Letters from Mothers
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This morning, my 16-year-old stepdaughter stopped by the family room to say good-bye before she went off to work. We exchanged pleasantries, she talked about her day's schedule, and she blew off a little steam about her boyfriend. It was just a normal, friendly little exchange before she called, "So long!" and flew out the door. And it made my day.
Three months ago, such an event would have been totally unthinkable for either one of us.
For years, Margaret and I have gone out of our way to avoid any unnecessary contact with each other because it could only go badly. There were no "good mornings," and we exchanged no words at all on a good day. Most days, there were harsh, angry exchanges. I saw her as a selfish, self-centered, lazy, manipulating liar, and her behavior bore out my interpretation. She argued bitterly about anything she was asked to do; any rule we set down was intentionally and repeatedly broken; she went out of her way to humiliate and provoke her brother, who is 10 years younger than she is; and she was accusatory and nasty to my husband and me. The house was a war zone of her making. She sucked the joy out of our existence.
Outside the house, she was scraping the bottom of the barrel for friends; she had sex with a boyfriend three years her senior, and she smoked, drank, and let her grades slip. This girl, who had always been in the talented and gifted classes, a straight-A student, seemed hell-bent on self-destruction.
Everyone except me saw these behaviors as new, but I had always known there was something seriously wrong with her. Living with her had never been easy. Even as a little child, she was secretive, sneaky, and manipulative. When I'd hear her wake up in the morning, I'd suck in my breath and brace myself, thinking, "Okay, here we go again." Nothing was ever enough; no treat, no matter how much she begged for it, ever made her happy. She was always convinced she wasn't getting fair treatment, never had friends for long, had no allegiance to anyone, and, most tellingly, shared no confidences with anyone, ever. She rarely had female friends, but since she'd grown very pretty, there were plenty of boys with cars at her disposal. She used them for whatever she needed.
Over the years, we tried art therapy, counseling, rules, incentives, punishments, everything you could think of, and nothing ever worked. Finally, after she ran away this year, we found Aaron Lederer. This has been our turn-around year.
The work Aaron Lederer gave me was simple to do, and when the results came, they were very rewarding. Our house now has a much more relaxed, happy atmosphere. There is no shouting, door-slamming, or hateful language. The pressure is off of me and my husband to try to "change" her or "control" her; the onus has shifted to her, and she must try to modify her own behavior. After following Aaron's instructions, we simply watched and waited for her to fall in line. The responsibility was mostly hers. We've learned to view her behaviors as symptoms of a condition rather than as mere hatefulness and provocation.
We still have a lot of work to do. While things are generally fine and are even sometimes great for me and the rest of the family, my stepdaughter is still hurting inside. Aaron Lederer thinks that if we keep up with our work, we can ease her way in life so that perhaps she can learn to have meaningful relationships and a more fulfilling life. With the kind of results we've seen so far, we have every reason to trust his instincts.
It has been nine months now since the end of treatment. As I sit here at my computer typing this letter, my children, Margaret and David, are upstairs having a pleasant conversation, calling to each other from their bedrooms. The three of us have just shared a nice dinner (my husband is away with the army again), after which, without a word, we all got up and began cleaning up together. Margaret was the one who got up first.
During the meal, David offered to give up his bed to allow Joe, Margaret's new boyfriend, to spend the night tomorrow. Margaret and Joe met this past semester at college, where they both are freshmen. He is a very nice young man. After their first semesters, Joe has a 3.5 GPA, and Margaret is a little disappointed with her 2.7. She wishes she could take the courses over because she feels she knows where she went wrong and could do better. She says she knows she'll do much better this semester.
Before she went to college, we asked Margaret to keep the lines of communication with us open, take college seriously, and pass all her classes in order for us to continue paying for her education. If she failed to meet any of those stipulations, she would need to get a job and be on her own financially. She has called me or her father every other day, on average. As she has encountered problems with her classes, she kept us informed. She sought tutoring on her own. And she passed everything, getting mostly Bs. She thinks she may be interested in studying sociology.
A girl from her high school who goes to college with her recently got heavily into drugs. This concerned Margaret, and she confided this to me. I offered a listening ear, empathy, and no advice unless she specifically requested it. She told the girl that she was worried, and the girl attacked her cruelly. She called me in tears after that. I know it helped her to talk to me. She ends most calls with, "I love you, Mom." When I was hospitalized in October, she got a friend to drive her to visit me and brought me a little gift. She spent what little money she had on Christmas gifts for all of us.
It's hard to say which development is most important, but to have them all come together during the course of one fall semester seems amazing. I still had a fair amount of animosity toward her when she left in August. Pete, the old loser of a boyfriend, broke up with her within the first week she was away. I thought the whole semester was shot. But she held on and made it work beautifully. I am so proud of her and happy for her. I really think she is going to be okay now.
Aaron, thank you so much for teaching me how to be a mother to her. We never could have achieved this without your help. You know where we were when we started. In all of my dealings with her, in each conversation we have, I recall the basics of communicating with her properly. I hardly ever offer advice or come on strong. I wait to be asked. I never react in anger. I provide any form of help that she requests, as long as I feel good about her. As David gets older, these practices work well with him, too. He is really a pleasure. And thanks to you, so is Margaret.