I’ve been processing a story in my mind for more than a week trying to figure out how to put it on paper in less than two hundred words. I’ve accepted the fact that this is a three page story even in its most condensed telling. So I wasn’t going to write it, but then I spent some time reading some parenting blogs looking for advice and now I’m even more frustrated.
One blog promised, “You can feel more confident in your parenting by using the helpful advice from this article to better your skills.” Another one declared, “This blog from my colleague has some great parenting ideas.” I didn’t delve any further into these blogs, but I’d put money on the fact that the authors have children aged twelve and under. Small kids, small problems.
This story is about my eighteen year old, whom I’ll call Bri, short for Brianna. Even though the latest challenge happened about ten days ago, this story really began in her formative years, when she was witness to anger and violence on a near daily basis. She is the youngest of my children and, at that time, I naively believed she wouldn’t carry that baggage through life. I did my best to get us out of that trap as quickly as I could, but it took time. Eventually I got divorced and a couple of years later I began a healthy relationship, fell in love, and decided to try marriage again. We all moved to a new town and “lived happily ever after.” Not.
About four years ago, I started to see some changes in Bri’s behavior. Her grades at school started to slip and she started to hang out with a different crowd—one that had more boys than girls. They hung out at our house nearly all the time and, at first, my husband and I were okay with that—I could keep an eye on what was going on. But then movie nights turned into “all nighters” and kids were here 24/7 through the weekend. No parents called me to check in with these kids. I wanted to believe these kids were communicating with their parents by cell phone, but I remember wondering, where are the parents? I truly felt I had become a weekend sitter. Sunday night would come around and I had to take kids home just to get them out of my house! I wanted to speak to parents, but Bri was mortified. “Please don’t embarrass me. Just drop them off.”
Then money began to disappear. Small amounts at first. Five dollars were missing and I figured I’d spent it somewhere and had forgotten. Then my husband’s wallet was a bit lighter and another of my daughters said she couldn’t find the twenty dollars she had received as a gift. And about that time I discovered some vodka had been replaced with water. The house was in a lock down and no kids were allowed. My feet were firmly planted in the middle of Bitchy Parent Road.
And I stayed on that path for many months. It was exhausting, but I knew I had no choice. Bri would ask for something and I would say No before she even finished her sentence. It didn’t take long for her to despise me. She kept telling me I didn’t understand and I didn’t love her anymore. She called my husband and me horrible names, which only caused even greater friction. All that stress drove her right into the arms of a boy who she said loved her and understood her. I have to admit, I liked Roger. He had a sense of humor and nice manners and actually talked to me when he came over. But I didn’t like the choices Bri made when Roger was around. It took me a while, but I finally realized that she didn’t have any self-respect, she didn’t love herself, and she felt she only had value if Roger loved her.
While all of this turmoil was happening, the company I worked for was bought by another company and I lost my job. I was scared. It was the fall of 2008 when everything went to hell in a hurry. My husband and I were overwhelmed with financial worries, and I was spending all my time trying to find another job that I was too exhausted to do the serious parenting I needed to do. Every aspect of my life went into a downspin.
I knew I needed help and so did Bri. It took me a while but I convinced her to try counseling in the hopes that she could talk to another adult since she hated me so much. But that didn’t go too well. Bri went to the first counselor for about eight weeks and then stopped going because “she’s mean.” The second counselor lasted about six weeks. I took a different approach with the third counselor. Without Bri knowing, I engaged the third counselor on my own for a couple of sessions, explaining what was happening. The counselor agreed to meet with Bri and then touch base with me. Yes, it was totally unethical but I was desperate. And through this process I learned that Bri wasn’t being honest with the counselors. And after a few weeks her story would start to change and there were holes in the lies she had told. The counselors called her on it, which earned them the “mean” and “stupid” declarations. Bri refused to go to any more counselors and I just plain gave up.
During the summer of 2010, things deteriorated. Bri was completely reckless and irresponsible and Roger was showing up at our house drunk. These kids were only sixteen! I had picked up a temporary job so I wasn’t home during the day anymore, which gave Bri and Roger free reign of the house. Roger’s mom and I connected and shared our concerns. We tried to separate them, but that only led each kid to sneak out of the house in the middle of the night. Taking away privileges (car, computer) and “grounding” them only caused them to find more creative ways to get together. I started researching whether it was possible to have an addiction to a person. My daughter truly went into major meltdown and full-blown panic attacks when told she couldn’t spend time with Roger. To say it was a nightmare is an understatement.
Roger’s parents had more resolve (and more money) and decided to take a radical approach. They secretly made arrangements for Roger to get taken from his home in the middle of the night and deposited in a “boot camp” hundreds of miles away. No communication was allowed between them. She only knew he was alive and he would be back someday. He was gone for nine months and Bri pined for him every single day. She went into major depression and just went through the motions of each day. My husband thought it was behind us, but I knew the worst was yet to come.
