easy and happy go lucky and would swing back around to it soon enough.

Six months later and I still wasn’t seeing my old son. He was telling me “no” quite effortlessly and not getting up for school. He had racked up over twenty absences by the end of sixth grade. He had no close friends, found joy in nothing, and gave up all of his hobbies. I kept asking what was wrong…..but I also kept ignoring his answer.

“I can’t do this.”

I would answer with, “Of course you can do this! Just get yourself out of bed, have some breakfast, and you’ll be fine.”

I was the one person he would talk to, and I wasn’t listening.

The end of the school year came and , after a particularly difficult morning with me signing him in late to school in tears, I went to see the school psychologist. He sat and listened to me for half an hour and occasionally jotted some notes down. At the end of my “What have I done wrong?” rant, he looked me in the eye and said, “Mrs. Cain, you need to take your son to see his pediatrician and have him tested for anxiety and depression.”

Completely flabbergasted. What? Everybody has anxiety! Depression? He’s twelve years old!

I did it, I took him to the pediatrician. School Avoidance Anxiety Disorder. Severe Social Anxiety Disorder. Severe Depression.

Not one but THREE diagnosis confirming that my son was struggling with his mental health.

From that moment on, my parenting style immediately HAD to change. I had to educate myself on mental health, a topic which had never really been clear to me or spoken of openly in my presence. I had to stop parenting in a manner that would please the world’s expectations of me as a parent. I had to let go of what I thought perfect parenting was and I needed to become the parent my teen needed to feel safe with. I read and read and went to seminars and I learned one thing above all others: I needed to learn how to listen.

I’ve always been a communicator, eager to talk things out- but my children did not find it so easy to say what was going on in their hearts and heads. Or did they?

“Momma! I can’t tell you what’s wrong because I DON’T KNOW! I just woke up like this! Nothing has to have HAPPENED!” Oh- so that’s how depression feels?

“Momma, I haven’t slept in weeks. Melatonin isn’t cutting it.” You mean anxiety robs you of your sleep too?

“YOU MAKE EVERYTHING WORSE! WHY CAN’T YOU JUST LEAVE ME ALONE???” So I’m not helping you by talking through it- and you just need space?

Learning to listen. Still learning to listen. Always learning to listen.

An important part of listening is having something to hear first. It is imperative that teens are given the authority and power to use their own voice in regards to advocating for their mental health. Here are a few ways I try to help foster this in my teens

  1. I do not answer for them at their doctor/therapist visits unless they ask me to help them with an answer
  2. When they are the most upset, I listen harder rather than tune them out because I think they’re being extra or dramatic. I try to ask, later when some time has past, if I understood them correctly or if they need me to know something more.
  3. I try very hard to never ever shame my kids because of an issue that relates to their mental health. For example, my daughter and I took a road trip to visit my mother in Vermont. Because of my son’s agoraphobia, he could not make himself WANT to go. Though I was sad because I knew my mother might be disappointed, I did not fault him or accuse him of not loving his Nonny enough to go.
  4. We spend a lot of time talking about how to politely state their needs in regards to strangers. This played out perfectly when I recently took my son to the eye doctor where masks are required. He was struggling with wearing it for a prolonged period and this was the longest he had been required to keep it on. Halfway through the exam when she had moved the “Is number one or number two more clear?” mask to his face and gone through a couple of rounds, my boy clearly said “I’m going to need you to step back and take this (apparatus) with you, I’m about to have an anxiety attack.” I WAS SO PROUD! And the eye doctor told him that she thought he handled his situation very well!
  5. While I never allow my children to be rude, I don’t allow others to be rude to my children. Often, in a social setting, my son will use his phone as a coping mechanism because he gets very overwhelmed and it calms him. Once someone stated to me that he was being rude and needed to engage like everyone else and stop acting like a teenager. I took exception and educated that person on social anxiety versus poor manners..nicely. Not everyone understands mental health on a level that allows them to feel compassion for those who struggle with seemingly easy tasks.
  6. Lastly, I encourage my kids to explain to their closest friends their mental health struggles. Recently my son’s best friend told him that he was tired of getting turned down every time he asked my boy to hang out. I asked my son if he had explained what agoraphobia was to his BFF and he said that he assumed he thought he knew because he had mentioned it…once…three years ago. *Face-palm*

Friends, if you are teens and you are struggling with mental health and no one is listening, I am truly sorry for the frustration you must be feeling. May I please encourage you to initiate a conversation with your parent/guardian/loved one in a calm way, knowing that they may not understand? But….what if they do?

