While my youngest daughter was in a mental hospital for ten days, my middle daughter commented to my wife and me, “You know, this is how your lives should be now.” By that, she meant that given that all three of my children are now, at least, technically adults, the intensity of our parenting should have declined. We should be mostly doing things on our own, without having to consider our kids at every turn: to go out to dinner if we want and not have to worry about a babysitter, to go to a park, to take in a movie, or just to watch a show on television without constant interruption.
When our children were infants, we had to get up in the middle of the night, we had to change their diapers, and we had to feed them since they could not feed themselves. If we wanted to do something on our own, we needed someone to watch them.
As toddlers, once potty trained, we still had to watch them closely, clean them, and feed them. They still needed babysitters.
Gradually, they got to where they could at least put spoons and forks in their mouths by themselves. Eventually they got to where they could dress themselves and bathe themselves. Before we knew it, they were in school for several hours a day, nine months out of the year. As time passed, they became increasingly independent. We could go to the store without dragging them along with us.
Or two out of three of our children followed that standard pattern.
Our oldest daughter no longer even lives in the same state with us; she has a job—actually two—and is finishing up her bachelor’s degree in psychology. She pays her own way and only occasionally requires financial help from us. Mostly when she calls she just wants to pass some time or tell us about something cute her cat did.
My middle daughter starts university in August; she has her own car (which we pay for and we pay the insurance on), but she can drive herself around and she spends most of her time not being at home—returning only in the evening to sleep, talk to me, and occasionally watch Harry Potter movies with me. She likewise has a job.
Our youngest daughter should have graduated from high school last Friday. But due to her mental illness, she is about a year behind her classmates. She cannot attend regular classes and must do her schooling online; her pace is glacial, but at least she is moving forward. Nevertheless, she is mostly at home. All the time. Due to her illness, she finds it difficult to maintain friendships. Most of her “friendships” have been very brief, with people who merely take advantage of her and break her heart. Others, simply can’t put up with her illness.
She is uncomfortable being left alone; anytime I need to go to the store, she insists on going with me. My wife and I are unable to go out to restaurants or movies on our own: she can’t be left alone. For Christmas, my middle daughter and her boyfriend gave my wife and I gift cards to one of our favorite restaurants and the local movie theater. Our youngest daughter went to spend the evening with a “friend.” Just as the movie ended, but before we had gone to dinner, she called in a screaming panic. When we got to the home of the “friend” we found her sitting about a block away on the curb. So it wasn’t until the following week that my wife and I completed our “date” and went to dinner at the restaurant. Our pastor and his wife babysat for us, taking her to a movie with them.
All this occurred a few months before my youngest daughter lost it completely, got arrested, went homeless with another “friend,” and then finally agreed to hospitalization in a mental institution.
While she was hospitalized, my wife and I realized, gradually, just how much stress we’d been under for the previous five years—myself, especially, since I was the primary care giver, since I work from home and thus was with her pretty much twenty-four seven. My only breaks until then had been when she slept. And even when she was gone from the house before the hospitalization, I was still stressed, constantly concerned for her well-being. The first real break I’d had in years was while she was away in the hospital, where I knew she was completely safe and being properly cared for.
My wife and I, for those ten days, had a small snapshot of what our lives might be like if our youngest daughter were ever stabilized enough to behave like a normal person of her age. It was really pleasant.
Since she has returned from the mental institution—it’s been about two months now—she has remained stable. The major medication adjustments, along with her continued weekly therapy, have brought her much closer to behaving as a normal 18 year old. It gives us some hope for the future. Maybe this will last.
While I was in Ohio for my father’s funeral, my wife and my youngest daughter had a good time: there were no negative incidents, her behavior was good, and all was well. Nothing went wrong. I’d like to think that it will stay that way.
And yes, in the time since her hospitalization, my wife and I have actually been able to go out on a date without incident or interruption.
Maybe it will happen again.