Hands in a heart shape holding an infinity rainbox. Underneath the words Sandra Bell ND Coach
#33 School Can’t – what it’s like as the parent/carer…

I remember when my oldest started high school, I’m not sure they even had one weeks’ worth of full attendance; maybe the first week? I’ve blocked some of it out, and with my youngest starting high school this year some of that old trauma is re-surfacing for me. I obsessively check that he is at each class, and I remember all too well the feeling of seeing the late or absent colours come up in my oldest’s online attendance feed. 

After weeks of struggle and pushing my oldest to school, telling them it would get better as they got used to their new school, but watching their struggle get worse and worse, I remember the relief when the school was willing for them to not attend all of their classes. But, it came with the well-meaning warning - if you give in too much, and their attendance reduces too much they’ll never make it back. At the time this felt like a relief that I wouldn’t have to push them to attend as much, but also left me with the understanding that there would still need to be a firm line held by me. In retrospect, I have no doubt that by the time the kids get to the point that they need to miss more and more classes, that it’s like trying to close the gate after the horse has bolted; they are already so far into ND burnout that nothing short of complete deep rest is going to help.

In the beginning I feared for my child’s future and their education, in the middle I feared for their present and that they would survive this at all; and as they slowly came out of their intense school can’t and life can’t, I felt guilty that I hadn’t prioritised their mental health, and realised just how bad it was for them sooner. 

And I think that sums it up well, school can’t as the parent or carer on the sidelines is full of fear, shame, guilt, and also anger. Fear for your child’s future. Shame at what the other adults (teachers, well-being staff, friends and family) are thinking about your failure to do what seems so easy for so many – getting their child to school. Guilt that you might be being too soft on your child and then this moves into guilt that you weren’t doing what your child needed. And also anger that your child has been so damaged by (usually) well-meaning adults and sometimes peers that they can’t even access what we see a basic right of our society to access an education.

All this often comes with a toll on the mental health and physical health of the parent/carer, as well as often an impact on their working life. For me I had to stop working outside the home and instead ended up starting my own business, I had a delayed ND burnout as my child began to recover, as I'd focused on my child’s mental and physical health ahead of my own. 

School Can’t Australia ran a survey in late 2022 and found 97% of parents with School Can’t kids had their ability to work impacted – including becoming inconsistent in being able to get into the office, reducing promotion prospects, and even (like myself) having to give up work all together for a period of time. And two-thirds (67%) reported that they were so overwhelmed and exhausted that they couldn’t access self-care. So as a parent/carer your world can become smaller at time that you also desperately need support. 

I’ll go into more detail in upcoming posts about resources and strategies that are helpful in working through School Can’t as the parent/carer, but one key thing you can do for yourself, and ultimately your child, is to find even micro moments of self-care. Maybe you can have a cup of tea in silence, go for a 5-10 stroll in your back garden, play an app on your phone, or anything else that you enjoy that is easy to access for you when the moments arise that you can have 5-10 minutes to yourself. Sure we’d all love to head out to the spa for the day, but in the midst of intense School Can’t that’s probably pretty unlikely. Instead we can look for the micro moments of self-care that help bring us that little bit closer to being regulated ourselves, when we are just trying to keep our head above water so we can care for and co-regulate with our child who is struggling so much.

Thanks for reading.

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Please note all information and strategies shared as part of the blog are for information and educational purposes only and do not constitute advice for any particular individual or circumstances.