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Self-harm: Parents' experiences

Thoughts about the future

The parents and carers we spoke to told us their thoughts about the future and their hopes that their child would go on to fulfil their potential and lead a happy life. Jo-Ann said, ‘That’s what I hope for, that all will be well, whether she has a relationship or she’s on her own, all I wish for her is a peaceful mind.’ Jim wished his daughter could ‘come through this so she can be happy.’ Some hoped their child would go on to university, though Jackie said she was scared that she wouldn’t be able to keep a proper check on her daughter when she was miles away. ‘I’ve got to allow her the space to make her own mistakes,’ Jackie admitted. ‘So I’m preparing her as best as I can right now for that adult world.’
 

Jane S talks about the future and her hopes for her daughter.

Jane S talks about the future and her hopes for her daughter.

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
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That’s an interesting one, the future. I probably try to live more day to day than I ever used to. I’m incredibly thankful that we’ve got to where we’ve got to now. We’ve got our lives back and we’re all happy again, you know, most of the time [laughs]. I try not to project any anxieties that I have had or I could have now onto the future because I think doing a ‘what if?’ is actually pointless. I think, though, one has to be aware of vulnerable times. I think that’s really important that you watch out for your children as you would probably most parents would watch out for them and know that there are going to be times in their lives, maybe their relationship, you know, with a boyfriend or a girlfriend breaks down, you know there’s going to be some fall out or granny dies or whatever it is or they become made redundant. 

So and be there to, you know, offer support, not to, we can’t push our, as we, you know, as our children get older we can’t force ourselves on them to help. If they want our help and you’ve got a relationship where they, do come to you then that’s a real blessing and thankfully, our children do want to come to us when things go wrong. So when you’ve had mental health issues including self-harming, you’re, you’re going to be on the lookout I suppose, even more so for the impact of those events and what that could mean. And I don’t think I don’t, I think my daughter has come so far that she won’t want to throw that away. That’s my hope for her and talking to her, I believe that’s the case. 

Could she relapse? She might, couldn’t she? You know, I’m it wouldn’t completely rock me but I’d be pretty determined to help her through that as well if she would allow me. But, you know, she’s allowed me before, when she’s been an adult, so I don’t see why she wouldn’t again. And I have to remind her of all the good things in her life and I still have to do that when perhaps depression sets in again, I just remind her how far she’s come and all the good things she’s got ahead of, you know, ahead, the opportunities and how, you know, what a risk it would be to slip back and to lose that again and she doesn’t want to either so that that’s how I see it.
Some parents were worried that their child would continue to self-harm if they had problems in the future, or might even die by suicide (see ‘Fears and worries’). Others were concerned that their child would be vulnerable because of their mental health problems.
 

Joanna was very worried about her daughter’s future.

Joanna was very worried about her daughter’s future.

Age at interview: 46
Sex: Female
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So what are your thoughts about the future now?

Very worried. Very worried. Partner, her partner would have to be a very, very strong resilient person. One day, she’s going to go too far. She’s going to get, she’s going to cut too far or she’s going to take too many pills to help her sleep. I am very worried. I am also very tired.

It’s a terrible thing to enjoy when she’s away. I think it’s the ugly, the ugly side of my emotions that she goes away and there’s peace at home.

It’s a relief, yes.

It is a relief and because she involve, she involves all of my energy. I need to prop her up. I need to be very careful. If I have to criticise her, I need to put it in a positive way, “Why don’t you next time.” Instead of behaving like a normal sometimes fed-up human being and saying, “Would you bloody blah blah blah?” And it’s very draining. So I want to be left alone but I would be worried if I were to be left alone.
 

Gwendoline encouraged her daughter’s wish to go to university, but feared that mental health problems might make it harder for her to form loving relationships.

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Gwendoline encouraged her daughter’s wish to go to university, but feared that mental health problems might make it harder for her to form loving relationships.

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And what are your thoughts about the future?

Well, we’re, you know, you mean in terms of how do we see our daughter’s future going?

Yeah, I mean she has she has aspirations to go on to uni so I think, you know, we’re obviously very supportive in that and we’re hoping that she will do well enough, you know, to make that that step. She’s not sure, she thinks she might need to take time out beforehand, which we would again, encourage and support.

Yes.

You know, but we we’re very positive about her future, you know. I think probably one of the things I do worry about is her you know, her kind of relationships, you know, because I think there is, I don’t know whether there’s be, you do kind of hear about people who have mental health issues or to, depression that they find it harder to make, you know, loving relationships. And I worry that she’ll be kind of on her own, you know, because obviously I want, you know, what you want for your own children is the same as what, you know.

Yes.

You want you want them to be in a loving relationship and, you know, the fact that she, you know, she hasn’t really had any boyfriends, you know. I mean I’m not worried about it at the moment, because I think, you know, I think some children jump in far too early.

Yeah.

