teens

“I was consumed with keeping her alive.” Why we need to talk about Teen-ternity leave.

Warning: This post deals with mental health and may be triggering for some readers.

Suzanne Alderson knows exactly what it’s like to parent a child struggling with their mental health.

In 2015, Suzanne’s world was turned upside down when her teenage daughter came to her and said she was suicidal, labelling it "the darkest time in my life".

Her daughter was being chronically bullied at school, but to Suzanne, she presumed it was a teenage phase that they could ride out together.

But that unfortunately wasn’t the case. 

Watch: Parents of Teenagers Translated. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

“When she was 14 she was badly bullied at school, and it had an increasingly poor impact on her mental health, and she declined to the point where she couldn't leave the house,” Suzanne said to the BBC podcast Woman’s Hour. 

“She couldn’t sleep, she wasn’t eating, so I took her to see our GP. She asked if she could go into the appointment on her own, and it was at that point that she disclosed to him that she had a plan to end her life imminently.”

Suzanne’s daughter then went on to attempt suicide. 

Sadly, she’s not the only young person dealing with mental health issues.

As reported on The Quicky, the number of children seeking medical intervention for mental health issues has increased dramatically since the start of the pandemic.

Suicide is also the leading cause of death among Australians aged 15 to 24. 

What this ultimately means is there are more parents than ever helping their children through a challenging time, while also juggling full-time work expectations. 

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In the BBC interview, Suzanne said it was initially a situation they presumed as parents they could handle, believing it to be “a teenage phase”.

“We didn’t know what to do as parents, we didn’t know how to support her. And I have to say we probably ignored this for 12 months. I guess we just thought we could get through it or if it were something to do with just being a teenager.”

“We found that we were just consumed by it. We had the person that we love the most in the world, our child, and we just simply didn’t know what to do.”

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When it came to looking after her daughter, Suzanne realised that being a full-time mum, a full-time carer and a full-time worker at the same time just wasn’t compatible.

Suzanne with her daughter. Image: Facebook.  

As a small business owner, Suzanne had to step back for a few months and pass her clients onto her husband’s workload in order to get the family through the tough time. 

“There’s still a judgment in society that in some way you’ve caused this as a parent: that it was your responsibility to stop that from happening. 

“You don’t want to be home looking after a teenager as though they are a toddler. Not being able to let them out of your sight. Wondering what they’re going to wake up to, being scared to go to sleep. It was an incredibly challenging time for us.”

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During the height of the experience, Suzanne was in a business meeting at work, simultaneously trying to function as professional while also having all her thoughts directed towards her daughter’s wellbeing. "It was incredibly difficult to juggle," Suzanne says. 

“I was absolutely consumed with keeping my daughter alive. Deadlines and suicide don’t really work together. And I just really, at that time, obviously didn’t necessarily care about very much other than keeping her alive.”

 Suzanne Alderton. Image: Twitter.  

With a conversation around the potential feasibility of 'teen-ternity' leave (a maternity leave equivalent for older children) on The Quicky, the question many are asking themselves is what they would do if faced with the same scenario as Suzanne.

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Would you quit your job? Would you ask for leave?

How would you approach the conversation with your boss or manager?

Would your employer pass judgement if you asked for 'teen-ternity' leave?

Listen to this episode of The Quicky on Teen-ternity leave - asking whether parents need time off to support older kids. Post continues after podcast.


Marian Baird spoke to The Quicky about this issue, offering her expertise as a Professor of Gender and Employment Relations at the University of Sydney. 

Baird put forward the idea of “living life leave”.

What it essentially entails is a type of leave that allows you to attend to those unexpected circumstances in life.

“Increasingly what we are seeing is there are lots of events in the lives of workers that they need leave to attend to. It might be fertility treatment, palliative care for a relative, or all sorts of issues that come up, such as the need to pay special attention to adolescent children who are going through difficult times,” she said.

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Since her experience, Suzanne is now dedicated to helping parents in a similar situation, founding the charity Parenting Mental Health.

“I couldn’t really find any support. The judgement and stigma around having a child with a mental health issue is enormous. So I decided that if we made it through, I would make it my mission to make sure that no other parent felt like I did.”

“We all bring challenges, whether we’ve got children or not, to our role as an employee. We deserve support because we are a compassionate society, I would hope.”

Suzanne Alderton. Image: Twitter. 

If you, or a young person you know, Iis struggling with symptoms of mental illness please contact your local headspace centre here or chat to them online here. If you are over the age of 25 and suffering from symptoms of mental illness please contact your local GP for a Mental Health Assessment Plan or call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

Feature Image: Facebook.