Tough Decisions; With Love

A few months ago, I made the decision to keep the girls home, and in distance learning for the school year, because of the pandemic.

I still 100% stand by this, and think if everyone had done this, along with a few other rather simple things (like wear their damn masks, and stick to their household), we wouldn’t be starting a second wave lock-down right now.

However, during the pandemic, which started back in February for us, the mental health of my 10 year old, K, has significantly deteriorated. She is now depressed, has suicidal ideation, and we have a very strained relationship.

Being completely honest, we have had a bit of a strained relationship basically since C came into the picture. She was an only child for 6 years and still hasn’t adjusted well to having a sister. I will not make excuses for that though, like other people have for her. I don’t really believe in this “only child” syndrome thing, that basically excuses children from accepting their siblings. Maybe that is harsh, maybe it isn’t.

A few months ago, I found a notebook of my oldest daughters that threw us all for a loop. She talked about how she wanted to die. She felt like she was a burden to me, to everyone. She felt unloved, worthless, helpless, hopeless. She said she was a germ.

Immediately, I sprang into action. I got her set up with a trauma counsellor. I removed all the additional virtual extracurricular activities off her schedule. I kept her with her in-person Girl Guide’s, and her Big Sister (from the region’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program).

Soon, both of those in-person programs also turned virtual, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t make her feel better. The damage was done.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, my daughter met with my CAS worker (voluntary services; I called them for support and resources during the pandemic) and told her that she “doesn’t feel safe” here, and that she “must move in with her grandmother”. We both thought the wording was odd, and I decided to investigate. Turns out the woman who birthed me has been conspiring with my 10 year old, to get her to move out of my home and into hers. Excuse me? (To clarify, there are NO protection concerns with my children, so they are 100% safe here. In fact, I can close my own file and end partnership at any time.)

When bringing this forward to my “mother”, she responded with hate and malice. Telling me it must kill me to know that my child would rather live with her and has for years. Realistically, isn’t this how all kids are? Kids want to go live with their friends because Susie’s mom bakes every night. Kids want to live with their dads, because every other weekend isn’t enough. Kids want to live with someone else, because they got in trouble. Is that really something to hold over my head? She also berated me on my lack of parenting skills.

Growing up in a toxic environment didn’t give me the parenting skills I required. In fact, I was becoming more and more like my own mother every day. I know this, and have been working with community supports for years to try to get better.

No, I am not blaming my mother, I am simply stating that there is a cycle of abuse, and it is very hard to break the cycle. My mother was abused. I was abused. I have spent the last almost 11 years trying not to follow the same path with my own children.

In fact, the only positive parenting skills I did learn were from my mother’s best friend and her husband. Naturally, I made them the Godparent’s of both my children. I grew up babysitting for them. As a babysitter, you follow the rules set out by the parents to ensure their children are receiving the same care they would get if the parent was home. They gave me many chances when I made mistakes.

As an adult, these two have supported me and my children in many ways. They put our best interests first, and that can’t be said about anyone else in our lives. (No blame or shame to my friends, of course, you have your own lives and families that need to come first)

So naturally, when I called them about K, they immediately offered her a place to go. A place where she can thrive. A place where she is loved unconditionally. A place where she can heal. A place where she has around the clock support and attention. A place where she can get all the things she needs to fill her cup.

Think of parenting as filling a cup. When you send your child off into the world for the first time, you want them to have a full cup. This cup should be filled with love, success, pride, skills, abilities, etc. You spend their entire childhood making decisions that either takes away from their cup or fills it up. Most of the time you don’t get to know what the decision does to their cup, until after you have already made it. That is scary isn’t it? Not knowing if what you are doing will benefit them years down the road? Yikes. Not to mention, this cup is metaphorical. How are you supposed to fill the cup, when you can’t see the cup?

The hardest part of parenting is that there is no rule book. There aren’t any instruction manuals. You cannot unplug and plug back in to fix the glitches. Every decision you make impacts the cup – positive or negative.