So I’m quite pleased that we don’t have any of those issues but, obviously, that is something that I would like for her in the future and I know she worried, she kind of has made comments about the, “Oh I’m going to be on my own.” And, you know, I can see that that’s not what she wants.
Even though they were worried, many were optimistic about the future. They saw the difficult time they had gone through as a learning experience, and hoped the young person had developed strategies they could use if they felt like self-harming again. Although Charles was worried that his son’s low self-esteem and lack of confidence might affect his future achievements, he said ‘I’m optimistic that a combination of medication and therapy will help him to be able to live a normal life.’
 

Liz hopes her daughter is ‘building up an armoury of things she can do rather than harm herself’.

Liz hopes her daughter is ‘building up an armoury of things she can do rather than harm herself’.

Age at interview: 52
Sex: Female
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And how do you see the future?

Well, guardedly positive. I, and particularly with the middle daughter, I am aware that there is definitely always going to be a chink in the armour and it’s a weak point. Everybody has a weak point. Everybody has an Achilles’ heel and I think she still needs work on self-esteem. She’s still doing work on her self-esteem. 

I’m not sure. I’m not sure. I I’ve got to try and stop asking her if she’s all right because I don’t think that’s terribly useful and terribly helpful but I can’t help myself doing it and I’ve apologised to her. I said, you know, “You must understand that I feel very vulnerable.” She’s, at the moment, working in another country, which makes me feel doubly vulnerable but you’ve got to trust. You’ve, she’s got to go her way and she’s just got to know that she can come back if she needs to with no threat of criticism or condemnation to a behaviour that, actually, some people, they never did drugs that. You know, some people have different crutches.

This this maybe, unless she can deal with it better, it may be something that she resorts to. I hope she’s building up an armoury and that’s the way we’ve looked at it for her, building up an armoury of things that she can do rather than harm herself. So yeah, guardedly positive I think is how I’d see the future.
 

Nicky’s daughter is learning how to deal with her emotions better and is self-harming less often.

Nicky’s daughter is learning how to deal with her emotions better and is self-harming less often.

Age at interview: 48
Sex: Female
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I’ve got to the point where I accept that it works as a coping strategy for her but it still makes me uncomfortable. I still wish she wouldn’t do it. I still want to wrap her up in cotton wool and fix it all for her. I don’t think that will ever change either. I think I think life will continue as it does. It will continue to be a roller coaster because of her mental health issues, she’ll have good times and bad times. I just hope that the good times are longer and bigger and better. The older she gets, the more experienced she gets at dealing with stuff and coping with stuff and learning how to how to how to deal with her emotions better because that’s a big issue for her. That that the periods between the self-harm continue to increase and that one day she can come to me and say, “It’s been x years.” Rather than x months.
 

Roisin thinks that what her daughter has been through may help her to understand and deal with emotions when she leaves home.

Roisin thinks that what her daughter has been through may help her to understand and deal with emotions when she leaves home.

Age at interview: 45
Sex: Female
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You talked a little bit about what she’s going on to do next. I wonder if you could just talk more generally about how you see the future and her future kind of unfold.

Well, she’s doing her A levels at the moment. She’ll be taking them next spring and summer and yeah, hopefully, next off she’ll be going off to university to do chemistry. Somewhere in the North of England, hopefully. Yeah, she wants to be a research chemist. Very bright girl. So, yeah, really, really exciting time for her. I’m really excited for her and, you know, perhaps like I said, in a way, some of the stuff she’s done and she’s been through may have helped to emotionally equip her while she is away. Yeah, but I think she knows and she understands my views on perhaps that she may have a genetic predisposition to stuff like this I’m not saying I’m right, I think I am but I’m not saying I’m right, but she understands that I believe that we have a genetic predisposition for this sort of thing. I wanted her to be aware of that and she is. I didn’t have anyone to tell me that when I was her age. So yeah, I’m hoping I’m hoping that she’ll, you know, I’m not under any illusion that she’ll just go off to university and be some sort of academic superstar and her whole life will be fabulous because it won’t [laughs] because that’s not reality. But I hope that, you know, she’ll have some of the tools now that she’ll need to deal with it and she’ll also have now an understanding that, chances are, whatever she believes she’s going through, I’ve probably been there, seen it, done it and got the t-shirt [laughs]. Probably.
We talked to some people whose children had self-harmed in the past and had become less likely to harm themselves as they grew older. Dot said her daughter was much more stable. ‘Hopefully now she is in her 30s the highs and lows won’t be quite so extreme, and I hope that she just goes on doing her best. And if she does get low mood she will go to her GP I’m sure and get it sorted.’ Isobel’s daughter was becoming more independent. ‘I’m hoping she continues to mature,’ Isobel told us, ‘and that if she develops any depression that we can spot it and deal with it proactively and if she needs antidepressants then, or if she needs therapy, then so be it.’
 

Life is ‘brilliant’ for Annette now that her son has his own child and comes to see her each weekend.

