August 23, 2010 in Features

Mr. Dad: Mom must earn trust of daughter

Armin Brott
 

Dear Mr. Dad: I am a single mom of a 14-year-old daughter. Throughout much of her childhood I suffered from severe depression, which went undiagnosed until very recently.

I’m getting treatment now, and I’m feeling much better. However, my daughter thinks I was pretending to be sick all those years. That really hurts, but how do I explain to her what was really going on?

A: What a difficult situation for both of you. I get a sense from your letter that she either doesn’t know that you were depressed, or simply doesn’t understand what depression is. Or both.

As a result, she believes (mistakenly, of course) that depression isn’t a “real” illness and that it’s “all in your mind,” or something you should be able to just snap out of.

The very first thing to do is sit down with your daughter and explain to her that depression isn’t some kind of character flaw. It’s a real sickness, with real symptoms, and there’s absolutely nothing shameful about it, just as there’s nothing shameful about diabetes or cancer or heart disease.

If you need a little guidance for this conversation, the National Institute of Mental Health has an excellent pamphlet that you can download from its website at www.nimh.nih.gov.

Once you lay out all the facts, tell your daughter that you understand why she might feel that you essentially abandoned her for all those years.

Let her know that since your condition was undiagnosed for a long time, you didn’t fully understand what was happening, and you couldn’t get the help you needed.

Tell her about the symptoms you may have experienced, such as chronic fatigue, heart palpitations, panic attacks, inability to make decisions, feelings of hopelessness, constant sadness, and complete lack of motivation. Tell her that you’re being successfully treated now with medication, therapy or both, and would like to rebuild your relationship.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to make up for lost time but your teen daughter needs you in her life just as much now as she ever did. This is one of those situations where the old saw, “better late than never” is actually true.

This doesn’t mean life will be all rosy from here on out. Chances are it won’t. Your daughter may (justifiably) be resentful, suspicious, distrustful and angry, and might even rebel against having you back in her life after all these years.

And she may throw your depression back in your face. Expect comments like, “You must be off your meds.” So tread lightly and be patient. In her eyes, you’ll have to earn her trust.

Consider some family counseling to smooth out the transition for both of you.

Whatever happens, make sure that she knows you love her and that you’re in this for the long haul.

Find resources for fathers at www.mrdad.com


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