And Friends, if you are parents of a teen who is struggling with their mental health, can I encourage you to do your very best to try and listen? And if you feel like you are listening, can I then please encourage you to help them learn to advocate for themselves with their own voice? I’m still learning to listen and to teach them how to advocate for themselves and would love to hear how you are making a go of it with your teens!

50 Things To (Maybe) Do While Under Travel Quarantine

You did it…you left your state!

If you’re like me, you may unexpectantly find yourself on the list of a mandatory travel quarantine. Long story……college move-in. Now you have two weeks at home and you don’t work an “I can do it from home” kind of job.

What’s a girl to do?

I’m on Day 2 of quarantine. Day 1 was spent recovering and cleaning up the house…another long story. Over the weekend, I began pondering how I could best use this free time I have been gifted.

That may have been a mistake.

See the source image

The following is my list of possibilities. I’m taking it as a personal challenge to accomplish as many of these as possible. Some are doable…some…not so much!

  1. Catch up on laundry
  2. Vacuum and mop
  3. Tidy and dust
  4. Wipe baseboards
  5. Unload excess stuff on Buy Nothing Facebook site
  6. Sweep deck
  7. Watch movie outside by fire pit
  8. Work on cross-stitch
  9. Figure out how to mail a box without leaving home
  10. Make a blog planner
  11. Learn how to navigate WordPress more effectively and efficiently
  12. Expand my knowledge of how to write with a SEO focus
  13. Bake something fall-y for my boy
  14. Decorate the house for my favorite season!
  15. Scrub my bathroom
  16. Vacuum my van
  17. Read
  18. Write and mail some cards to friends
  19. Help my boy catch up on his schoolwork
  20. Harry Potter marathon!!!
  21. Sew masks
  22. Get. Rid. Of. The. PAPERS!!!!!
  23. Write….something
  24. Spend time with God
  25. Change/wash bedding
  26. Put out bird (if we’re being honest…squirrel) food
  27. Plan meal menus and grocery lists
  28. Clean up garage
  29. Deplete the basement junk by half
  30. Paint punkins
  31. Bathe Hobbes (the chubby beagle)
  32. Be available to cats when they require my lap
  33. Set a record for most cups of hot tea consumed in a two week period.
  34. Climb Everest
  35. Try a new recipe
  36. Badminton?
  37. Walk the dog….again and again and again
  38. Try not to bother hubs while he is also under travel quarantine and CAN work from home
  39. Address cobwebs
  40. Plan for Christmas
  41. Map a dream fall train trip…just for fun
  42. Read some more…under blankies, with kitties and hot tea (that knocks out at least 3 in one go!)
  43. Wrestle with ordering grocery delivery
  44. Search online, yet again, for Clorox wipes
  45. Nap with kitties
  46. Swap summer and winter clothes
  47. Learn lettering
  48. Embroider
  49. Watch countless documentaries on the Tudors
  50. Compare and contrast all pizza joints that deliver to my address……

How about you? How are you (or did you) spending your two weeks?

3 Ways to Beat the Blues While Packing Up Your First-Born for College

It is seriously taking over the house!  What started as a sweet little collection of items folks kindly passed on to my daughter for her first dorm room has morphed into an insatiable beast- gorging itself on my living room!  After two months of shopping for her new life, we are finally nearing the “Final Pack” phase. 

Often, very often,  I stare at this mound of living implements and chant to myself, “She’ll be back for Christmas.  She’ll be back for Christmas!!” Frankly, I’ve sobbed more times than I can count.  A self- professed helicopter parent, I feel I function best when all of my little ducks are under my roof where all I have to do is bake something yummy and they come running.  But…well, this isn’t about me.  This is all about her.  So I’m learning to cope and here are three tips to help you if you are in the same parenting boat.


So many times I have been tempted to ask, “Will you miss me when you go?”  Of course they are going to miss you!  You’re they’re parent!  But let’s take the pressure of reassuring yourself off of them and carry the truth that they love you, need you, and will find ways to let you know they miss you in due time.


