I remember so clearly my older daughter’s 6-year well visit at the pediatrician… “What do you mean you’re still selecting your daughter’s clothes every morning, mom?!” She said to me, making me realize that I was still controlling something so basic that if I let her decide, would give my daughter an important feeling of control and independence. This epiphany 17 years ago has occurred throughout my career as a mother, but none so poignant as when I realized I was mothering my two young adult daughters as though they were still ten years old…
It’s funny how realizations like this require a bonk on the head – like a pediatrician looking at you like you’re nuts! This time, it required almost losing my younger daughter to the complications of mental illness.
When she was 17, she started exhibiting signs of depression and anxiety that progressed and grew. At 19, we didn’t know if she would survive. We thought we were doing the right thing by being in control of her health plan, but I can see now that she was regressing emotionally, feeling like a victim, like things were happening to her and it was all out of her control. We were moving forward with certain approaches, certain doctors, certain next steps; Without her asking for our advice we were stepping in and wrenching control, actually discouraging her from leading her own recovery process.
My daughter’s brilliant psychiatrist (who is so much more than a meds manager) coached us and encouraged us to rethink the approach. With her help, we stopped stepping in and the outcome was truly miraculous… by allowing her the space to make decisions, we were no longer enabling our daughter and holding her back. We were empowering her to take control of her own recovery, and her own life. It was amazing to watch and experience, and I love to imagine what this must have been like for her…Suddenly she could try on young adult and play with the fit. Some days are better than others but she can now succeed or fail, and feel responsible. I wait to be invited into a conversation or decision-making process before offering my thoughts; And when I am asked my advice, I check in on her ideas first. I always let her know that we’re here to help and talk things through, but let her take the lead. This strategy resulted in a year of growth and strengthening and eventually, to her taking the reigns and applying for college. She finished the entire application in a week and was really good about letting us know when she needed help. We dropped her off at college right after Labor Day.
This learning has carried over to our relationship with our other daughter and the result has been equally wonderful, and has strengthened our relationship beyond measure. It isn’t always easy and requires a lot of thinking before saying or doing! But I have grown into this new role of mother of young adults, and I wouldn’t go back to “picking out outfits” for anything.