The last few years have been very difficult for me. I have shared some things with some people, but few know everything. The main reason for my silence is shame. Deep shame. But I think shame is often associated with things because they are not discussed, which is why I have decided to share my own private hell with you today.
I have kept most of this to myself because I was afraid of being judged by other people. Judgement is unforgiving, and when you are a parent you are judged under a microscope by everyone – other parents, teachers, places of business, the public in general…everyone has opinions. I have always believed that the way a child behaves is a reflection on how they were parented. As a parent, I have made plenty of mistakes and I have not always known what to do. Luckily, I had an ideal childhood and my parents were the textbook example of good parents, so I had something to reference when I felt lost. Even so, I made mistakes.
I have relived every mistake I have made with my daughter in my mind countless times, trying to figure out what I did – or didn’t do – that led us to where we are today. My mother tells me that I should stop doing this because it will drive me crazy. Maybe she is right.
Right now, it’s almost 6:00pm on a Wednesday. My 15 ½ year old daughter climbed out of her bedroom window about two and a half hours ago. Just last night, I picked her up at a gas station and brought her home after she had been listed as missing for six days. (After 24 hours her status as a “runaway” changed to “missing” which terrified me when the police told me that.)
Last Thursday night, she snuck out of the house after I went to bed. At 2:30am I got a call from the police that she and a few friends had been caught trying to steal beer from a convenience store across town from where we live. Instead of waiting for me to come pick her up, the police took her to her father’s house, from where she promptly ran away. (Her father and her have a very strained relationship that has not been healthy for a long time, but that is a whole different story.) I got in my car and drove around looking for her until the sun came up then I went home. The police were looking for her and there wasn’t much more I could do. None of her friends that I know had seen or heard from her and I had no idea where she could be.
All day and night Friday I was a mess – distraught is probably the best word. Her friends were calling me to see if I had found her yet and they were getting worried, which worried me even more. I had an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. I could not eat or sleep, and I had a constant sick, nervous feeling in my stomach, and my eyes were so puffy from crying I could barely open them. The horrifying scenarios that run through your mind when your teenage daughter is missing are unspeakable.
Finally, on Saturday she contacted me and told me she was ok and would come home on Monday, but she wouldn’t tell me where she was or who she was with. I felt better having spoken to her, but I was still worried and upset. Monday came and went with no word from her. Tuesday night (last night) she called me from a blocked cell phone number and asked me if I could pick her up at a gas station across town. I brought her home and we talked for a little while and she went to bed. Last night was the first night I had slept for more than 3 hours at a time for six nights. When she got up today, we talked more about what she had done, and she was communicating with me and we were actually talking; it wasn’t me lecturing her and her arguing with me. I felt like it was a productive talk and that maybe we were making progress. Then a few hours later, she packed some things and snuck out of her bedroom window.
I felt good about our talks today because of everything we have been through for the last two years. When her freshman year of high school began, my daughter was pretty much a normal teenager. She talked back and never cleaned her room, but up to that point the only problems I had had with her were regular, age-appropriate problems that I was expecting and somewhat prepared for.
Everything changed her first year of high school. Immediately her grades were poor, and I’m sure every parent says this, but she really is very smart, she has always scored well above average in cognitive and academic areas. So, I knew her poor grades were a reflection of little to no effort on her part. I had meetings with teachers and the dean of students and arranged for her to get help in the areas she needed.
For a little while she seemed to be getting back on track, but then she began skipping school. One thing you should know about my daughter is that she is a sweet girl; I have known her all her life and she does have a good heart. But she has always felt a little left-out and has sought acceptance by her peers in any form she can get it. When high school began, she was accepted into a group of kids that skip school and drink and do drugs and run away from home. Most of these kids have lived hard lives – for real. I sometimes wonder if my daughter has behaved the way she has to emulate their lives so she fits in with them more.
