Troubled kids don’t come from good homes.
That’s what this Mom believed until she looked behind the façade of perfect parenting…
When the call came, I politely indicated she had the wrong number.
When she called back 30 seconds later, there was no mistaking her authoritative tone. Our daughter was in the throes of a full blown anxiety attack. Could I please get to the school—right now? The principal inferred this was not her first episode.
Two hours later, mother intuition eviscerated, I drove home with the wrecked hollow of a scared child huddled next to me.
She was grappling with an eating disorder they said, teetering on the edge of a full blown clinical depression. That morning she’d broached thoughts of suicide with the school nurse.
I was stunned.
I thought she told me everything; in fact people often remarked how close we were. Looking back, of course there were clues, but I’d discounted them as normal adolescent volcanoes—always threatening to blow but rarely producing anything of substance.
At the time, our daughter was 15; creative, vivacious, fiercely independent, the classic all round great kid. We were a “good’ family—stable home environment with solid values.
I was June Cleaver, Martha Stewart and Attila the Hun; all rolled into one LOL mother who chaired parent councils, ran a successful consulting business, and served up home made meals every night at a nicely set dinner table. Other people, for whom I had sincere empathy, had experienced “problem children”. But from my lofty perch in denial heaven, I figured being a power mom insulated me from any such fate.
Like any good Mom, l launched into fix it mode.
The road to fantasy came to a rude impasse the day I was summoned by the psychologist. In no uncertain terms she told me I was the problem. She brooked no restraint in her analysis of our dynamic and indicated I needed to suit up as a parent, (best friends didn’t cut it) let go of optics and grab onto reality.
My daughter’s anxiety was manifestation of a cratered self esteem. She was living a lie—trying to meet my expectations, which grounded in perfection were impossible to achieve. She’d been driven to exhaustion spoon feeding me the rosy drivel I wanted to hear. She had no confidence I would accept her as the girl she was. Wobbling on jellied self worth, she had no defense against the harsh competition that is teen life.
My first reaction was indignation; pure fear was mere seconds behind. I soon discovered that mental illness is a baffling and complex journey into a murky terrain studded with failed expectations. Normal redefined itself daily; sometimes hourly.
My child had gone into hiding deep within herself. She didn’t know how to find her way back. Worst yet, she saw no reason to. The weeks churned by and our world pared down to a very small and lonely place. Depression is a powerful force that feeds on a renewable cache of despair. Moreover, it cuts a wide swatch showing little regard for age, wealth or social status.
Eventually, her pain shredded any last vestige of my denial. I sought professional help – this time for the person who needed to do the work. Even though I’d been parenting for some 28 years, I had to start over at ground zero.
Ironically, the principal proved to be a terrific ally. In my quest to understand my daughter’s world, she recommended a visit to the Kids Help Phone; a 24/7/365 respite for young people to share thoughts and concerns without fear of reprisal or judgment. I trolled through achingly intimate stories by young people trying to make sense of everything from abuse to addiction, suicide to sexual orientation and more.
Their candor blew me away as did the depth of my ostrich syndrome.
Clearly kids feel safe on the site; a reflection of the credibility Kids Help Phone works so hard to maintain through its rigorous confidentiality protocols. I was surprised to learn the phone and online counselors are post graduate psychology and social work professionals who serve up affirmation and actionable suggestions with respect, compassion and a street savvy that kids relate to.
If the millions (I’m not kidding) of KHP web posts are any indication, my daughter and her generation are swimming upstream against a tsunami of media influence, propaganda and cynicism. Most do not have the emotional maturity to filter through it. Many are adrift in confusion and fear.
Moreover their virtual world and our frantically busy lifestyle enables isolation—reinforcement for the ostracized who believe themselves unworthy. Little wonder so many suffer anxiety—something that was never talked about in my Pollyanna childhood. In fact, many of the milestones that kept me on the straight and narrow as a kid have vaporized into obscurity. It is a whole new world, one that would have baffled me as a teen.
Thankfully I’ve been able to give my girl a backpack stuffed with values that have stood the test of time; an attitude of kindness; and the security of knowing she has my love unconditionally. But like many other kids, she needed more than that to complete her transition to adulthood. Thank heavens for resources like Kids Help Phone, school guidance counselors and mental health professionals. Collectively, their strong and caring hands pulled our family back from the brink of unfathomable loss.
Fast forward three years.
Today our 18 year old daughter has come home to her beautiful self. She manages school and a part time job in a rhythm that works uniquely for her. She channels her emotions through her paintbrush and onto her yoga mat. She lives by a personal creed that mandates a healthy quotient of happiness. She gives us cause to believe that perfection is simply living in vivid reality.