Dear Dr. Meg,
I heard the message today and just happens to be my prodigal daughters 16th birthday! But my situation is complicated. I remarried when she was just 4. I lost custody when she was 6, she was placed in foster home and 6 months later her dad got her and moved 800 miles away. At age 11 , I was able to negotiate with her dad to let her stay with me again, which she did for about 3 1/2 years. From age 13 to 14 she got into drugs, promiscuity and cutting. She would not want to do anything with us. I have two younger boys, and I also worked full time. My husband sometimes undermined my parenting and rules. He would either be very easy going or very rough and without a steady pattern. 1.5 years ago i reached my limit of disobedience, school truancy, lies, manipulations. Even thou I am brokenhearted to this day, I made her leave. I actually drove her about 500 miles to my brother and sister in law after she called the cops after an argument with my husband. Then two weeks later she called her dad and moved there. She begged me to come back but even thou I would die for her, i knew it wouldn’t last. My husband isn’t very emotional for her. I have to bear this pain alone. I miss her and love her yet I have limited finances available to do anything for her. I considered leaving my husband for her – but we have a 6 and an 8 year old boys, one of them with ADHD, and I wasnt sure I could manage. God help me. I am dying inside for her. Today for her 16th birthday I could only send her a little vase of flowers and a brown bear. She hates me and blames me for not leaving my husband. Well, thank you for reading this. God bless!!!
Response from Dr. Meeker:
I can hear your pain in your words and I do have a few extra thoughts for you.
First of all, never ,never, never give up on your daughter. You have a young girl who is acting out in terrible ways for many reasons and what she needs right now and over the next ten years is for you to show her that no matter what she can’t shake your love for her. She is testing everyone who says they care- you, her Dad and any other adult. So, take a deep breath and accept that her story isn’t written yet- it is being written and it has a long way to go. Imagine her as a healthy 25 year old and hold onto that picture. Too much to hope for? I don’t think so- God is enormous and He loves your little girl.
Second, take a step back from her and try to view her as a close friend or aunt would. This will help you see what’s going on a bit better. Your daughter is acting out- cutting, taking drugs, lying, etc.,- because she is completely confused about life. She has been moved around so much that she doesn’t know who she can trust and who she can’t. She is emotionally tied in knots. She feels abandoned, scared, angry and lonely. And unlike an adult, when a child or teen feels these feelings, they blame themselves for the trouble they’ve had. Yes, she gets angry at you and her father, but deep inside, she hates herself. She feels that if she were more loveable, then maybe all of these things in her past- your divorce, her father leaving, being in foster care, etc, wouldn’t have happened. Of course this isn’t true but you can’t convince her of that because her sense of inadequacy may be subconscious. So trying to help her see that she really is loveable and that none of the past troubles are her fault is useless right now.
Third, try to view her behavior as one giant test. She is asking you, “can you love me even though I’m a total jerk, Mom?” and your answer must always be the same, “Yes.” That doesn’t mean that you should put up with bad behavior, but it does mean that you need to keep channels of communication open and reach out to her with the same message. Let her know that she is welcome to live with you at any time, but there are a few (make a couple of simple rules, not a long list) rules that she must follow. Why? Because you love her enough not to let her destroy herself with drugs, lying, etc.
Fourth, DO NOT leave your husband. You see what this upset has done to your daughter , don’t put your sons through it! Children need their mothers and their fathers and the worst thing that you can do to your boys is take their father away. Your daughter wants you to leave him as part of her test that says “Mom, do you love me more than him? ” Your answer should show her that you will always love her differently, but that you can love both of them. She does not benefit from you choosing her over him. In fact, if he is a good guy, he could end up being a positive influence in her life one day.
Finally, find two or three women you trust and ask if they will commit to pray for your daughter regularly. You need women who won’t gossip or judge you. When you find them (every church has women who are prayer warriors) then ask specifically that God would soften her heart toward you and that she would see that she can behave well and heal at the same time. Ask that God would show her that she doesn’t need to live like this. I’m sure that a few women friends would be happy to commit to pray for your daughter one day a week for several months or whatever you choose. You will be amazed at what this simple act can do for your daughter.
In fact, if there are any women reading this now who will pray for this young girl, I ask you to join in right now. Would you be willing to reach out to this mother and help her? Write to her. Let’s see what God can do when mothers storm the heavens on behalf of one another.