Your child has just made their first major life transition.  The whole world is open to them and they are ready to get out there and stamp their name on it!  This is an awesome time to reflect on the fact that you enjoyed every minute (well, ok, not EVERY minute) of parenting that little person and you will enjoy every minute (ok, ok, MOST every minute) watching them take flight on those new wings.  This truly is an exciting time!  Make that your focus and the sadness will find it increasingly difficult to reach you.


As excited as they are, the anxiety of the unknown can be quite terrifying.  If Suzie sees you rocking her Lovey she had as a baby in the corner with a tear-stained face, how is she going to feel about coming to you with her fears and worries?  Pull it together!  You’ve raised them the best you could, be strong enough to let them go.  They’ll see that strength, and lean into it when their own is waning.

You’re going to be fine.  And they’re going to soar!

Neighboring and COVID-19: 3 Things You Should Be Doing For Others During This Pandemic

Whether you lean left or right, are Christian or atheist, live in China or the United States of America- we can all agree on one single thing…..


No one can argue with that. We are all human and, as such, we all require a certain level of care. We all know that the basic needs to sustain life are food, water, shelter, air, and sleep- but I am not talking about those.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary’s fourth definition of “care” is: regard coming from desire or esteem// a care for the common good. Synonyms for “care” include look out (for), mind, watch.

Yes, THAT’S the ‘care’ I’m talking about. I’m talking about courtesy and respect extended to those immediately around you. Your neighbors aren’t just the people who park next to you or whose footsteps you hear above you- they are the people doing life the closest to you.

When life is great, your neighbors are right there. When life is rough, they’re still there! Our neighborhoods gain infinite value when we learn to co-exist in grace and care without the harsh act of judging how we are the same or different. Here’s 3 things you could and should be doing for those around you- even if and especially when they are nothing like you- in this time of COVID-19.

Meet Basic Needs

How about grabbing an extra rotisserie chicken when you pick up dinner tonight to cart over to your elderly neighbors you haven’t seen in a bit so that you may connect with them? Have you learned that your next-door neighbor lost their job? I bet you wouldn’t even feel it if you gave up the Starbucks this week and passed that money in a card under their door. Just that one small sacrifice on your part could cover their water bill for the month! Build community by helping each other to meet the most basic of needs.

Meet Psychological Needs

I bet you haven’t considered how significant it would be if you played with your young neighbors’ kids in the driveway for a bit so they can enjoy a cup of coffee. After six months of not a moment alone, I guarantee you that would be a much appreciated 20 minutes! (Yep, you CAN play and still be 6 feet apart!) On the flip side, some people are working harder than ever now. If you notice a neighbor’s yard a bit over grown, give it a mow as you’re out cutting your own. Can you imagine the relief they’ll feel when they pull in the driveway? One less worry on their minds and perhaps a few moments to relax !

Meet Practical Needs

There is a population of high-risk folks who are just not comfortable getting out amid crowds right now. If you are healthy and able, consider helping neighbors with shopping, running to the bank or the Post Office. These may add no inconvenience to your day whatsoever, but mean the world to your neighbors. Even if they don’t need anything, the simple act of asking could be priceless if they’re feeling down and alone.

You do not have to agree with all of your neighbors’ life decisions to care for them. Esteem them worthy of care for the simple fact that they, like you, are human. Help draw your neighborhood into fellowship with care. We’re all in this together!

Vision: The Why In Life and Leadership

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It is the ‘why’ of any given moment that dictates the passion, the effort, the strength that is poured into reaching that moment’s goal. If the ‘why’ is lost, so is the moment’s momentum, trajectory, and significance. Vision is the driving factor of any pursuit.

Be it corporate America or the family unit, vision is the deciding factor of rise or fall. People have an innate need to be reminded of why they are doing what they are doing. They need to carry it deep within, with a longing and need to take it out, study it, and then replant it in its safest spot.

Many factors attribute to the depreciation of vision. Consider vision that has been carried for a long period of time without being observed. Through periods of fatigue, abuse, or over-burden that vision inevitably depletes to near demise. What may enliven vision once it reaches its near end? The why.

