Kid’s Grandparents

In the beginning, I believed that I was depressed because I was a bad girl.  If I would just learn to do what my mom and dad and the teachers told me to do then I’d be all right.  If I were a better (read:  more moral) person then I’d be all right.

I tried.  It didn’t work.

Then I thought that my depression was caused by a chemical imbalance in my brain.  If I just took the prescribed medications for the rest of my life then I’d be all right.

I tried.  It didn’t work.

Then I thought that my depression was caused by genes.  Research showed . . . didn’t it? . . . that there was a genetic basis for depression.  Besides, like homosexuality, nobody would choose to live this life, so it must be something that was thrust upon us by different genes, or at least different biology, right?  The problem was that sexual identity is the result of a combination of genes, chromosomes, organ development, hormones, the brain, and life experience.  What causes depression?  A combination of psychology, neurology, immunology and endocrinology—and/or life experience?

I didn’t know, and there was nothing to try.

Then I stopped taking drugs, got my brain back, allowed myself to feel anger, and took action to change my circumstances.  And it worked. I stopped being depressed.

So after sixty-five years of living—forty of them spent being depressed—what do I think now?

I think that depression, and just about everything else called “mental illness,” is caused by bad human relationships and can be cured by good relationships.  Maybe, as in the case of schizophrenia, it is unseen trauma.   A boy is raped by his coach in the showers or his priest in the sacristy.  He tells no one but after he leaves home he starts acting weird.  MRIs are unclear, drugs are ineffective, and his behavior scares everybody so he gets locked up for the rest of his life.

Maybe, as in the case of depression, it is unexpressed anger.  A girl is taught that she’s not to raise her voice or talk back to her mom and dad.  All that anger gets driven underground and she learns to hate herself and think that she’s a bad person.  Unable to get angry at the people who are hurting her, she gets suicidal.  Chemistry is unclear, drugs are ineffective, and she bounces in and out of hospitals for the rest of her life.

It’s all about the way we treat each other, and the basis for our relationships is laid down by Mom and Dad.  Sorry about that, but Mom and Dad are responsible for teaching children how to relate to other people.  They do it by role modeling, as well as instruction.  

Nowadays, more and more stuff is being diagnosed as mental illness.  Is it?  Is there more mental illness, or just more intolerance of difference?  If you’re parenting techniques aren’t working, your kid is in trouble, and you don’t know what to do, then you take your kid to a professional who makes a diagnosis.  That’s what professionals get paid for.  They don’t get paid for saying, “He’s just a kid going through a phase.  He would benefit from spending more time with his grandfather.”

Whatever happened to grandparents?  Kids need them but now they’re growing up five hundred miles away from them.  The infamous “studies show” that kids who are partially raised by their grandparents turn out better than kids who get gifts cards from their parents on Christmas and birthdays.

My friend Marilou has been babysitting her grandchildren for a few days a week since they were born.  Sometimes she spanks her grandson with a wooden spoon.  Later, she tells him about spanking his father with a wooden spoon.  Imagine how comforting it must be to know that even in being bad, you are just like your daddy—catch a football, take care of the dog, get spanked by Grandma—“Hey, I’m just like Dad!”  Imagine the lost loneliness of Mom spanking you and you feeling like you’re the only person in the world who’s ever been so bad that you had to get hit.

Kids need “quality time” with their grandparents and that doesn’t mean trips to Disney World.  It means hanging around the house, getting bored, going out to the kitchen to see Grandma, and getting your first lesson in how to bake a pie.  Kids are learning nothing these days because their grandparents are too far away to teach them, and their parents are both working because they “need” the money.

I had an aide who was working in manufacturing with her husband.  Their kids were turning into teenagers and the parents decided that Mom would quit her job and go to work as an aide so she’d be home when the kids got out of school.  Problem was, Mom hated aide work.  So they decided that Mom would quit her job and stay home all the time.  They would live on one income.  Things they used to buy, she would make.  They would take fewer vacations and teach their kids more ways to entertain themselves.

I knew a security guard who was working two full-time jobs so that he could buy each of his kids a stereo and a television set for their bedrooms.  I told him his kids don’t need stuff; they need him.  When I grew up, we had one television—in the living room—and we had to learn to share.  When are the security guard’s kids going to learn to share if they have everything they want?  How soon will they be diagnosed with narcissism?

Good parenting is learned from good parents, and parents can’t learn that when their parents are a thousand miles away.  You want to raise healthy kids?  Go buy a house within walking distance of your kid’s grandparents.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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2 Responses to Kid’s Grandparents

  1. Thanks ever so much for your honesty. I couldn’t agree with you more — the biochemical model of depression does nothing but defer that important moment of addressing the emotions that are within you, be they anger, despair, hatred, etc.

    It is so important to seek meaning and a reason for why we feel the way we do (whether that’s been officially labeled as “depression” or not).

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