I once caught just a portion of the movie “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” Nine-year-old Oskar is dealing with his grief and dismay over his father’s death during the 9/11 attacks in NYC. Oskar has felt distanced from his mother. In this scene it is revealed that she wasn’t ignoring him, but was fully aware of his comings and goings, and was silently, diligently, and deftly working to support him as she grappled with her own grief. The slow-motion reveal showcased the very intentional, thoughtful ways in which she had supported his journey toward resolution, nearly all of which Oskar had been unaware of until the reveal.

To me, this scene captured the breathless vulnerability, determination, and hope for the future that is parenting. As author Elizabeth Stone wrote “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Parenting is seriously hard work, and being a child is, too. Open communication is key in parent-child relationships, and not always the easiest thing to manage. This is especially true in the era of social media, influencers, screens, screens, and more screens, competing parenting styles and contradictory advice, political rancor, post-pandemic strain and uncertainty, economic recession and shifting work/life parameters and expectations. Thriving? Many of us are just trying to survive, or at least that is frequently how it feels.

In mid-January The Village hosted an evening with Billings therapist Kee Dunning, MSW, M.Ed., LCPC, LMFT. Kee shared wisdom and insights from her forty years of practice with kids and families. Our group was small in number, but the validation and support offered was something special to behold.

When we began The Village ministry in 2018 it was with this idea of creating peace at the end of the day – for our students and their families. The January gathering and the upcoming Feb. 2 one are both about supporting families, about helping to create a more peaceful existence.

On Thursday, Feb. 2 The Village is hosting a screening of the Ken Burns PBS documentary Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness. Kee’s work is featured in the years-long documentary project, which was screened at the White House in 2022. She will field questions after the screening.

The topics covered in the film aren’t easy, nor simple. It is sometimes hard to fathom that mental health issues could or will be at our own threshold. But pulling back the opaque cover on mental illness, including the stigma and silence that has long surrounded it, makes our ability to support our kids – including grandkids, adolescent and young adult children, extended family, friends’ children, students, all our children – that much more likely.

From our babies’ first tentative steps to their striding across a graduation stage, so many steps will be firsts. Events like these are meant to provide a resource for those unanticipated, sometimes dreaded “first steps,” those that may lead to scary diagnoses and intense feelings of isolation and fear for entire families. Families, parents: you are not alone. Silence and fear do not give our kids what they need. Creating a safe space in which we can grapple with these tough issues, with support and empathy, can help us be the advocates our children require. Together, we can support our children as they journey through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. I hope you will join us next Thursday as part of your parenting journey.

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