Not only was her behavior at school deteriorating, so was her behavior at home. She started using profanities at me, she was blatantly disregarding the house rules, and she was becoming confrontational and even physical – throwing books at me or pushing me to keep me from entering her bedroom, etc., and I found out that she had been cutting herself. I tried to work on how I communicated (and reacted) to her, but over the next month her attitude and behavior only worsened, as did my reactions and handling of situations at times. She passed all the drug tests we gave her, we switched counselors when she said she didn’t feel comfortable with the one she had been seeing, the school liaison officer was keeping an extra eye on her at school for us – but things kept getting worse.
As I was nearing my wits end with her behavior, she started running away. It started with me going to pick her up from school one day, and she just never came out. I went into the school to see if she had to stay after for some reason, I drove around the school, and finally I called the police. The police talked with the school liaison officers – one of whom happens to be a childhood friend of my daughter’s father, and he was invaluable over the following months – and they told me they would look for her and that I should just go home and wait for her to turn up. She did turn up a few hours later, at a friend’s house; she had skipped her afternoon classes and was scared to tell me or come home because she thought she would be in trouble. The police picked her up and brought her home and I thought she had learned her lesson; she seemed regretful and apologetic. She got grounded and her phone was taken away for a few weeks and I was hopeful that life would get back to normal. But it didn’t. That was just the first time she ran away.
From September of last year to March of this year she ran away 13 times. She was suspended from school twice for behavioral infractions (mainly being blatantly disrespectful and disobedient to her teachers), and she was failing every class – even Art. We had talked to counselors, the school was going above and beyond to do whatever they could to help, we put her on a CHINS (Child in Need of Supervision) petition and had several meetings with the States Attorney’s Juvenile Diversion department. Finally, I made the heart-wrenching decision to put my daughter in a residential treatment facility for her behavior, so on March 21st I dropped her off. She had weekly sessions with a Clinical Therapist and group sessions, they did activities and she went to classes that gave her tools to deal with different things, and she also went to school there. She worked at her own pace in her school classes and quickly got caught up and even began some classes for her sophomore year over the summer, all with good grades. I went to classes they offered there and learned a lot about what I was doing wrong or needed to do more of, etc. I visited her twice a week and over the following months I really felt like there was a positive change taking shape. The facility agreed that she was excelling at all levels and that it was time for her to come home, so she came home on October 30th.
The first few days she was home she seemed depressed; she had grown close to the other kids at the treatment facility and she missed them, and she also felt unsure of her standing with the old friends she had before she went to treatment. But she went out on Halloween with a few friends and had a good time, she called and checked in with me on time, every time, and she was where she was supposed to be when it was time for me to pick her up. I felt like it was a successful first trust test and I was hopeful that she could have normal, happy teenage years and that the past was just that – the past. She and I were using the tools we had learned over the last several months and our communication is so much better. Other than a few normal teenage moments here and there, everything has been good and it has been enjoyable having her home. There haven’t been any major disruptions or problems and I had really high hopes. That’s the problem with hope, the more you have the more it hurts when it is crushed.
Eleven days after she came home she snuck out, got caught stealing beer and ran away for six days. She was home for one night and now she is gone again. I’m at a loss as to what to do. I can’t believe that after so many months of work we are back here, and I am back to calling all the numbers I wish I didn’t have memorized – police dispatch, the hospital, the States Attorney Juvenile Diversion department…I have spent the last week in a state of suspended anxiety and helplessness. Meanwhile, she is off doing what she wants with no regard for any consequences to her actions, for her and everyone else. Since she contacted me Saturday, I have waffled between being worried sick and pissed off. As I was sitting at home Monday, waiting all day and all night for her to come home, she was posting pictures of herself on social media with hickies all over her neck. Sometimes it seems like she doesn’t have a conscience.
I have asked her so many times over the last few years why she runs away. She always says she doesn’t know. While I am a far from perfect parent, she does have a good life. She has a nice home to live in, we have food in the fridge and she gets the clothes and books and make-up she wants. She has a family that loves her and supports and encourages her in what she wants. She did have a few good friends, friends that were a positive influence in her life, but since she has been caught stealing beer and is running away again a few of them have decided to cut ties with her because they don’t want that negativity in their lives and they don’t want to get into trouble themselves.
