As parents, we want the best for our children. Our hearts break when their’s break, our joy soars when theirs soar. When things fall apart, we do our best to fix it. But maybe we’re not supposed to be in control of every emotion they experience.
“What your mom needs to remember is that she isn’t in control of your emotions.” The counselor was looking right at my daughter but I knew she was talking to me. We had just had a very emotional counseling session. My daughter was asked to list her stressors. I had known for a long time that I was the cause of some of her stress and truthfully I was relieved to see my name at the very bottom of a long and honest list. Watching my daughter make the list was a mixture of sadness, pride and sheer relief.
One week earlier my daughter and I were locked in a battle of wills. It started when I asked her to change her clothes before going out. From my perspective, it was a simple request. I wanted her to take off the pajama pants and put some real clothes on. I had asked 5 times before I began to feel building anxiety. I heard myself begin to escalate. With each new observation, my sense of urgency grew. I had to regain control. I realized that not only was she ignoring my request to get dressed, she also hadn’t moved from the couch. She hadn’t finished the chore I had asked her to do the night before and she had left a glass on top of the piano where the condensation had now formed a perfect ring. She never flinched as I began to express panic at the hopeless situation before me.
To an outsider, my catastrophic response to my daughter’s refusal may seem imbalanced but my fear went deeper than a desire to have an unblemished finish on the piano. I had known something was wrong for days, months even. I had tried all of my mom powers to battle the depression that lurked beneath every interaction with my daughter. The week leading up to the counseling appointment had been one of the worst in years. She had barely spoken to me in three days. If I tried asking her questions, “How are you doing today?” she would stare right through me. If I got angry and demanded answers, she would grab a book and hold it in front of her face pretending to read, moving eyes back and forth across the page. I was at a loss. The defiance of the past week was a symptom of a much larger issue. My husband and I had been walking through this difficult season with our daughter for a very long time.
For the past few years we have been on a roller coaster ride with our daughter. Each day, I wake up with the hope that this will be a good day. I observe cautiously, hoping to see a real smile. I listen until my ears ache with the longing to hear her laugh. My deepest desire is for my child to know her value, for her to know her worth. I yearn to see her fulfill her purpose in life. I long to see her use her talents with confidence. I desperately search her surroundings for a true friend. If only she had someone else beside her to tell her how great she is. Maybe she could see what I’ve seen since I first laid eyes on her. She is exactly who she is supposed to be.
Depression has all but consumed her. She’s still in there, I see her. I’ve spent the last few years trying to reach her. I cringe when she fails. I hurt when she hurts. I try to cushion the fall or to step in and catch her. I fill with rage when someone on the bus makes fun of her or when a teacher doesn’t stop to help her understand something. I want to scream in their faces, “Don’t you see what’s happening here? Don’t you know? You might be the very last person to insult her. You might be the very last person to break her heart. You might be the last person to see her alive.” Sometimes she thinks her life isn’t worth living, and that’s why I panicked about the pajamas a week ago. In my heart I’m afraid that if she doesn’t get dressed one morning that it will be because she doesn’t feel valuable enough to live this day.
So I panicked. I freaked out. I am the scream to her silence. I am the hyper-vigilant to her withdraw. I am the organizer to her chaos. I am the mom and I am making this worse.
Counseling was good this week. It was hard, but the good kind of hard. I’m beginning to realize that I cannot control my daughter’s emotions. I can’t ever work hard enough and long enough to control anything another person is doing or feeling. I can’t bubble wrap her. I can’t force her to have all healthy and joy filled interactions. That just isn’t reality. I’m so thankful for a counselor who wasn’t afraid to go deeper into our story and release me from the burden of being in control of my daughter’s emotions. I can finally stop trying to bubble wrap each situation and focus on truly helping my daughter find peace.
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