Just a Parent
By Jennifer Griffis, author of “Parenting with Hope” blog series August 2017
Join us as Jen shares her experience at the 13th annual TCOM Conference in San Antonio, TX this past fall.
As I walked up to the conference registration table, a feeling of inadequacy began tugging at the corners of my mind.
“I don’t belong here.”
“Everyone else has so much more knowledge and experience. I’m just a parent.”
This wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling. I’d felt it at most of our intake appointments and treatment planning meetings for the past six years. It was a nagging thought that what I have to offer isn’t as valuable as what will come from the professionals in the room.
But this wasn’t just any conference — it was the TCOM conference. Though my practical knowledge of TCOM was limited, I knew that both the CANS and TCOM placed a high value on parent voice. So, despite the worry that I didn’t have enough foundational knowledge to be able to absorb the information being presented, I made the conscious decision to set aside those feelings of inadequacy and embrace all that the next few days had to offer.
As the day progressed I found opportunities to share my voice, my thoughts, and my experiences. I searched for presentations focused on the practical aspects of TCOM and asked questions to help clarify information. In every interaction, my participation as a parent was respected and honored. My experience here BOOSTED my confidence as a parent raising a child with a mental health diagnosis, as a parent who encourages other parents walking this road, and as a parent supporting a system that is undergoing a transformation. TCOM taught me that effective treatment is intertwined with our family’s story. To separate our story from the treatment planning process diminishes the importance of our past and reduces the opportunity for success in the future.
Like many families on this journey, our story is difficult and complex. I often feel like a burden to professionals, so I just “hit the highlights.” My experience at the TCOM conference reminded me of the beauty and importance of our family’s story. It empowered me to share our story without feeling guilty for its complexity or regret for its difficulty.
TCOM taught me that parent voice matters at each level in the system, from the individual treatment planning process, to the implementation of new services, to the review of system data. But it’s not enough for parents to believe that their voice matters. Sometimes, maybe even most of the time, parents have to teach a system that their voice matters. They have to show the value of having parents involved at every level. They have to instruct the system in how to truly hear what parents are saying. And there may be times when they need to actually create the opportunities for parents to speak.
TCOM taught me that system change is challenging and difficulties should be expected. As a parent working to support a system transformation by lending my voice and experience to the process, I am constantly watching for risks that could limit services or unintentionally create barriers for families. I have a deeply personal interest in seeing the system succeed, but I have limited influence on how the transformation actually moves forward. As I listened to stories from other systems, I realized that when it comes to parent voice in system transformation, it’s not critical that we ensure the system gets it right the first time. What is important is that parents are there to help the system try again after experiencing a challenging implementation.
Reflecting on my experience with TCOM, I am grateful for the opportunities provided within the transformation of my own state’s system to empower parents to use their voice and create positive change. While I don’t know if I will ever move away from feeling like I’m “just a parent” when I’m in a room full of professionals, I was reminded that being a parent is always more than enough to bring to the table.