“Mom, I need to go to the doctor,” Sophia matter-of-factly stated. “Something isn’t right.” I didn’t spot the signs. Amidst the pandemic taking away her first real day of high school, her 14th birthday having just passed, and navigating new friends and classes remotely, I can say it would have seemed impossible to know. But I have been beating myself up for the not knowing, not seeing, and not being present to her. I am her mom. I am supposed to see and know before she does.
She revealed she had lost 15 pounds off of her already small frame. She was crying daily and struggling to understand why. Her migraines had been intensifying in frequency. I knew, but I didn’t know. Shame washed over me as I tried to justify – big baggy sweatshirts were the trend, she wasn’t talking to me and when she did it was full of sass and snark, so I thought best to leave it for now. She was a new teenager after all.
After the doctor’s appointment and testing confirmed depression and anxiety, I was tasked with setting up counseling and filling a prescription. Luckily due to my occupation I knew the perfect counselor for Sophia.
She was nervous as we drove to the first appointment. Truthfully so was I. Would they find out I was a bad mom? Would the counselor admonish me for not seeing her struggles sooner? Was it all because I got divorced 10 years earlier and I really had wrecked my children as a result?
In the months since this first appointment and with the support of a mild anti-depressant, Sophia is a changed girl. She talks to me every day – really talks to me. She even calls me when she is at her dad’s house to tell me about her day. She calls my mom weekly and spends a good half hour chattering away. Her grades have sky-rocketed upward. Her time is no longer spent holed up in her room – but at least half of the time she is in the rest of the house with her sister and me.
She tells me about her sessions with Jack. Not only does she adore him – she openly and freely confides everything to him. They talk frequently about her parents being divorced. She tiptoes a little around me at first to let me know – but then ultimately tells me all that she is processing.
For many years, we didn’t talk about the divorce in our house. It was the proverbial elephant in the room, in the car, on vacation, in our family pictures… I was afraid to talk about it. I was afraid to shine light on a situation that I didn’t know yet what the full impact on their young hearts would be. Instead, I gave great weight to the signs that they did well in school, had friends, and seemed happy – only to find out, ten years later, that ignoring it didn’t lessen their need to process.
To do it over, I would have sought counseling for my children earlier. I wouldn’t have just crossed my fingers and focused only on the happy parts. I would have taken the advice I give to many clients – get a counselor for you and another one for your children. I would have been braver in knowing that we would need support in the separation of our family. I would have had the courage to be like my daughter and would have seen like Sophia.