Reminding a person of their ‘why’ immediately reignites their fire for the vision and provides sure footing for the next ask. An honest request for introspection has the ability to catapult an ineffective teacher, a volunteer teammate, a corporate CEO to a level of renewal, refocus, recommitment. Are you struggling to draw out the best effort from your team? Remind them of their why.

Social Media Injustice

I’m sure I’m not the only one to notice the blatant disregard people feel for their fellow man when posting on social media. I just know that I can’t possibly be the only one to observe that posters obviously feel a sense of anonymity when they rip other people to shreds on FaceBook. And have you ventured onto Nextdoor lately? Hardly a decent representation of “love your neighbor as yourself”.

So, you’ve seen it too? How did we get here- judging, lying, condemning- over a computer connection?

Recently, I had two family members witness a woman leave her four year old on side of the road. The poor little girl had just received some fairly harsh discipline, and was quite hysterical. Naturally, my family members pulled over to protect the child and call the police. This turned into an altercation as the parents returned a few minutes later, as my family members demanded to wait on the police. One of my family members was assaulted.

Two days later the woman, who left her child on the side of the road, posted multiple videos on social media describing how my family members tried to abduct her child. She also stressed that she is five months pregnant and was assaulted- all complete with hashtags of “Save the Children”. Those videos have been shared 400 times.

The police department did not arrest my family members or find them at fault for anything. They did, however, contact Child Protective Services.

400 times. Let that sink in for a minute. Do you have any idea how many people saw those videos? Just to make it a little more impactful- she shared both of my family members social media pages, and through her comments divulged where they work. My family members have received threatening, degrading, harrassing messages from people they have never met calling them pedophiles, trash, and many other unmentionable things- requiring them to involve the police further out of fear for their lives.

Let me say that again…..THEY FEAR FOR THEIR LIVES.


Because someone who was angry, ashamed, and attention-seeking took their false case to social media, making Facebook and TikTok the judge and jury where NO ONE is innocent until proven guilty.

Please don’t suppose this post is about the act of leaving your child on the side of the road, or even about how you should handle it when you witness this happen. No, this post is about society waking up to the power that words and emotions used in an impersonal arena are having on their fellow humans.

My greatest hope as you read this is that you will consider what you post in light of what has happened to my family members. I hope that when you read others’ posts, you will consider if you are hearing both sides of a story before hitting “share”. Aren’t these the things we do when facing a confrontation in person? Don’t we seek the truth from both of our children after their squabble before pronouncing our judgement and consequences?

If you post first and think later, may I ask you to take a breath before signing on to social media? May I be so bold as to ask that of you? Could you consider the ramifications of what you may say for the people involved? And consider yourself as there could be legal consequences for you as a poster as well.

Social media injustice is real and it’s not just kids bullying each other. Adults need to step up and post responsibly. What would the social media world look like if we offered each other more dignity in our posts?

Let’s find out.


Life has a way of revealing. Each and every day feels like a new adventure in an old story. This is my story. In fourth grade, Mrs. Sedlacek assigned a writing project based around what we wanted to be when we grew up. I had no problem at all putting together a full portfolio of writings for her, but when I handed them in she seemed overwhelmed. Apparently, I had misinterpreted her instructions. What she wanted was a cute paragraph with a fun picture drawn in the heading, not the full white papers and opinion articles I had provided. So began an unfulfilled desire to write for the masses.

As life progressed, as is its way, I was gifted with endless amounts of material in the form of a little boy and a little girl. I began my first blog, now on its twelfth year, with the intent of informing far away family of the daily shenanigans we were inventing. I truly loved the extraordinary value of our days and wrote about everything from celebrating the Olympics to crafting and homeschooling. At some point, I was granted the opportunity to review homeschooling products on my little ol’ blog and I realized there was potential there to actually reach people….outside of my family. This was the beginning of finding fulfillment in writing.

That little girl just graduated high school and the little boy (who is not so little anymore) is not too far behind her. I find my desire to write has changed, my focus has changed, and life itself has changed. While I have always taken great pleasure in assigning words to voices, thoughts, feelings, I have never put myself “out there”. Now I am buying domains, structuring profiles, and building web pages. I’m writing product descriptions and blog posts for others and finding pleasure in that as well.

So while this may look a bit different from my homey, sweet Sincerely Home blog, if you look closely you’ll see that I am still right here in the heart of it.