I have been in the process of actual mothering for over 20 years. Plus 6 if you count “parenting” a, let’s call him a ‘youthful’ spouse, before that, plus nannying a few years too. And it has been mostly an honor and privilege. All parents know that when you receive your child (and I do believe you receive a child and don’t really and truly make it from scratch), it’s like a million piece puzzle you have to put together without a box with a photo on it to show you what it’s supposed to turn out like. And I think sometimes some pieces are missing besides.
All parents who try, in earnest, to parent, to assemble that puzzle, understand it’s hard, it’s frustrating, sometimes you get things wrong. You might also lose pieces through your own actions, or mangle one by trying to force it into a spot where it doesn’t belong. I guess that’s what therapy is for, right? Nobody comes through childhood without some minor trauma from their parents. At least I have never met anyone who did.
I know I have not been a perfect parent every day for 20+ years. I am sure I said or did things without understanding how they would be received or interpreted by my children. Occasionally I might even have done something without caring how it would be received (rarely). I also had no crystal ball to see how something that seemed logical or good could turn out very badly and impact the kids negatively. I am not making excuses, because I do have regrets. If I could go back and redo only one thing, I know exactly which thing I would undo. But I can’t. And sometimes you see something unfolding before you and instantly understand how it impacts your kids. And you die a little inside.
I have died a little inside for my children hundreds of times. So much anguish, so many tears flowed for their sadness, disappointment and hurt. And the worst thing is being powerless to fix it. So all you have is a broken heart for them. I don’t know if that does any good at all. This is true categorically. Also true categorically, I have made this statement to my children – You can always come home.
As a young adult finishing up my Bachelor’s degree, my folks were splitting up. There was no home to return to after college, and looking ahead to financial insecurity and high rents, I married. It wasn’t so cynical an arrangement, but financial insecurity definitely played a role. It played a similar role in my ill-fated second marriage as well. I never want my kids to feel forced into a not great situation just to make the rent.
Fast forward to now, somehow along the way one of my children has developed so much venom, anger and rebellious behavior, I hardly know her anymore. How does this happen? How does a headstrong, but sweet child, turn so hateful and self-destructive? MUST she learn every. damn. thing. the. hard. way??? I want her to get help. She even admitted she needs it. I have tried talking to her calmly. I have reminded, encouraged, even threatened. I’ve yelled, I’ve cried. She has GOT to get help. Obviously there are mental health issues at play, and she has not followed up with counseling in or out of school (but I have).
She was late to school so many times this spring, I called the school to see if they will even let her graduate. The school never reached out to me so I was genuinely inquiring about the penalty for such egregious tardiness. I got a call telling me that they took away her early dismissal privileges (she was getting out of school at about noon every day). She now assumes I made that happen. Her response was a post on social media that she is “seriously considering moving out.” And she’s giving me the silent treatment. Apparently this was the last straw after having asked her to help me rake sometime before May 6th.
18, no diploma, a job life-guarding, self-destructive behaviors, no college applications submitted, no scholarships in the works, a car with bad brakes and a broken fender, and she thinks she’s ready to move out. With whom? Druggies and losers with no future? Because that’s who she’s been hanging around with. Other people hellbent on destruction All I want is a pleasant, cooperative household with everyone pitching in. I don’t tell her what to wear, what she can and can’t do or where she can go (except that she can NOT bring drugs in my house, and if she is found to be using drugs again, I will report her. Driving around under the influence is NO joke!) Twice a year I ask for help bagging leaves in the yard. 1 or 2 times a month I ask her to take out the garbage and wash dishes. Occasionally I ask her to pitch in on a project in the house. She’s basically refusing to do any of that. She’s like, “I’m 18, you can’t make me.”
THAT makes me want to show her the door. Buh bye! That is complete bullcrap and disrespect. That is a PUNK ASS ATTITUDE. Who does she think is running this house? June Cleaver? She seems to think every kid in her school is driving a new BMW and their moms all still wash their underwear for them and clean their rooms. Even if that were true, which it isn’t, I am never going to be that mom. And I’m REALLY not while I’m a single mom working 2 jobs, volunteering with multiple organizations, and helping support my 95 year-old grandma as she recovers from a broken hip. I have said this before, my job is to prepare my kids to be independent. I appreciate that she thinks she’s ready. But every adult seeing this situation is like, “uh, …no.”
