***Welcome to my newly reformed Parenting Grail. I want to open this space to discuss the REALNESS of parenting in real time. I hope that my experiences help others not feel so alone in the parenting abyss, because, dammmn. It's rough out here.***
Early evening, Sunday, I stood arguing with my teenage daughter over the house key I asked her to surrender, and she refused. Instead, she chose to run into the backyard, stand on our hammock, and scale the wooden fence. Nothing quite screams ‘parenting failure’ than having a child vault shoe-less into a glass littered alley.
I wanted the key because I officially asked my daughter to leave my home that afternoon. We’ve been doing a dance of her not wanting to follow a contract I constructed outlining rules and consequences. She would come home a week, break multiple rules, tire of being accountable, and leave to stay with friends where she had the freedom she craved. The blame would be placed on me for kicking her out when a more accurate account is that she just didn’t want to have to answer to someone else. There were arguments over power dynamics constantly: she felt I was controlling, and I felt she was a hot fucking mess. Her grades slipped dangerously low. I received an email from a teacher than she was in danger of failing a class. She missed a combined 20+ individual classes in this semester alone. With dance, she was showing up seemingly based on whether she felt like it or not. She had dropped two dance classes I had paid for at her studio without informing me.
The last incident involved her and her brother locking themselves out of the house and deciding, when I wouldn’t drop my life to rush to their aid (it was the third time that month), to break my front window to get inside. They then proceeded to lie to me and tell me they had found a key in his jacket pocket. As a result, I made them pay for the repair, which my daughter balked at having to be responsible for.
She had just been home less than a week at this point after having been gone a week and a half prior after the window. During this time, she made sure to repeatedly tell me that she didn’t trust me, didn’t love me anymore, and wanted nothing to do with me, sometimes yelling at me, maybe calling me a bitch, and overall speaking with borderline cruelty. No one knows how to gut you with the finesse that teenagers possess. Tension in the house was awful and I constantly felt anxious around her. After my ten-year old got in the mix and came to my defense one evening, chastising her for calling me the ‘b’ word and speaking to me disrespectfully, she didn’t come home the next night, claiming her therapist felt she could use ‘a break’. When I stated that her therapist wasn’t her guardian, she replied that at least she cared more about her mental health than I did.
Yet, she still needed and expected me to pay for her passport for her trip to Africa. After talking with her counselors at school, I conceded that I would allow her to go on the excursion, despite not wanting to reward the chaos I had come to expect. I felt desperate for something that might give her perspective. But, I also made it crystal clear, in writing, that if she chose to do anything illegal or found herself in legal trouble due to poor choices while on the trip, that I would not be responsible for her behavior. Essentially, she would truly be on her own in every sense when travelling.
While home that week, I confiscated a glass pipe that she left in the middle of her floor, and a bag of weed that she left in the open in her backpack, visible and giving off a noxious odor that was impossible to ignore. One of my highest valued rules is no drugs or paraphernalia in the house, especially when her younger siblings are present. Always, it’s someone else’s bag, or pipe, or vaping liquid. Or she’s not really ‘high’, just ‘tired’. And always, I am not naïve and stupid enough to believe the multitude of excuses.
And then Mother’s Day came. I had to go into work with the younger kids for a couple of hours, and when I returned, I discovered my safe had been broken into with a bobby pin, something I know my daughter mastered from an evening when she repeatedly broke into my bedroom with the same tool after I confiscated her cell phone. The drugs were gone, the safe door left wide open. It’s where I keep every important legal document we own, as well as a myriad of items that I feel I should be able to have a private space to keep. I hit a wall of fury so fast and hard that the torrent of swear words ran out of mouth before I could take a second to think about my younger children sitting downstairs. My younger son ran up, instantly worried. I crumbled into a ball on the floor and lost my collective shit.
We had stopped home on the way to a friend’s house. I managed to relock the safe even though it seemed it might not be functioning properly, and decided to stop at my son’s work to see if he had any knowledge of this. He could see the anger on my face as soon as I approached the glass door and wiggled my finger in a come-hither motion. Cautiously, he stepped outside, and I asked if he knew where his sister was, and he replied with the name of a mutual friend, but didn’t know the address. I asked if he had anything to do with the safe and he said he had been at work for a few hours. I left in a tizzy, messaging my daughter that she would need to leave that evening.
We went to the gathering, and I spent the afternoon discussing the situation with a close friend who has had her own experiences with addiction and family. It felt reassuring to hear from someone else that I had the right to stand my ground, and I should. It is so hard when you are in the thick of such situations to not feel a sense of desperation and insecurity. I question every decision, and its legality. Is this too harsh? Too rigid? At what point do you draw the definitive line in the sand? Am I being a shitty parent by wanting my daughter to choose sobriety, and asking her to leave?
