For many parents, myself included, parenting consists of heavy doses of love, a dash of drawing on one’s own memories when you were the same age your child now inhabits, and healthy amounts of anxiety.
How much involvement is too much? Too little? When do you cross the line and enter the helicopter zone? How much unscheduled time is all right? How much academic challenge should the kid have? How do you deal with drugs? How much space to give? What time curfew? Are there rules you don’t enforce because they entail too much conflict? Is it all right to raise your voice?
And on and on and on.
Underneath all of these questions, of course, is a desire to do right by your child, the gradual understanding that the answers tend to be both murky and constantly changing and, eventually, the realization that some of the most important things to do for your child are to let them know they are loved, expose them to different opportunities and experiences, share and model working hard and with passion, treating them and others with respect and getting out of the way to let them grow, make their own mistakes and draw their own lessons.
Easier written than done, to be sure, and often much easier to take a long-term perspective with other people’s children than one’s own.
And, still, I can say with confidence that one of the most contentious and vexing subjects is that of medication.
Judith Warner takes on this thorny area in We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication.
This book, which is slated to be released next month, is essentially a counter-argument against the popularly held and commonly disseminated notion that we are in an era of rampant drug prescriptions by doctors in bed with the pharmaceutical industry and administered by parents desperate to find a solution to their children’s disruptive behavior.
Warner acknowledges that she accepted this narrative when she began researching We’ve Got Issues close to six years ago.
By the end of her reporting, she writes in the introduction that she came to the following ‘simple truths’:
“They are: That the suffering of children with mental health issues (and their parents) is very real. That almost no parent takes the issue of psychiatric diagnosis lightly or rushes to ‘drug’ his or her child; and that responsible psychiatrists don’t, either. And that many children’s lives are essentially saved by medication, particularly when it’s combined with evidence-based forms of therapy.”
Warner devotes much of the book to expounded on these assertions. The book is particularly effective at discussing other books and articles that have been written on the subject that have contributed to current attitudes.
At base, Warners maintains, we as a society still consider mental health issues to be a stigma, and, while we have made fitful steps forward, much work remains to be done to more fully accept and integrate those children and their families.
The book itself has issues. The circles in which Warner travels appear quite narrow-We’ve Got Issues is heavy on middle- and upper-middle class families whose children are college bound-and live in the Northeast-and she repeatedly is setting up straw men to knock them down in a way that can keep the reader off balance. After maintaining that we are not living through an epidemic of drug prescription, for example, she does make the points both that diagnoses were far less in previous generations and that many doctors do indeed have uncomfortably close ties with drug companies.
This disequilibrium can make for queasy reading, but does not detract from the quality of the book. In the final 50 of 250 pages, Warner starts to articulate her vision of healthier doctor/drug company relations, parents’ successfully helping their children and a society that deals more openly with mental health issues.
Reading Warner’s book both gave me moments of gratitude that Aidan is a psychologically healthy and intact young man and a slightly uneasy feeling of losing one’s footing. Other parents may see this as just another day of parenting, and I give Warner credit for challenging commonly held notions.