Parenting expert Ann Douglas writes about raising...
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Jan 25, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Parenting expert Ann Douglas writes about raising 4 struggling kids in new book

Douglas talks about her experiences with mental health, developmental and behavioural disorders in Parenting Through the Storm

OurWindsor.Ca

In 2003, life was falling apart for popular parenting author Ann Douglas. Her four children were struggling with a slew of serious mental health and behavioural challenges.

The eldest, a girl then age 15, suffered from depression and had attempted suicide. She was sneaking out at night, using drugs and had developed bulimia. The middle boys, aged 14 and 12, both with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, had boundless un-channeled energy and butted against authority. Her 6-year-old son, diagnosed with a speech processing disorder and motor-skills delays when younger, was being kicked out of his school.

Her family’s experiences with mental health, developmental and behavioural disorders are the basis of her new book, Parenting Through the Storm: How to Handle the Highs, the Lows and Everything in Between (HarperCollins Canada, $22.99).

“It took me a long time before I wrote this book, because I had to make sense of it in my own head,” says Douglas, 51, who lives in Peterborough. “You can be totally passionate about parenting, as I obviously am, and still have children who struggle.”

Douglas is the author of numerous parenting articles and books, including The Mother of All Pregnancy Books and The Mother of All Parenting Books. She was the Star’s parenting columnist from 2010 to early 2013.

A journalist by background, she’s never pretended to have all the answers. “In the introduction to The Mother of All Parenting Books, which came out in 2003, I say that if you’re looking for a book on how to have the perfect family, put this book back,” says Douglas. “I was very influenced by what we were going through.”

The stress of her kids’ problems took a toll on Douglas, who lives with a bipolar disorder. She sank into depression and gained 100 pounds.

She’s talked before about being bipolar, but has written sparingly about her children’s personal challenges, being fiercely protective of their privacy. But now the four are doing well and Douglas hopes her family’s experiences — and those of the 50 other parents she interviewed — could help other mothers and fathers in similar situations.

“There’s an advocacy piece to this book,” says Douglas. “If we’re all silent, then there’s no public dialogue about the need for greater investment in child and youth mental health.”

Douglas struggled to get the right diagnoses and treatments for her children and co-operation of teachers. Her youngest child, who was eventually diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, was in four different schools.

But the most difficult was getting someone to understand her daughter’s depression. She recalls taking her daughter to the emergency room where the crisis nurse assessed the girl and asked Douglas, “What do you want me to do with your daughter?”

“Did she have any idea what it took to convince a preteen to come through that door and talk about mental health? And she turns to me, so what’s the problem?” says Douglas. “I felt alone and very afraid.”

They went home with nothing. Shortly after, her daughter attempted suicide by taking pills.

“We were lucky I checked on her at the right time and found she’d overdosed,” says Douglas. “That was not magical parenting. It was sheer good luck.”

She encourages mothers and fathers to trust their “parent radar,” even when others shrug off a problem. “Parents know when their child struggles more than the average child. They need to take those feelings seriously.”

If she had to do it all again, she’d be kinder to herself. “I was so caught up with the kids I was stressed to the max. I neglected my physical health.”

What she did right, she says, was seek support from other parents who had similar experiences with their children.

She was also able to look beyond the diagnostic labels. “I recognized their strengths,” says Douglas. “I appreciated their feistiness.”

Her kids are now launching themselves as young adults. The eldest is a photographer, one son works in the computer industry, another is in accounting and the youngest is studying auto mechanics. “The thread is that all the kids have found a passion that’s helping fuel their lives in a positive direction,” says Douglas.

“Our family is open and talks about mental health problems,” she adds. “That’s important when someone is struggling, they know they can reach out.”

Toronto Star

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