Many people have told me I am a fine example for my kids. I’m trying to be. I mean, being a mom and working full-time could be 100% of my identity right now and for the last 20 years, but it’s not. I know right out of the shoot I am also a damaged person. I struggle and strive to improve, to have enriching experiences, to do good in the world, and frankly, to have a life worth living. When my kids were small they were my reason to live. Those precious babies got me through unimaginable hard times. For their sake I soldiered on. For their sake I kept doing the hard, but correct, things. For their sake I kept my chin up.
As they have grown and become more self-sufficient, I have taken on more, acted on and developed some of my own passions, especially around activism. My kids were by my side or right behind me as I embarked on these things. Again, the goal is not to fill your kids up with all you have to be left behind as a dried husk when they leave the nest. Ideally we parents bloom in our own right as we enter a new phase of our lives. For the transition, as my youngest child approaches graduation, my parenting has shifted to keeping the task list and trying to help her stay on her timeline so she can leave in the fall, as we have both been planning for years.
But she is so miserable. So awful to live with now. And doing exactly 0 of what needs to be done for her to fly out of the next in August. I want to say, “Just go.” I don’t know how much longer I can endure the cold shoulder, the scowl, the rolling eyes, the shushing, the lying, the willful ignorance, the glassy eyes, the mood swings and disrespectful behavior. I prefer to sit in my driveway in my car than to come in my house. It’s such a bad feeling. But I don’t want to send her out of the fire and into the frying pan either, and she’s the kind of person who would cut off her nose to spite her face.
I mentioned one of the tasks I need help with being leaves. I rake them out of the bushes and from under the decks and so on, into piles. The piles then get bagged and brought to the curb. Since my child works every day until past her natural bedtime, she always says she is too tired to help. I told her she needs to get her hours cut back because it is interfering with school and home. She refuses. So I posed that if she wants to not pick up the leaf piles, she has to hire someone to take her place. She told me I should hire someone. Now, why should I hire someone to do it, when I have an able-bodied teenager living in my house who has more than 4 hours every school day before work when she could do it, and it would probably take less than 2 hours total to do?
She replied, “This is why I never eat dinner at the table with you,” and she stomped off to her room. The last time I told her I wanted her to bag leaves, she loaded them on a tarp and dumped them in the park across the street in full view of all our neighbors. So, of course we got written up for it and she had to go back and pick them all up again, bag them properly and put them at the curb. Looks like we’re going to have another fight. Does she think paying half the rent on an apartment, plus groceries, plus utilities, garbage removal and laundry is going to cost less than paying for someone to pick up leaves? If this, plus the school punishing her for excessive tardiness, pushes her over the edge, what kind of cost analysis has she done to weigh out this decision?
Some people have told me they had wayward children who came back around. I am afraid this one will go to a place of no return. Not every kid can do drugs and sleep around and get tattoos and just turn out to be fine 5 or 6 years later. Some kids make such bad choices they define the rest of their lives by them. I am afraid. And I am heartbroken. I feel completely powerless to fix this for her.
Also, she respects no one – not family members, not school officials, nobody in authority or who cares about her is perfect enough in her eyes to give her advice on “how to run” her life. She has addicts on both sides of her family tree, up in the branches and down in the roots. She’s been warned all her life about the dangers, and she’s seen many people in real life whose lives have been wrecked by alcohol and/or drugs. But she made these bad choices anyway.
And she thinks I am all about me. She won’t let me be about her. She won’t let me talk to her, look at her or be in the same room with her. Literally. And this has been growing for about 3 years. So… yeah, this is about me, and me trying like Hell keep her from ruining her life.
P.S. – this gif is from Son of Kong (1933). Since I was a child this scene moved me to tears. I have replayed it in my mind a thousand times in the last 2 years, wrestling with my child and this nightmare situation. Some part of my psyche pulled this clip out of the file, and I realize it represents how I feel. What’s happening in the scene is Skull Island is sinking following a volcanic eruption. As the island sinks, Son of Kong and a man are left on the island. Son of Kong lifts the man up over his head so he can be rescued, even as he himself drowns. I have been holding my kids up, even as the water rises around me, hoping they can be rescued, even if I am doomed. With my dying breath I hold them up.