• Josina Miles

Coping with a Problem Child as a Single Mother

When my daughter first approached me regarding her persistent feelings of sadness, my immediate reaction was fear. Actually, I was afraid because she asked me to make her an appointment with a therapist who could prescribe her medication. I wanted her to talk to me about anything, anything but this. I felt powerless and since I didn't know the right things to say; I said all the wrong things.

I wanted an immediate fix

My initial thought was that I was being presented with another problem, but not just any problem, a serious one. Money, my usual problem, couldn't fix this. I'm a fixer. I felt like I needed get to the root of it so I could quickly diagnose her with being 'a normal teenage girl.' My reaction was like what are you complaining about? You have a good life. It may not be picture perfect or something to brag about but you're not in any danger. Whoever is bullying you, ignore them. You just need to toughen up, get a thicker skin and stop acting like a baby. And it went on... I was a being stupid, but it petrified me

She was already seeing a counselor. Her school had recommended a private institution affiliated with them, that provided counseling services to at-risk children. They came to the school and had her do a computer evaluation. The results were that she was not in imminent danger of doing harm to herself or to others, but they assessed that she may need some preventative care. A counselor would come to our house and talk with her for a few hours a week. The service lasted around six to seven months, including an extension. I assumed she was feeling better.

I was warned

Fifth grade was the year that everything changed. Until that point, she was a star student, known by all the teachers, her picture displayed prominently on the 'wall of fame' in the corridor. They often selected her to receive perks like free tickets to the theater. The principal would walk out of his office if he heard her name being mentioned and agree with all the compliments. Whenever I would attend parent/teacher conferences, they only had positive things to report like, another another spotless record or What can I say? She's great. It was at one of those parent/teacher conferences that they gave me my first warning. They told me she's a great student, they don't have any complaints, except one. She was hanging around the wrong set of people. They mentioned one person in particular, someone I knew; one of her best friends. I blew it off as frivolous. Since her grades were perfect, I didn't think I had anything to worry about. I even stopped looking at her report card. Ironically, her behavior at home was more volatile. I had a lot of issues with her. While her teachers considered brilliant, I considered her obnoxious. She knew she was smart, and I was proud of that fact, but she let it get to her head. She believed that she knew it all and would often criticize my decisions. Our relationship felt like a tug of war.

At the beginning of her sixth year, they had a school trip. Their bus a few hours after school had let out, so I had to pick her up in the evening. Her teacher, whom I'd never met, and realizing that I was her mom, approached me. Since she was busy making sure she accounted for everyone, she quickly stated that she would like a conference with me to discuss a few concerns she has with my daughter. She also stated that my daughter was a good kid, and she wants it to stay that way, so it's imperative that we talk. It was disconcerting, but I agreed to schedule some time with her.

It all went downhill

When I finally met with her teacher, I couldn't believe my ears. My daughter had not only stopped doing her homework and turning in class assignments, she was the resident trouble maker and officially on their radar. Her grades plummeted from straight 'A's to 'F's in 3 or more classes. Her highest grade at that point was a C. This was only the beginning. They took me to the student counselor's office after I burst into tears in the classroom. They recommended counseling. As a single mom, I needed all the help I could get, so I readily agreed to have her evaluated.

I stopped working for a few months, not because of her issues, but because of mine. However, couldn't have come at a better time because then I had the time to give her the attention she needed. During my time home, I noticed a trend. At the end of each school day, she was so exhausted, she would sit on the living room sofa and stare at her phone. When she dragged herself up the stairs and into her bedroom, she would crash into the bed and fall asleep. She would sleep for hours, then wake up late at night to start her homework, if she ever did it. I was on a mission to curb this behavior, but it was difficult. She'd been doing this for several months and it was proving difficult to break her out of it. I needed to return to work because my source of income had dried up; I had no choice. Shortly after I started working again, it got from bad to worse. I frequently got calls during my workday, while in my 3 month probation. The calls were weekly, then almost daily. They were like, 'she left the classroom without permission'; 'she's talking back to the teacher'; she's talking and not doing her work'; and it went on.

She was out of control

Things got increasingly bad. I was being called by the school for a meeting almost weekly. She started getting suspensions. Sometimes they asked her not to return without a parent. I had to go with her to reinstate her back into the school population and this impacted my job because at the time I needed to reinstate her; I should be at work. Luckily, they were understanding of the situation, but I know that I became less valuable to them. Finally, they began the process of expulsion from the school, but I wasn't going down without a fight. I had no choice. They asked us to go to the school district office where we had to meet with an officer. It felt like we were in court. They brought in evidence of all of her misdeeds to back up their claims. I had called in for backup myself. My aunt and uncle drove down from New Jersey and gave testimonies on her behalf. I believe that it was their efforts that saved her from being expelled. They were so impressed by the support that they gave her a second chance. She made good on her promises, almost.

As her performance at school worsened, so did our relationship. We were full of resentments towards each other. I went into full damage control mode, doing the best that I could to stay on top of her school work and using the school portal to monitor her grades, find any outstanding work. I got my family involved. My cousin kindly brought her into her family home to spend time with them. She got a much-needed break from me and me from her.

A break in the storm

Her behavior started to improve slowly. The calls from her school stopped, but they sent the occasional email or text message. Her grades remained low, which I attributed to lack of motivation. I believe that her initial drive to succeed stemmed from her need for approval. What I haven't talked about is the fact that her father is not in her life. His choice, since she was around 9 years old. She refuses to discuss this with me. Ironically, they're still "friends" on Facebook. He never responds to her posts or messages, even though he sees and reads them. She did nothing wrong, but he rejected her anyway.

One day, she came to me with a confession that she was in a fight at school. She had slight bruises on her face I hadn't noticed. What I didn't realize, because she kept it hidden, was that she was being bullied at school. The bully was in fact one of her good friends who used to come to my house and she visited often. I didn't realize that they had a falling out, and this girl was not only bullying her, but encouraging her friends to do it. When it became too much to bear, my daughter confronted her. "There's a video!", she told me excitedly. She won the fight and regained her respect. The school suspended her for a few days but she could return within two days. Honestly, my first thought was about how brave she was, and I relieved. It wasn't long before I started to notice a shift in her demeanor. She exhibited more confidence and her lethargy, prominent at the end of each school day diminished. In the weeks to follow, I decided not the pursue the therapy sessions any further.

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