I have two friends. Each of us has a daughter near the same age. Each daughter has spent time in an extended care facility because of suicidal depression brought on by bullying and other childhood traumas.
And today those young ladies are alive.
I don't know what the rest of their lives will bring. As parents, none of us will enjoy retirement--those funds, carefully put away to provide for us when Social Security will bring in an income that places us in poverty, have gone to pay for the $10,000+ per month price necessary to keep our daughters alive. I was able to procure help from the church when we were sunk so deeply in debt that we had no other option, but even that came with an extremely high emotional cost as Tabitha was required to endure more testing and interviews with people who wouldn't accept the years of medical records as evidence that she was in dire need. And for awhile there was talk of rescinding the funds after two months because that was determined to be the amount of time necessary for her to become whole. Had the funding been rescinded, I have no doubt that Tabitha would not be alive today. It was only after twice that amount of time that she was able to divulge to her therapist that she had been molested by my brother.
I spoke with my friends recently. None of us cried. No one bemoaned the lengthy, agonizing, horribly painful days of wondering how to care for our distressed daughters. No one talked about the emotional toll the experience had taken or how we still deal with our own extreme anxiety.
My daughter was present during the visit. We watched her talking, smiling, just being beautiful.
My two friends and I have nothing to offer one another. We are completely spent. Only understanding and sympathy remain and we feel dreadfully, incredibly old and tired. Our husbands stood next to us, sharing their own brand of exhausted empathy.
So we smiled and laughed a bit because what else can you do? Then we talked about how people ask about our daughters and we smile proudly and tell about how they've been working so hard to get better--and they ARE better--and we're very glad for that. But no one asks about us. No one wonders how we survived trying to support and help our daughters as they cut themselves up and tried to kill themselves. No one talks about our nights of wondering what we did wrong, or begging for help from a family member who told us everything was fine--she was just a difficult teen, or being so exhausted we wished for our own lives to end.
The final truth is that our daughters are alive--and they will continue their lives in a society that is sick and decayed. One in which children are allowed to brutally batter each other physically and verbally and emotionally until they finally end their lives before they've lived even two decades. One in which adults use children sexually and then discard them, and sometimes the children use other children in the same way because they don't know how else to express the anger and frustration and confusion and pain. One in which, statistically, our daughters' daughters (and maybe their sons) will be bullied or raped or harmed in some other way by people who should be protecting them and helping them learn to become healthy, well-adjusted adults. And no matter how much people like me try to keep that from happening, in the end, unless we keep those children with us 24/7--nothing is 100% preventable. And it is healthy for no person to be in such an overprotected situation.
I don't know what to do with that truth.
My blog is now read by my dear friend, Ambrosia, and two Google bots, so what I say next will reach none but them. But maybe Brozy will tell someone who will tell another. And maybe the Google bots will find one person browsing blogs who will read this and share it with someone else--so I will write the following words today and hope they will help someone:
Take care of your children as if they are the most precious gifts you have ever been given.
Cherish the moments when they try your patience and have embarrassing tantrums in the store and scream every time you strap them into their car seats.
Remember that you don't know everything about the lives of family members and trusted friends. Check on your children frequently, even when you believe they are safe.
Teach your children that you are strong and that nothing they tell you will hurt you--even if someone scary threatens you or them if they tell. Teach your children that you can protect them. Help them understand that if someone does something to harm them, the first thing they must do is tell you, and if/when they do, make certain they understand the steps you are taking to remedy the situation and make them a part of it. If the event was traumatic, don't be silent. Remind them regularly that the danger is past and that they are safe. Don't ever let them forget that you are there for them.
Tell your children daily that you love them. Hug them. Read to them. Give them snacks. Make sure some of those snacks have chocolate in them.
Take your children outside. Show them the grass, butterflies, make pictures with the clouds. Talk about the good things bugs do. Help them see each unique snowflake shape. Climb trees and roll down hills with them. Sing songs and teach them poetry.
Make cookies with your children and let them eat some of the dough because that's the best part--especially at the beginning before the flour is put in, when it's just brown sugar and butter and vanilla.
Let your children know that you appreciate them. Help them make good choices, set healthy boundaries, and deal positively with disappointment. Celebrate who they are and look forward to who they are becoming. Give them age-appropriate chores and responsibilities. Help them learn self-esteem as they learn to care for themselves independently.
I know. Who am I to dish out advice? My daughter lives in an extended care facility, so clearly I am not the world's success story when it comes to parenting. But I have one more tidbit left to impart.
Understand when a situation has exceeded your ability to provide help and support. Recognize that sometimes things happen that are beyond your control. Believe that you must always do what is best for you and your child, even if that means allowing someone else to teach her the things you wish you could teach her yourself. Let her go, even if you miss her like crazy--because that might make the difference between her life or her death.
Finally, before passing judgement on another parent, reach out a hand to help. You never know. You might be giving them hope when they believed none was left. You might be allowing them to rest for just a moment. You might be allowing that parent to remember they're human and sometimes bad things happen, but they're not alone.