Coming back to the pandemic, choosing whether to keep your children home or sending them back to school, impacts their cup. For some kids, staying home filled their cup. For some kids, going to school filled their cup. The issue is the kids weren’t making the decision, the parents were. Some kids had no choice because their parents need to work. Some kids, like mine, had no choice because there was more concern over physical health than mental health.

In my personal opinion, I felt that mental health could be fixed with counselling whereas physical health may not be fixable. (I mean, if you die, you die.. can’t fix that)

This is where I went wrong with K, who is already very emotionally charged and sensitive. She needed to be in-person for school.

At first, she thrived online. She was doing really well. Until she got comfortable. Until I stopped becoming involved in her schooling. She started wasting class time to sit and watch YouTube videos or play games on the laptop all day. Her mid-term report card was her worst one yet out of the 7 years she has been in school already. My regular B-student is now close to failing.

The decision to allow my firstborn child to move out, at just 10, did not come lightly. In fact, you can ask my closest female friend, as she sat on my couch for 24 hours listening to the inner workings of my brain. Poor girl, what a scary place.

At this time, she pointed out that I mentally checked out back in April 2019 when my best friend (and soul mate) passed away. She isn’t wrong, although I hadn’t pinpointed it like she did.

I had lost the joy in parenting. I was giving them their basic needs, of course and there was no neglect. However, it was obligatory parenting only. I was required to feed them, clothe them, clean them.. I was not required to bake cookies, do crafts, etc. In turn, I had given K a parenting role, which I should have never done. I know that. K is a very good helper around the house and with her sister, even if she doesn’t want to. I know now that it was because she was afraid of being in trouble. K was doing more around the house than I was and was even doing more with C than I was.

After many hours of self-realization, I came to the conclusion that I am the one hurting K’s mental health. That I need much more help than I realized. That the once in a while counselling isn’t enough.

I have signed up for parenting classes. I am researching group programs for trauma, abuse, and grief. I have set up times on my phone, where the notifications shut off so I can focus on these things as well as my time with C.

I spent most of my teenage years and all of my adult years hating my mother for giving me away. She didn’t want to deal with me, so she put me in foster home after foster home. Am I doing the same thing? According to my friend, this is different. She is right.

Firstly, I let K make the decision, if she wanted to stay here or if she wanted to go to her Godparents house. She chose to go.

Secondly, I am allowing her to go, because I love her. I love her enough to let her get better in any way she needs – and right now, she needs to be away from me and her sister. Right now, she needs her own space. This is very different than what my mother did to me. My mother gave me away out of convenience.

K will be continuing her trauma counselling, picking up horseback riding lessons, continuing Girl Guides, switching to in-person learning, and many other things. When she moves, she will get the life that I always wanted and hoped for.

Now, this is a temporary situation, at this time. The agreement is to last from January 1st until the end of the school year, and at that time, the 3 adults involved will sit down and make a decision based on her best interests. Of course, she is welcome to come home at this time, however, if she really is thriving up there the way we think she will, then she will stay. She already has friends up there who will have her back and the amount of family she has up there will be wonderful for her. She will have a huge support system in place.

The biggest stipulation of this arrangement is that this isn’t an “I’m mad at mommy, so I am moving out” thing. This is to give her, her best chance. So with that, she has agreed that we need to work on our relationship, as much as I do. While I am taking parenting classes and learning how to rebuild the bond, she must also work at it with me. We will do virtual family counselling sessions. We will communicate daily. We will have virtual movie nights and game nights. We will also see each other roughly once a month.

This was not an easy decision.

I am hurt. I am sad. I feel betrayed.

I am also relieved. Relieved that my daughter has the opportunity for change. Relief that I have the opportunity to change.

I am also happy. Happy that we will not turn out the way my mother and I have turned out. This is our biggest fear, and we get to fix that.

My biggest request is that you give us time to work with our new situation.

Negative comments will not only be deleted, but met with wrath.

Published by S.M. Phoenix

I am a Canadian, single mom of two girls, who writes.

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