Parenting "hard children" and making hard decisions

I've had a few conversations in the past week or so with another adoptive mother who is struggling to raise a teen with several severe emotional and psychological issues.  The mother, in our most recent conversation, was trying to come up with a plan for her child, who was expressing suicidal thoughts.

My suggestion to the mother was that she seek hospitalization for her child, get the child medically stabilized, and then call a mental health professional I know personally who treats traumatized children and teens.  The mother was reluctant, as she said her child had "bad side effects" from medication tried before, and she wasn't sure she could "get her teen" to agree to the plan, and didn't think her child would "like" being hospitalized.

My response:  "I am sure it's hard.  You know, chemotherapy has horrible side effects, but if my child had cancer, and I was trying to save her life, that would be the choice I'd make.  You're in this battle to save your child's life.  You'll have to say, 'This is the plan.  It's going to be hard, and you may not like it. I'll be with you every step of the way, though, and it's the plan we're going to make.' "

Dear Husband and I have had to make many (too many!) hard decisions, parenting special needs kids.  Some of those decisions have been universally disliked, but necessary.  There is no fun, let me tell you, in dragging a kid to weekly psychology sessions where someone is holding them accountable for their actions.  It's not any fun to see your child hand-cuffed and let away by a sheriff's deputy.  Making plans around medication schedules is not pleasant.

We do it anyway.

None of these decisions have been lightly or without prayer and strong spiritual guidance.  We also have always wanted to think long-term:  we are raising adults, after all, not children.  What lessons do we want them to learn?  What is most important for them, spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally, in the "long-haul"?  Sometimes that dose of bitter medicine in the here-and-now will relieve them of dire and deadly consequences down the road. 

We know, as Catholics, that we must discipline ourselves spiritually in order to grow closer to God.  We fast, we pray, we take part in the Sacraments.  We want to sleep in on Sunday:  we go to Mass anyway.  We want to indulge in just "one more drink": we choose a bottle of water instead.  We turn down an invitation to go out with a friend or colleague because we sense it might lead to an improper situation.  We give up the fun, we postpone a gratification, we do the hard, and we make progress.

That is what parenting the "hard" kids is about.  (Oh, for Heaven's sake, it's not all gloom and doom: we laugh and play, too!)  We know there are harsh side effects, but we choose the medication anyway, knowing that our child requires it.  It's a matter of life and death, health and sickness, good and evil.  And we pray to Almighty God for guidance, because more than anyone, He has our child's best interest in His heart.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
on your own intelligence do not rely;
In all your ways be mindful of him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes,
fear the LORD and turn away from evil;
This will mean health for your flesh
and vigor for your bones. -Proverbs 3:5-8


  1. You write, "We know there are harsh side effects, but we choose the medication anyway, knowing that our child requires it."

    Couldn't you have said the same thing about choosing Plan B?

    While I deplore the language they used, I agree with the commentators who believe that, by being willing to force your daughter to have her rapist's baby, you are treating her less like a person and more like a symbol for your beliefs, a walking gold star to attest to your righteousness, with little regard to her life: what a pregnancy would do to her, how going off her meds would harm her.

    As you said above, being a parent means making the best choices for our children, even if it's a sacrifice for us as their moms. It means putting their well-being ahead of our own. It means choosing what is right over what is easy. Using Plan B might have been hard for you. It might have felt like a violation of everything you believe...but it might have been the best thing, the right thing, for your daughter.

    Finally, I was appalled at the smugness and snark with which you described the physicial aspects of the place where you found your daughter, and the people who cared for her. Gloria Steinem fought so that no woman could be forced into motherhood: not by a rapist, or an abusive husband, or a zealous mother. She fought so that all women could have that right and make their own choices: even women who'd roll their eyes at the very mention of her name. That room, with its hoop-skirted ladies, old magazines and smell of flop sweat, was there for your daughter when she needed shelter and comfort. So were the people who worked at what you found such a horrible laughable place, and I'd bet, if they're anything like the people I know who work at clinics and shelters like the one you described, they treated your daughter with kindness and respect. They deserve your gratitude, not your scorn.

  2. Um, I consider death to a pre-born child more than a "harsh side effect". And yes, Plan B, like many other contraceptives, is an abortifacient. It allows for conception to occur, but does not allow for a fertilized embryo (or human, if you will) to implant in the uterine wall.

  3. I get it. Plan B kills babies. Contraception kills babies. Every sperm is sacred, and I should probably be weeping over some masturbating teenager holed up with his Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue instead of reading your blog and worrying about your daughter.

    Interesting that you have no comment on what a pregnancy might do to your post-born daughter, who has already endured a rape...and, still, no love for the people who helped her.

    Do you think it's possible that God, in His infinite wisdom, allowed drugs like Plan B to be invented specifically for cases like your daughter's...for young women who'd be irreparably harmed by going through a pregnancy? Or is the Bad Guy in charge of R and D?

    Finally, your attitude about the people who helped your girl is elitist and abhorrent. Limp magazines! (Because obviously, they should be spending their money on only the most current publications). Smell of flop sweat! (As opposed to the delicious odors normally exuded by rape victims). Gloria Steinem's name on the wall! (I can't even). You should have marched/carried your child right out of there and down to the nearest Crisis Pregnancy Center. I'm sure they could have helped her out, too. (Actually, now that I think of it, where *was* that crisis pregnancy center when your child needed help?)

    In fact, I'd appreciate it if you could publish the name of this terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad place that gave your daughter medical care and attention when she needed it. I'd like to make a donation and let them know that many of us appreciate the work they do, and the kindness they show to strangers, even if the strangers' parents do not.

  4. Dear Jennifer, thanks for the comments. I do believe that humans are created with free will - meaning we are free to choose good OR evil. So, we can indeed create bad things, like gas chambers, weapons that kill innocent civilians, and instruments of torture. Just because we can create something, doesn't automatically make it good.

    And if you care to re-read that post again, I NEVER said anything negative about the staff. They were professional and empathetic. The magazines were limp, like those in a thousand other waiting rooms, and it smelled like flop sweat because I was sweating terribly, as I imagine many other loved ones have done in that same situation.

    You know, if those of you who support the contraceptive and abortive causes wish to win more people over, I might suggest you try honey rather than vinegar. I am not going to change my mind because people are flooding my inbox with caustic, hateful, raging remarks. It makes your cause sound like a bunch of screaming, raging hateful folks. I have received only one calm and reasoned response from the pro-choice and hundreds of mean-spirited and evil ones. The rest have wished evil upon me and/or my family. That is supposed to make me change my mind?


I love comments, even if you don't agree, but please don't leave anonymous posts. A well-mannered reader leaves a name!

What To Do When There Is Nothing Left To Do

Being a human is ...  messy. Our relationships with loved ones get strained, we get angry or upset, we say stuff we shouldn't .... We ...