JFS 2022 Board President: On Mental Health, Youth, and Parenting

We are thrilled to introduce our community to Karyn Barer, newly elected President of the JFS Board of Directors.

By Karyn Barer

My first encounter with JFS was attending a “Bringing Baby Home” class with my husband. We sat around a table with several other young couples (one of whom still sits with us at the JFS Community of Caring Luncheon each year!) and were struck by two things: 1) the sharpness of the mohel’s tool (didn’t need that – two daughters for us) and 2) we had no clue what to do once we brought this bundle of joy home from the hospital. There began our journey, not only with JFS, but also in parenting.

In the early days our biggest worries were classic: Is she sleeping enough? Are we? Will I have enough milk? In between birthday parties, dance recitals and soccer games we dealt with toddler squabbles, sibling rivalry, fevers, and bruises. But, as my mom always told me: Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems. She wasn’t kidding.

As our daughters grew, so did a list of medical issues that often felt like an avalanche. While some were routine and others more serious, even textbook physical and psychological diagnoses don’t seem so straightforward when it’s you or your child. Piling on puberty and typical teenage worries, we could not avoid the inevitable mental health toll on all of us. I remind my kids that everyone has “something”, but some seem to get more than their fair share.

Everyone needs somewhere to turn. JFS has something for everyone who needs support for a mental health challenge or struggle.

There were many wonderful times during these years, and we savored those moments – memorable family trips, summers at Camp Kalsman, school sports, and much fun with friends – yet witnessing those stretches of suffering is painful; and as a mother, it’s agony. As the saying goes, “A mother can only be as happy as her most unhappy child.”  I fell into a habit of “catastrophizing,” as my therapist once called it. My thoughts spiraled. How will we ever pull her out of this? And, of course, the guilt: Am I failing my child? Despite the love and good intentions of friends and family, I had never felt so anxious and alone. Who could understand what was truly going on in my house, in my head, in my heart?

Everyone needs somewhere to turn. The stress of mental health concerns, large and small, can feel overwhelming for parents and teens. This is why I am so passionate about the Teen and Young Adult (TYA) Initiative within the Counseling program at JFS. JFS has something for everyone who needs support for a mental health challenge or struggle.

One of the educational offerings in our TYA initiative is a Youth Mental Health First Aid class which offers real tools for parents, teachers and others caring for young people experiencing anxiety, depression, the impacts of trauma and a myriad of other mental health challenges during this pivotal time of development. The initiative has its own counselor who supports teens and young adults. As well, JFS parent-coaching services can be that wayfinder for parents, like us, who are stuck and just don’t know where to turn for help.

JFS is a haven of compassionate professionals, and nobody sets that tone better than its CEO. I’ve never heard anyone say, “How are you?” quite like our CEO, Rabbi Will Berkovitz. “How are you?” he asks, in a way you know he really wants to know. It’s this level of kindness and commitment to the entire community that, twenty-four years later, keeps me coming back for more. It is infused throughout the organization. I am continually impressed with the level of knowledge and dedication of our staff: not just in our excellent counseling program but throughout all of our programs. Meeting the needs of our community is paramount at JFS and the Teen and Young Adult initiative was born from that commitment.

As for me and my family, our story continues to unfold and for the moment we are all thriving. Perhaps we will continue with the two steps forward, one step back pattern. But the forward steps are getting longer and sturdier. From adversity has emerged young women who have grit, remarkable resilience, and an amazing capacity for empathy. The journey continues and we could not be prouder.

Editor’s note: If a young person you know and love is navigating similar circumstances, and could use help, please know your support could make a huge difference in their lives. You can contact our Counseling Program Intake Specialist for information and referrals as well.

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