Bri got word about a week before Roger was coming home, and she was floating on air. I tried to tell her his life had changed, he had changed, and she shouldn’t expect too much of him when he returned. We tried to explain to her that he would have different rules and his parents may not allow her to spend time with him. All of our words fell on deaf ears. And a few days later when Roger showed up at our house, Bri had a huge smile and all her problems melted away. I tried to engage Roger in a conversation, but his sense of humor was gone. He looked dazed and acted befuddled. I wondered if he was being medicated. Within two weeks, Roger was right back to his old ways—drugging and drinking—and he and Bri had a huge fight. It was apparent to us that he didn’t want Bri as his girlfriend anymore, but she desperately clung to his legs as he tried to leave our house. Screaming and hyperventilating at the same time, she begged him to stay. My husband and I broke them apart and sent Roger on his way. We took away her car keys so she couldn’t go after him. Bri was furious. We put her on suicide watch.
Ten days later, she had a new boyfriend. That lasted about a month. Then another boy came on the scene—James. His outward appearance told us we had much to be worried about. One of my older daughters said he looked like he was on meth. Dear God! I prayed that wasn’t the case. At first James didn’t interact with us at all, but over time he began to stop and pet the dogs when he came over and I could engage him in a short conversation. Then I got the two of them to join us for supper about once a week. It was a struggle for my husband and I to maintain a positive outlook on the whole situation, but I strongly believed I needed to keep communication lines open.
Through the process I discovered James had had a rotten childhood and was currently living in a tough situation. His parents had divorced when he was a young boy and his mother had full custody. A few years later she remarried, and the stepfather and James didn’t get along. Now a full-grown teenage boy, James had a little more strength to stand up to his stepfather. They got into arguments and physical fights. Each time, James’s mother took the stepfather’s side. Bri told me she heard the stepfather call James all kinds of derogatory names and regularly told James he was a pile of s – – – and would never amount to anything. Okay, even I know not to do that.
About a month ago, Bri’s relationship with James began to change. I don’t have the details, but know that James was acting as if he was jealous. The two of them began to argue almost daily. About ten days ago they had a big blowout at our house (I wasn’t home) and my husband asked James to leave. He did, and he went to his own house where he proceeded to get in a physical fight with his stepdad. The police were called and James was taken away to a place where troubled teens are evaluated and given a “plan.” James was there for five days. Bri knew of this place and knew the protocol and on the fifth day she expected to be able to see James. She tried calling him, his house, his mom. She was desperate to see him. She went to school the next day and found out his mom had transferred him to another school. She talked to some of his “guy” friends who told her James is locked in his room with no computer, no phone, and cannot have any interaction with anyone. Yesterday she heard through friends that last week James and his mother had gotten into a physical fight and the mother tried to strangle him. According to these friends, James reported it to teachers at his new school but nothing came of it. My husband and I know this to be hearsay, but our concern was elevated.
All weekend long, Bri has been on me to do something about this situation. Clearly she is in love with James—whether I like it or not. I can’t tell her to get over her feelings. But she’s furious that we won’t contact the parents to ask if she can talk to James and make sure he’s okay. She wants us to go over to his house and ask to see him to know he’s okay. She wants to sneak over there in the middle of the night and knock on his window just to talk to him.
My husband and I have said no to every one of her ideas. And I am scared she’s desperate enough to do something stupid. Her track record is to make more poor choices than good ones. I keep reminding her that she is now eighteen and she will be charged as an adult if she does anything that attracts the attention of the police. We’ve explained to her that being on their property is trespassing. But she’s young and invincible. “I won’t get caught.” I’ve suggested counseling, which caused her to lock herself in her room.
Last night I had a glass of wine before bed in the hopes that I could calm my nerves and get some sleep. It must have helped because I slept. But I can’t keep doing that every night. We’ve been hiding car keys when we go to bed to make it much more difficult for her to sneak out in the middle of the night. We’ve tried to talk through the consequences of any actions at this point, but her heart is aching and she knows only that she needs James to survive.
I tried to get a new counselor involved but was told that now that Bri is eighteen I basically have no rights. Bri will get counseling only if she chooses to. Well, I know where that is going. The last two weeks Bri didn’t go to school—all unexcused absences. She was too full of anxiety and afraid of having a panic attack in front of the other kids. She is supposed to graduate in June but that was already in jeopardy. She’s smart enough to know she’s ruined that chance now.
There comes a point in your child’s life when you have to let go and have to let natural consequences happen. Yet the parent in us still cares, still wants to protect. A child makes poor choices and you try to point out lessons learned and better choices to make in the future. But the fact is, this child is eighteen, an adult in the eyes of the law. I hate that I am so powerless to Bri making poor choices. I fear what will happen if she does something really stupid and ends up in the back seat of a police car. I pray…a lot. I don’t know what else a parent can do.