When we got home, she was in the house, and I made it clear she needed to phone a friend and pack some belongings. On the table sat a pile of papers for her trip that she was supposed to scan two days prior and had blown off to do something else. Deadlines no longer seemed to mean anything to her. I’m wasn’t even sure the trip meant anything anymore. I told her she would be on her own to get a plane or bus ticket to Denver, where her international flight would be departing from. I had planned on buying the ticket this week, but I also knew that her biological father had wired her money, which she was squandering on fast food and drugs. I figured it would do her good to assume some responsibility and invest in something she wanted. It taken over a month for her to get her shit together to apply for the passport, and all I had asked her to contribute was the list of documents I needed to furnish, which she produced the evening before the appointment, after I had rescheduled at least 7 times.
Then I asked for the key, and an argument ensued, with her flat out refusing to hand it to me. I blocked the entrance to the front door, and my daughter made a beeline for the patio doors, and into our small backyard she sprinted. I watched my 16-year-old climb and vault over a rickety wooden fence in socks (I think she left her shoes behind), and felt a part of that relationship die in a way that it could never be recovered.
I’ve learned more than I could have ever anticipated from this ordeal. You can love people from the depth of your soul but that all doesn’t mean a thing when someone is high. Drugs are powerful incentives to manipulate, lie, and twist the truth to one’s advantage. I’ve awakened to the knowledge that my family has a history of suppressing addiction in ways that have been detrimental and unhealthy without my ever recognizing it. I never wanted the strength to tell someone I love that they face homelessness due to their behavior, but it is something I now own, possess, and manage. It is a double-edged sword of guilt and resolve. I have absolutely no control over how any of this will turn out, and that is utterly terrifying. I worry about my daughter’s health and well-being constantly, and I feel enormous guilt that I can’t be there for her, because she’s not really ‘there’. She hasn’t been ‘present’ for a while, and I must constantly remind myself of that fact. And I miss ‘her’ tremendously, and long for the times before drugs became an issue, and for the girl she used to be. I don’t know if I will ever see her again, and the thought of that crushes my heart.
It’s been hard to watch my younger children experience pain and fear parallel to my own. Every time I pick them up, my son asks if his brother and sister are living at home, and my daughter told me tonight that every time her sister leaves she can feel the crack in her heart. They miss her, but I also know that they too recognize the shift and difference in behavior and well-being. It’s like trying to love a ghost in real time. You can reach for them, but they slip through your fingers, nothing but an illusion of what you used to know.
All of this makes the future so unsettling and unsure. Yet, I can’t put my life on hold while she sorts out whatever this journey she has chosen for herself is here to teach her. I can’t stay home from work daily to make sure she makes it to school on time, be there to make sure she doesn’t have people in the house, or isn’t using when I’m not home. I’m her mother, but not her keeper. At the age of 16, there is enough understanding of self-responsibility that I believe she is capable of navigating many of these choices and bearing the accountability of her choices. My policy had been to keep the door open if she chose to come home and abide by my boundaries. But now, that door has shut for the time being, and I will have to adjust to the notion that until she makes the choice to be sober, with a willingness to live respectfully, that I may have to live without her in my life in the same way. I wish I could describe that kind of pain: losing a child when they are still breathing, as if they have died metaphorically. It’s a crushing, soul stinging kind of hurt, and there’s nothing that can prepare a parent to watch a child become a shell of herself as she slowly trades her best attributes to the seductive power of getting high.
I sat looking at a photo of her and her brother the other day, and I realized that of all my children, she is the one that I have, in certain ways, known the least. I don’t remember when she was conceived, as I do my other children, as I didn’t know of her existence until I was 6 months pregnant. It was a brief honeymoon of preparing for her because they were born 5 weeks early. She has always been a bit more of an enigma, and private, and I have tried to respect her need to be that way. I named her after one of the strongest, female, literary characters I could find. But it kills me inside that in my effort to give her such autonomy and strength, I likely missed the silent suffering she has borne, and that has contributed to her turning to substances to grant her relief. Looking back, I’m sure there were subtle signs, but I always trusted her, and I feel an enormous sense of regret that I didn’t do more, even if I don’t know what that ‘more’ could possibly be. And that failure as a parent weighs on me daily, the heaviness in my chest mine to bear alone.
In the meantime, I think of her daily. I send her love, and affirmations, which is the closest I come to prayer. I wonder where she’s staying, and if she feels safe. I think she believes I hate her, but she has no concept of the depth of my love. There is an unconditional ocean of affection I will always feel for her. But I also know that if I swim in those waters right now, I might drown in its turmoil, because the undertow of addiction can pull me under too. And not only would that be an even greater failure than the one I already feel, it would do nothing to help her navigate toward an understanding of responsibility and maturity. So, I continue to stand on the shore, watching the waves, longing to dive, wishing for the waters to calm, waiting for ‘her’ return, if she makes that choice.