The last few years have been difficult not just because of all the things I have had to deal with, but also because of what it has taken out of me to deal with these things. I have neglected friendships and relationships, even my family. At times I have been very unreliable professionally, and I even had to quit a job last year when my daughter was beginning to spin out of control. It was a job I loved but it required long, and sometimes irregular, hours and it was just too much for me to handle with everything that was going on at home. Not only was a lot of my time spent searching for my daughter, even more of my time was spent worrying about her and being angry at myself for not being a better parent. So, as I was failing as a parent, I also felt like I was failing in all other aspects of my life.
When you become a mother, worry becomes your constant companion. From the first night you bring your baby home, you check to make sure they are breathing, when they are toddlers you watch over them so they don’t stumble and fall, as children you protect them from the horrors of the world, and as teenagers you try to guide them so they don’t make choices that could hurt them. Some things I have worried about that I knew I would, but the last few years I have worried about my daughter’s future on a fundamental level, and that is a terrifying place for a mother to be.
I don’t know how I would have made it through the last few years without my mom and my step-dad. They have been there with me and for my daughter every step of the way. They have given me advice and taken my daughter when I was in tears and could not take anymore. They have driven around in the middle of the night countless times helping me look for her. They have helped me make phone calls and appointments and do paperwork to get my daughter the help she needed. They have sat up and talked and listened and cried with me. Not only have they been there and done everything they can for me, they have for my daughter as well. From the day they found out I was pregnant they have loved this little girl and given so much of their time and themselves to her. I truly would not have made it through the last few years without my family (and a few good friends) and I am so grateful for their patience and guidance and strength.
Even though my daughter’s dad and his family live in the same town as we do, he and his family have been of minimal help over the years. Based on the respect and support his family has shown me, I can only imagine the things he has said to them about me and the entire situation. He has a knack for skewing the truth to fit his agenda and has never really taken responsibility for his words or actions when it comes to his daughter or myself. For years I actually believed him, that everything was my fault, and that he was right and knew what was best. When I sensed he was being manipulative or bullying me, I chalked it up to me being overly-sensitive. For years I took his crap and believed he was right. If even I believed him, I can’t really blame his family and friends for believing the things he says about me or our situation, or what he tells them about himself for that matter. It wasn’t until other people started noticing how he treated his daughter and me and them saying things to me that I realized maybe I wasn’t so wrong all of the time, or that maybe he wasn’t always so right. Other people have noticed how he treats us and they have said things to me, but nobody besides me has ever stood up and said something to him. Until last month. The week before my daughter was released from treatment, she, her dad and I had a meeting at the facility with the treatment team. At one point during the meeting, the program director interrupted my ex and told him to stop making such passive-aggressive, rude comments to both my daughter and myself. He got so angry he stormed out of the meeting. After he was gone and the counselor had taken my daughter (who was in tears by this point) out of the room, the director told me it was shocking that I was so used to the way he speaks to me that I didn’t even flinch, or realize how inappropriate his comments were. He has not even tried to speak to his daughter since that meeting. The only interaction they have had was when the police took her to his house instead of waiting for me to come get her after she got caught stealing beer, and he has refused to answer or return any of my phone calls. (He didn’t even call to tell me the police had brought her to his house or that she had run away. I found out because I was waiting for the police to call me back to tell me they were at the youth detention center for me to pick my daughter up, but it was taking too long so I called dispatch to find out what was going on. That’s when the police told me what had happened). I found out he is telling people that he is afraid to be around his daughter because he is scared she will falsely accuse him of abusing her, and I’m sure they believe him and even feel empathy for him.
I am not sharing all of this with you to gain attention or pity, I actually loathe both of those things. I am also not sharing this to get reassurances on my parenting – I am a very realistic person and I know exactly what my parenting failures and successes have been. I’m sharing all of this because I don’t think I am the only parent facing these challenges, yet nobody really talks about these things. We want people to think our families and our lives are the picture-perfect Instagram versions we show them. We don’t want to air our dirty laundry for the world to see. We don’t want to be judged. We already feel like failures, but we don’t want others to see us that way. There are no support groups for lost parents of out-of-control teenagers. So we agonize alone in our own private hell.