last updated August 16, 2020
I’m not a parent, but I care about kids, families, and mental health, so I’m excited to introduce you to Bring Them Closer: Calling Parents to Courage through the Mental Health Crisis by Connie Jakab (Word Alive Press, 2020).
I know Connie since we’re both part of the Redbud Writers Guild, and I’m grateful for the way she shares her family’s trials and triumphs: their heart-wrenching experience with their eight-year-old who was in such pain that he wanted to end his life and needed to be hospitalized, how she learned to connect with her son and help him recover, how she shares from her heart to help other families who face mental health challenges.
This is an immensely encouraging and helpful book that’s grounded in a compelling vision of what it means to be a parent. As Connie so beautifully puts it (page 146):
Don’t ever think, “I’m just a parent.” When you keep the connection with your kids strong you can say,
“I’m a parent preventing homelessness.”
“I’m a parent creating a culture of empathy that can end bullying, self-harm, and suicide.”
“I’m a mom and I’m creating a strong generation that will have healthy attachments rather than addictions.”
“I’m a parent and I’m making a way for confident, innovative leaders to rise up.”
You are not “just a parent.” You are playing an enormous role in social change that is needed. We need you. (page 146)
Welcome Connie, and congratulations on your new book! I appreciate the way it grew out of your own experience as a mother and as a family. Could you please say a bit about your story and the significance of your book’s title, “Bring Them Closer.”
You never expect mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide to hit YOUR home, especially as a follower of Jesus and what is considered a “normal” family, if that even exists. Even with my background in mental health and resilience and my faith, I didn’t know how to handle my son’s expression of his depression: rage. He would throw household items, break things, hurl profanities and all kinds of hurtful words at us. He threatened not only his own life but ours as well. It was a very scary time in our home.
A psychiatrist told us to take him to the children’s hospital. While he was there, the psychologist took me aside and asked me what I do when my son throws his fits of rage. I said, “I send him to his room and tell him he can’t come out until he’s ready to be a good boy.”
She replied, “Oh no, you never send the hurting away from you, you bring them closer.” This impacted me greatly. I didn’t know what that would look like. My whole book explains what exactly I did to bring my son close and rescue him from anxiety, depression, and suicide. You would never guess he had this struggle if you saw him now.
What do you hope for your readers?
I hope for my readers to experience HOPE that the anxiety and depression our kids are facing does not have to be the end of the story. I hope they will gain tools and strategies that are practical to help them if they are experiencing similar with their child or teen.
In your book, you don’t blame or shame parents, yet you say, “your family’s future is yours to write,” and you call parents to be clear about their values, boundaries, re-design their schedules, etc. So while you don’t blame, you call parents to take responsibility as parents. Can you say more about walking that line between not blaming yourself, yet taking responsibility to act?
Such a line to walk indeed. I think “guilt” is a part of parenting. How many “epic parenting fails” do I experience on the daily? When I realized that I was the only one who could take responsibility and also be the one who could decide what my family’s future looked like, I felt empowered rather than shamed to make a difference in my home.
Your book is about parenting, but you also address marriage and doing your own personal work, like finding peace and controlling your own emotions. How is tending to yourself and to your marriage related to good parenting?
The myth I believed for years was that the way I parented was separate from my marriage and my own inner life. I resorted to parenting tools and strategies rather than a natural outflow of my inner world and relationships such as my marriage. Our inner world creates our home environment. Our environment is created by EMOTIONS. Emotions need to be managed in order for our homes to thrive. Peace in my heart translates to peace in my home.
Instead of seeking control, you emphasize building connection. Why is that so key?
Control isn’t a great way to build relationships. Think of the last time someone tried to “control” you. How did it feel? This is how our kids feel as well. Trust is the currency of connection. Control depletes trust, connection builds it. In order for us to parent our kids, trust has to be there or they will always hide or show up just the way we want them to without ever knowing what’s going on inside of them.
In your book, you write, “I remember my son telling me he felt homesick. He said this not only once, but a few times. The thing is, he said this while he was home. I’ve heard other young people say the same thing to me.” (page 84). What does home mean?
“Home” is a place where you feel safe, where you are seen, heard, and know you belong. Home is where you can make mistakes and not be punished but taught and led through them. Children and youth today don’t lack a place to “live,” they lack FEELING these. Belonging must be FELT or it means nothing.
How have you been changed by writing this book?
As much as our crisis was scary and painful, I am forever grateful it brought us to a place of learning how connection heals the brain and the heart. I remember when I brought my son home from the hospital I thought our battle with his rage would be over as he was now on medication and had a counsellor. I was distraught when that first fit of rage hit after the first week home. I was just about to send him to his room when I remembered, “Bring him closer.”
I tried to hug my son, but he would have none of that. He didn’t trust me. The only thing I could think to do next was to stay in the same room and say, “Son, you belong in our home. We love you, and we are going to sit here with you until you are healed and whole. I’m not trying to change your behaviour, I just want to help you.”
I showed up like that consistently not for a month, not even six months but for a YEAR. That’s how long it took for him to trust me again and for connection to work. In that time when I was sitting with my son still hurling profanities at me, I felt God hold me close to say, “I am with YOU in your mess. I don’t send you away to fix yourself up for Me. I am right there with you in your mess. You are healed and whole when you lean on my chest.”
Connie Jakab is the owner of The Brave Parent Institute and the Senior Manager of Wellness Innovate—two companies that are all about changing home and work environments for mental health. The author of Bring Them Closer and other books, Connie is also the Director of National Hope Talks and the Hope Movement combatting mental health in Canada. As a sought-out speaker, Connie is appreciated for her raw honestly and humour. She lives with her husband and two boys in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: How would you answer my question to Connie, “What does home mean to you?”
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