My daughter said over the weekend I was treating her like a fragile piece of glass that could fall off and shatter if I say the wrong thing. She says I should be mad at her for the legal trouble she recently got in. Instead, I told her I’m worried about the distress it could cause her. She seemed perplexed and truly bothered that I wasn’t angry and ready to punish her or kick her out of the house.
This is the life of a mother who has experienced her child attempting suicide. It’s been three and a half years since she was first diagnosed with depression, and a year and a half since she tried to take her life. I swore that night in the hospital I would change. I would accept her as she was, no matter what. I wouldn’t try to put any of my own expectations on her any more. I would try to rid myself of those expectations.
My only hope for her was that she did whatever she wanted to do, even if that was nothing, and eventually that would bring her happiness. My hope was that whenever she made a mistake, I would chalk it up to her exploring and learning and not worry about the consequences. That attitude has produced indifference and scorn in my daughter. It seems no matter what I do, my 19-year-old will react negatively.
I told her the reason I didn’t get mad about the mess that’s now complicating her life is that she shared how unfair she thinks it is. (Everyone else does it! Why did I get caught?) She’s right. I see her point. And I see how she is more mature and moderate in her behavior than I was at her age. So my lack of anger was a direct result of relating to her perspective.
She told me she doesn’t care about how this legal mess will affect her. She says she doesn’t care about her future. But she acts annoyed that I’m not angry. Is that a sign that she wants me to do something to prove that I care? Maybe that’s why she is disturbed that I didn’t get mad at her. Maybe somehow she thinks that shows I don’t care. Of course I care, and I do worry that she is fragile. But she made me realize I have to start accepting that she’s so much stronger than she was last year. I need to recognize that. I need to see the whole person and not just the girl with mental illness.
My journey as a parent of someone with mental illness has helped me to see a bigger picture for her life than I ever did when she was younger. I know what can seem like a big mistake will pass and hopefully will not change her life forever. Why is my approach different? Because there’s only one mistake I don’t want her to make: the impulsive one that could take her away from this world. Everything else, we can deal with.
So when I told her it was necessary to get a lawyer, she told me she didn’t agree. She didn’t care. If it mattered to me, she said, then I should pay. Of course I know it’s not my problem. I didn’t cause the issue. She’s an adult. She’s responsible and has a job. She could pay. Yet I agreed to pay. Why? Because I do care. And that seems to be the only way to show her right now that I do.