‘I was terrified that we would have a safe home visit’

Jacobien (38) is single mother of Rens (9) and Jasper (7).

“When the teacher called, I thought Rens might have forgotten his gym clothes. Or that she wanted to make an appointment for a ten-minute meeting. But the moment she greeted me, I could hear from her voice that something was wrong. Rens had thrown a chair through the smartboard. The damage was incalculable, but worse: when she tried to calm him down and put him in another classroom to cool down, he had rebuilt the tent there too.

Temper tantrums

It wasn’t the first time. His outbursts of anger became too much for the school, she said. Even the school social worker, who had been talking to Rens every two weeks for a year, saw no way out; more help was really needed. I felt distraught. And hopelessly failing as a mother, because at home I could no longer resist Rens’s tantrums. They had arisen after his father left our family three years earlier. And the longer the contact between Rens and his father lasted, the worse his outbursts of anger became. I had no influence on it at all; my ex-husband seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth.

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Youth Mental Health Care

Through school social work I got the number of a municipal authority in the field of youth mental health care. In my opinion, that was barely a step away from Youth Care. My knees trembling, I called them the following Monday, terrified that one wrong answer would take my child away. There was a waiting list, but also a gap, they reported. Less than a month later we were able to have an intake interview. Crying, I told my story. About the departure of the father of my children, about how I had ended up in town and country with befriended youth workers and remedial educationalists. Rens needed a sounding board, and as a mother who cared for him day and night, I was not the right person for that.

“Little by little my cramped child became himself again.”

I also expressed my fear that we would now be at the mercy of The System. That we would be visited by Safe Home and that experts would think that I could not handle the care for my child. But the opposite happened. The childhood psychologist was a single mother herself and understood me completely. And: with her no-nonsense mentality, she knew how to reach Rens like no other. He went there every week for an interview. That there was someone who thought along with me turned out to be a blessing. Sometimes he could not enjoy the days after such a session. Other weeks Rens was cheerfulness itself. Little by little I saw my cramped child relax and become himself again. And as a bonus, during the parent meetings with the psychologist, I also acquired the necessary knowledge to deal with a situation like ours.

It is now a year after the first conversation and both at school and at home calm has returned. Rens feels heard, I feel supported and school is reassured. The barrier to getting help was huge, but now that help is here, I don’t understand why I struggled so long on my own. Help is not a swear word.”

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family research

Leonie (42) is divorced and is the mother of Rafaël (8) and an adult daughter who lives on her own.

“Rafaël is an example pupil, an example guest at friends’ homes and an example son for us. That one day I got a call from Safe Home was anything but his fault and entirely on my husband and me. Of course, I knew that our substance use was getting a little out of hand. My husband sometimes took a line at the weekend, I sometimes didn’t know how to stop the vodka. This increasingly resulted in verbal abuse and fights. And one day the neighbors had reported it.

After the first family survey by Safe Home and the assignment of a family counselor who came to visit us weekly, things went wrong. My husband and I were out for dinner one night, had taken in more than we had planned, and then we were screaming. A simple disagreement ended in a punch to my jaw. In a panic, I called my best friend. Raphael was with the neighbors.

“Rafaël better live with grandparents, they said at Safe Home.”

When the taxi pulled into our street, we saw the police cars already outside the door. It turned out to be an emergency measure by my girlfriend, for which I am still grateful to her. It would be a better idea if our son stayed with his grandparents—my parents—for a while, the officers said. They had already called them. When asked, my husband grabbed a bag and left for a friend. During a conversation with the crisis service of Safe Home the next day, I agreed that Rafaël would stay with my parents for the time being. I registered myself at an addiction clinic, my husband announced the divorce – maybe for the better.

Forever grateful

I am now in recovery and in the weekends Rafaël comes home again. During school days, he prefers to stay with my parents for the time being. The rest is clearly doing him good. He is still that soft, hard-working model student and at the same time he is flourishing socially in the classroom, says the teacher. I don’t blame Raphael for preferring to stay with Grandma and Grandpa. I failed as a mother and will spend the rest of my life feeling guilty about this stain on his childhood. But I am eternally grateful to Safe Home, the police and my parents for putting me on the spot to seek help. Now the bond with my son may still be salvageable.”

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Lost my way as a mother for a while: ‘And then family care called me on the mat’ >

“It’s in, mom”

Renate (37) is married to Robert (38) and mother of Billie (11) and Ted (7).

