I can’t decide if I’m a sucker, an enabler, or a caring parent.
I once again let my 16-year-old daughter negotiate her way out of a consequence.
She didn’t go to school or work today. She stayed in bed. She finally got up about 6:30 pm.
For every day this happens, she is supposed to lose two days of privileges. No car. No seeing friends.
This happens almost once a week. It is a huge improvement over the situation earlier this year.
In January she couldn’t get out of bed for two days straight and had no fever. She would barely talk to me. She missed a school trip. After trying everything and desperately reading articles online about what could cause this, I took her to the ER. They diagnosed her with depression. She had been having suicidal thoughts.
I went into search and destroy mode. What does this mean? How do I react? What do I do to make it better? Where do I find the best information? Who do I believe? I won’t go into the gory details of the last nine months, but it was brutal. On her. On all members of our household. On my sanity and patience and hope. After more hospital programs and meds than I can count, we ended up here: All eight extra curricular activities dropped. (It was too many for any kid.) All honors and AP classes eliminated, except one. (It was too many for a kid with anxiety.) A schedule that gives her flexibility in those difficult morning hours, because she works a restaurant cashier job 10:30 am – 1 pm and attends school 1:30 – 3:30 pm and takes three classes online in her own time. Part of the new normal is an agreement she can take the car to work and school and spend the rest of the day with her new friends. This privilege is supposed to give her the motivation to do the things that bring her anxiety – work and school. Her new friends became a big part of her life after therapists told her to find things that make her happy. She says they are the only thing in life that makes her happy. I am grateful my child found something that brings her happiness after she spent months in and out of hospitals saying she “had no future” and had “nothing” that made her happy.
But she still has “those days.” When she slips back into depression. When she can’t get up, no matter what we try. Even after she takes her meds. Her doctors say she should face consequences for missing school. So we made a rule: two days of grounding for each missed day. She knows this. We’ve enforced it before.
When she finally gets up this time, and we talk about what went wrong and how to prevent it and what consequences she is facing, she gets upset. She cries as she explains how much she hates herself when this happens. She says it only makes it worse if we are “punishing” her. She says the only thing that will make her not feel depressed is to see her friends. Her doctors call this manipulation, and we tell her that. She says she’s just being honest.
If we enforce the consequence, she says her depression will make her just want to give up and sleep. We’ve seen that happen, when she lies down and can’t get up for another 12 hours, or maybe 24, or maybe more.
That’s when I slip into my empathetic phase and try to use reason and logic to figure this out. To make her feel better. To prevent it next time. We talk and talk. Sometimes for hours. She begs. She threatens. She tries to negotiate. I’m a sucker for negotiation. I always tell her to come up with new solutions, and she does. Last time one of her many suggestions was “I’ll pay you a fine as my consequence, and then I’m not grounded. Like in court you pay a penalty instead of going to jail.” Last time I agreed it was a “creative solution.” I let her pay me $20 to take the car and $20 to see her friends per day, because I didn’t want her to spend the next day depressed and miss more school and work.
She tried the “pay to get out of grounding” again this time. I refused, even though it meant she might crawl into bed for the next day or two and miss the ONE activity she is doing all year — singing in the talent show tomorrow night.
So the negotiating continued. My husband can’t handle it. He’s a person who abhors conflict. He tries to engage and walks away when no solution is imminent. I grew up in a loud family where everyone argued and argued to try to get what they wanted. I have a certain admiration for the persistence to not give up, the creativity to compromise, the spunk to not accept something perceived as “not solving the problem.” She insists the consequences aren’t working if the behavior keeps happening. The discussion is not loud or disrespectful, but it continues. Hour after hour.
At one point, she says she just wants to take the car for one hour, to pick up her friend and get food and have a talk while they eat and come home. I remind her she can talk on FaceTime. She says it’s not the same. I remind her we have a house full of food. She says she doesn’t want to eat any of it. She reminds me she hasn’t eaten all day.
I remind her she should be working on her online classes. She offers to do an hour of her online class in exchange for taking the car an hour. She should be doing these classes anyways, but I am worn down. I know I could just say no and walk away and watch her cry herself back into depression. But I relent and agree. I sit beside her and watch her do three online lessons. When she is done, her friend is no longer available. She takes the car, drives to get a hot dog, eats by herself, and arrives home before the hour is up.
She is not sad. She is not gloating. She does exactly what we agreed to earlier – takes a shower as soon as she gets home, so she doesn’t have to stress about getting up early to do it in the morning. I know she feels better than she would have if I had not let her take the car. She claims driving is her “coping skill.” I feel better than I would have if she had curled up and cried herself back to sleep, worrying if the depression would swallow her up for the next two days and keep her from the talent show.
But what about tomorrow? And the next time? Did my actions make the whole scenario more likely to happen again? Or am I right to be more flexible because of her mental illness?
Only the Magic Eight Ball knows for sure. And I got rid of mine long ago.