Life is ‘brilliant’ for Annette now that her son has his own child and comes to see her each weekend.

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
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What are your thoughts about the future now?

Oh brilliant [laughs]. Really good. Really good, honestly. I mean, you know, I’m not saying life’s not going to have its problems. I know you’ll always get problems. They’ll always come along but yeah, brilliant. I mean it’s really great. I see my son every weekend. He comes round to see me. We go out. We stay in. We watch a movie. We stay with his son as well. So yeah, it’s lovely. It’s really lovely and now I’ve got a family that I never thought I would have but it’s brilliant, you know. I’ve got him. I’ve got my grandson you know I couldn’t ask for more.

Lovely.

Yeah, it is. It’s really nice. It’s a happy ending, yeah. Well, [laughs] what you might call a happy ending.
 

Mary hopes that her son will eventually grow out of his difficulties.

Mary hopes that her son will eventually grow out of his difficulties.

Age at interview: 62
Sex: Female
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And how do you see the future then?

I’m resolutely optimistic. He’s still young. He’s still got a lot of growing up to do. He is emotionally very immature. He’s one of these children who was always very mature in some ways as a child and never actually saw himself as a child, I don’t think. And I know a lot of children like this. They’re the bright ones, the very able ones, who identify at school with the teachers rather than the other children, and that is sort of counter balanced so often by a kind of immaturity that probably comes from not learning to ruck along with your cohort and be one of the lads, as it were. And they can find it very difficult actually making that transition to independent adulthood. So I’m hoping very much that he will, eventually, grow out of it. Just as, getting back to the cutting, he’s not doing it anything like as much as he was.

It’s now only as a sort of, not as a last resort but, “I’m really upset. I’m really tense. I’m really angry. What am I going to do? Oh yes, I remember, I can cut myself.” Whereas before it was a daily occurrence and now, I don’t think, though I may be missing stuff, it’s even a monthly one.

So I hope things will just gradually evolve, fingers crossed.
Several people told us how important it was to keep hopeful. Fiona advised: ‘try to be hopeful and always talk hope into them, even when inside you’re screaming “How long is this going to last?”’ Joanne said, ‘I’ve always got hope, and that’s what keeps me going’. Others coped by taking one day at a time. ‘You have to take one day at a time, that’s all you can do’, Audrey (whose young husband self-harmed) told us. ‘”Yesterday’s history, tomorrow’s a mystery, today’s a gift”, and that’s what I think to myself every morning because I am gifted that I have my husband. I’m gifted that I have two beautiful children and I thank God every day that I still have my husband here and I thank God that he himself is willing to change.’
 

Ann takes each day as it comes and is optimistic that her daughter will feel life is worth living.

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Ann takes each day as it comes and is optimistic that her daughter will feel life is worth living.

Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
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What are your thoughts and feelings about the future?

That’s hard because I tend to take each day as it comes and… when I look back, it makes me appreciate what I’ve got now. Like I said, my daughter is a very different person to the woman that she was. Not still without difficulties and problems. 

I’m optimistic. I have to believe that it will all come out right in the end because if I don’t believe that, I can’t give her that sort of hope and, you know, people with mental health, they need a lot of positive reinforcement that, actually, life is worth living. There’s a big old wide world out there for you to go and live and see and do what you do. You know, you are here to make a difference and if I don’t believe that, then I can’t expect her to believe it either. 

There’s plenty days when I wake up and my first thought is, “Has anything happened overnight?” 

But it’s not so frequent as what it was. It would be every morning at one time but now it’s just when we tend to hit a blip and you just think, you know, or she doesn’t answer her phone or reply to a message or something, you know, you think, “Oh no.” And, in a way, when she has had a period of being well and good, then when you do get that phone call, “I need you.” Or, “Have you got a first aid kit?” Then your heart just sinks but very quickly you have to sort of gather your thoughts and say, “Come on, you know. This is a blip. Get on with it.”
 

Sandra tries to be positive and tells her daughter to take one day at a time.

Sandra tries to be positive and tells her daughter to take one day at a time.

Age at interview: 49
Sex: Female
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I do see her future as being one that is bright but then there’s still some elements of doubt, you know, in terms of the self-harming aspect because, you know, because of how things sort of evolve, you know, and how her journey has been, there’s still that doubt at the back of my head that, you know, one day will she really do it, you know. But, at the same time, I push it aside and I try and be positive and think of all the positive things, you know, that she can be and the things that she wants to aspire to and her goals and the things that she wants to achieve. So that’s why I say, you know, we just take one day at a time, so every day she gets up and she’s happy, I’m happy. If she’s sad, obviously, I try and, you know, jolly her along and help her to get through the day and so that’s why I always use that phrase, you know, just take one day at a time. I try not to plan too far into the future and that but, at the same time, we still make plans. We still plan holidays and we still do family things together and that so that’s how I manage my life, yeah.

Last reviewed December 2017.
 

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