“’We understand,’ said the grade 7 teacher. ‘All the kids have had a hard time during the lockdowns.’ But the fact that Billie was sick very often and, moreover, came to school one day with bandages on her wrists, set alarm bells ringing. It was in, she said, when I asked her about those bandages. She retired to her room, only to come downstairs crying after an hour. She had seen on Snapchat children posting depressive and sometimes even suicidal things. To self-injure. I thought she was a bit young for that medium anyway and after this comment I decided to keep her away from that for the time being.

As a precaution, I called the doctor. He wrote a referral letter for the child psychologist, but also scheduled a meeting with the POH-GGZ, a practice nurse with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. ‘No, that helps us’, I scoffed. If our daughter was really depressed, we’d need some rougher guns.

heavy artillery

In order to bridge the waiting time for the psychologist, we agreed. It turned out to be a bull’s eye. As an outsider, the practice nurse managed to find the right mix between empathy and dominance. Although Billie struggled with depressive symptoms, he was mainly bothered by prepuberty and the fact that Robert and I spent a lot of time with her brother, who played football almost every day as an up-and-coming talent.

“The POH’er is still under speed dial.”

That was an eye opener. With the bandages, Billie hoped to get the attention we hadn’t given her in ages. After family discussions, her situation improved noticeably. We canceled the psychologist, the POH’er is still under speed dial. Never again will I be guided by my prejudices; without this woman we would never have made it out so quickly.”

Tigh gap

Sally (40) is the mother of Thijmen (13), Marieke (12) and Sebastiaan (9). She lives with Maarten (42), who has a daughter (10).

“She wanted a thigh gap, a gate between her legs that no woman has naturally unless she’s starving herself. Her friends had it too, so she was way too fat, Marieke said. Yes, your girlfriends don’t have breasts yet, you’re already developing into a woman, I parried. But Marieke was not easy to catch. Children who are already overweight at her age often develop diabetes later, she reported. And that’s how she managed to shout all over Wikipedia about obesity in young people. In addition, she cited influencers who lived on lettuce and protein shakes. Incredibly harmful for a girl her age.

I soon noticed that her lunch box remained unopened in her bag day after day and that the dog lay very quietly under the table during dinner. “Watch out,” said a friend with a teenage daughter whose anorexia started at the same age and with the same arguments. Now they had been arguing at home for years and huge headaches about a daughter who at sixteen still did not menstruate due to her underweight.

Talking about eating behavior

Registering our eighth grader at an anorexia clinic is normal, Maarten and I said to each other in the evening. Marieke’s father also thought it was rather exaggerated. Doesn’t every teenage girl struggle with her figure? Until after a referral from the GP I went for an introduction and the red flags fluttered around my ears. Was Marieke perhaps exercising excessively, the youth psychiatrist asked. Did she regularly go to the toilet after dinner and did she lose weight? I recognized eighty percent of the examples she outlined. In fact, my daughter had been doing it for at least a year.

“Signing our eighth grader at an anorexia clinic? Act normal.”

Marieke was furious when I told her that we were going to talk to a lady about her eating behaviour. Still, she experienced the first conversation as a relief. We as a family could not have handled this problem on our own. We still have a long way to go – Marieke still weighs everything she eats – and I’m holding out for when she gets older and looks really play a role. I hope that she now gets the right tools and that we are ahead of more serious problems thanks to the assistance. In any case, we are not alone, and that feeling is worth the world.”

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If your child has an eating disorder: ‘Sometimes I didn’t recognize my own child’ >

debt counseling

Ishana (31) lives with Orlando (34) and is the mother of baby Chelsey (6 months).

“It was an accumulation of clumsy choices. An installment car that was actually too expensive, a rental flat above our budget. And go out every weekend. Then your money goes fast, especially if you work part-time in a hair salon and your husband is out of work. The notices poured in so fast that we didn’t even open them. The reminder costs only increased, bailiffs were more and more often on the doorstep and we were in danger of being evicted from our house.

“We get forty euros a week. That includes money for baby equipment.”

We came into contact with debt counseling through the municipality. Something we still fearfully keep to ourselves out of shame. That’s easy with a baby who needs us every moment. The social worker has been managing our bills for a year and gives us pocket money to live on: forty euros a week. That includes money for baby equipment. Because we were not yet properly under guardianship when I turned out to be pregnant. It is a blessing that we ended up at the emergency services, I think in hindsight. I don’t know how we should have raised a child with such high debts.

Now it’s plodding. Chelsey is still largely breastfed, but diapers cost a fortune. I’ve turned budgeting into an art, something I’m sure I will reap the benefits of later on. Our baby layette comes largely free of charge from Marktplaats. But thanks to the aid, we will be rid of all debts in two years.”

This article appears in Kek Mama 16-2021.

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