More Than Worth It

I find myself often exploring the should’ve, could’ve and would’ve of previous events in my life. I am challenged by situations, people, and life events daily. I want to share one of those challenges with you. While attending an Outward Mindset workshop, I heard a story from the facilitator that compelled me to re-live the last few years of my relationship with my daughter.

Our lives had been full of sporting events, volunteering in the community, making dinner together, creating magic with our favorite baking recipes, and most importantly, love. She was a strong, dignified girl. Vibrant, intelligent, beautiful and caring. She relished in her annual beauty pageants, ensured she maintained a 4.0 GPA, and her best friend at school was her band director. I mean, what mother would want anything more than what was offered by this beautiful soul I had as a daughter? I was proud, so very proud. I would often say to myself, ‘I created that. That young lady is part of who I am, yet so much more.’ However, as I continue to write, I can feel my heart become heavy as I share my story with you. I can feel my throat start to ache, my mouth clench, and the tears form.

Late in my daughter’s Freshman year, I slowly began to see a decline in her spontaneous style. I saw a slight separation from what she loved to do in years’ past. Time spent with family began to decrease, and what used to be a great example for her baby sister, was now turning into negligence. ‘She is just going through a stage,’ is what I kept telling myself. Come Sophomore year, she elected not to participate in band. I was disappointed, her band director was disappointed, as she had given five years of serious investment up until now. Rather, she turned her focus toward her favorite sport, volleyball. For my husband and I, we respect the decisions made by our children, we allow them to start the process to adulthood and we trust them, blindly.

By the time she got to the end of her Junior year, she did not participate in any school events, sports, or pageants, and her grades started to tumble. She spent as much time away from home as she could. To her, we are boring, and her sister is annoying. Now, my girl is in her Senior year of high school. She is failing all of her classes, skipping school daily, she does not participate at home with dinners, baking or household chores. The only time she really communicates with us, is when she asks us for money and to leave with friends.

Sounds like a typical teenager, right? That is what I kept telling myself. These things did not go unnoticed, and I never allowed her to get off the hook, I addressed them just as any other parent would. The past three years have been full of arguments and conflict. We would discipline by taking away privileges and letting her know of our disappointment. And guess what would happened? The blame was always pointed right back at me. It was always about what we were doing wrong. We did not listen. We did not care. We were too busy. We spent too much time at work. She is depressed.

Depressed? Oh my, there must be another lesson being taught at school on this topic, and I am sure she meets every category. I would respond to her and say, “If you were depressed, you would not want to go shopping, and you would not be bouncing around the house dancing to music.” I was once her age, I get it. I did not know what I wanted, or who I was, and what I wanted to be. I thought I was ugly. I thought I was fat. I thought I was dumb. This is all normal behavior… “you will be fine,” I would say.

I must’ve said this to her 100 times.

Every single day, we have received calls from the school. She was late to 1st period, unexcused absences from 4th, 5th, 6th. Every single day she made up a story, or would start crying and blaming us. It got so bad that one day, when I could not be there for a disagreement between her and my husband, she threatened to hurt herself. I had no choice but to send her to get evaluated at the hospital.

I felt like I had no emotion at this point. I could not believe she was pulling this card. How could she do, and say these things to us? How could she put us on this emotional rollercoaster? She does not care about us, our family, or anybody else’s feelings. I watched them leave. I was not falling into this cycle with her again. Her shenanigans were done, and surely every adult would see what she was up to.

I received a call within an hour to head to the hospital. Upon my arrival, I found my oldest child, sister in-law, my husband, and my daughter sitting in a small room with a clinical social worker. She looked at me, almost in a disapproving way, and informed me that my daughter was depressed. Not showing signs previously of depression, she now needed counseling and medication. I thought, ‘here we go.’ I just learned this, and my daughter is creating an alias. They were getting sucked into her lies, and justifying her behavior… but not me. Mind you, I just walked into the room. Absorbed by my self-focus in that moment, I did not even acknowledge anyone there. I looked over at my husband, he had put his hand on my girl’s leg and looked at her with sullen eyes. I looked at my sister-in-law, her face was grim, yet understanding. My oldest daughter, looked blankly at me. I had the, ‘okay, let’s get this over with’ look on my face. In the moment, I was full of the justification for not caring, to me, this was just teenage drama. That is what I had told myself for three years now, and that is what it had to be.

Wait. 

I then looked at my once bubbly, smiling beautiful blue-eyed, freckled face girl. Her eyes were swollen, she barely glanced at me, and then looked over at the social worker. The social worker looked at me after meeting my daughter’s eyes and said, “I know you just arrived, but I want you to know that your daughter needs your help and support. She feels like no one listens to her. You know what she has endured, but she feels that your family truly has not listened. Counseling for the whole family is crucial to her wellbeing.”

While at first, I filled with rage, this social worker’s blatant honesty pushed me to reflect on my daughter’s life the past three years. For the first time, I did not think of all the pain she had caused me, rather, I considered her pain, and how I might have contributed. My now 17-year-old daughter, could not participate in pageants anymore because of her schooling, and all of the sporting events she and her siblings were involved in. She had an accident, one year, while playing volleyball and damaged her knee. In the process of x-rays and MRI’s they diagnosed her with Hypo-Mobility and Hyper-Mobility throughout her body, and she has bone defects in both her knees. After many visits to specialists and therapy appointments she was told she could never play sports again. She loved sports. She had been in a relationship with a boy that was extremely tough on her. She continually felt disrespected and manipulated. I remembered all the times I would pick her up and she would be in tears. What I used to write off as teenage-girl drama, I now realized was legitimate pain. This boy was controlling, and the relationship was unhealthy, especially for teenagers. She did not have many friends anymore. She was bullied online, in school, at school events, and she had no one. All she had was family, and for months, even years, I did not care enough to really listen.

My daughter was not the one that desperately needed to change, I was. That is when I stopped, and I really looked at my daughter. Had I been listening to her, or was I simply just solving the problems, and moving on to the next? As we left the hospital that evening, I followed everyone from behind, reflecting on how I was as a mother the previous years. I felt broken, yet I did not want to admit I had failed. Considering how I was brought up, and what I had been through, I was a good mother, I thought. That’s what I told myself— myself. That was it, everything was about myself, me— it was not about my daughter. Maybe it never was; all I know is that it hurt to realize that. It should have been. I needed to change.    

It has not been easy, but every day after that visit to the hospital, my daughter and I talk. We talk about school, boys, the silly dogs we have, her friends, the gossip, and our process to make things better. We turn the music on, we joke with the family and we enjoy our time together. This time I am listening, I am engaged, and I care. At least, I am trying to. I have learned that life is a lot simpler, should we slow down to listen and be alive to those around us. The instant that I changed, everything changed. It has been a long three years, but the other night while I was cooking dinner, I felt a warm hug from behind, it was my daughter. That was the first time in a very long time I felt her warmth like that. In that moment, I realized the journey we had been on was more than worth it.