“She’s never going to be independent.”
That’s the fear I have, more often than I’d like, about my oldest daughter.
Mostly it occurs to me when she’s some combination of PMS/Bipolar and we have mornings like we did yesterday. Mornings when she’s alternately weeping and giggling—in one breath accusing me of hating her and, in the next, begging me for pancakes.
Here’s what independent means according to the dictionary:
Just a cursory glance over this list tells me the fears are justified. How does a person with mental illness ever NOT rely on another for aid or support? How would she live, if not subject to someone else’s authority, especially on days when everything that comes into her mind gets mangled by biochemistry? How could she weather the storms of her moods if not continuing to be influenced by her support team and family?
Maybe it really is true. Perhaps she’ll never be independent.
Or maybe I need to change my definition.
Because this is the world’s definition of independent. A definition that not only describes the term, but comes with a social status—with respect and admiration in this pull-ourselves-up-by-our-bootstraps, humanist culture.
What if independent wasn’t the ultimate goal? For my daughter. . . or for any of us?
What if it’s dependence that we really need to learn?
If I’m honest, more than the skills my daughter must know, I want her to learn how to find and ask for what she needs when she recognizes she can’t go it alone.
I want to teach her how to make meaningful connections with service providers who she can use as a resource to lean on when her mind plays tricks on her. I long for her to, on days irritability or depression or mania set in, engage the tools and people who will help her stay the course.
And if I’m honest, that’s not so very different from what I—what any of us—need most too. The ability to know where to look and who to ask for help when problems bubble up over my head and leave me struggling to find my way. The structures in my thinking that help me to know when I can try something, and when it’s best to bring in reinforcements. A way of seeing this world that doesn’t drive me to assume life’s storms must be braved alone.
This school year, as my girl hits the official teen years, I’m going to shift how I see her independence. To, yes, help her (read: fight with her through) English, math, history and science, but even more to mentor her in what it is to be able to assess herself and circumstances, cultivate relationships that are mutually supportive, know where to look for tools and guidance when she has an off day.
In fact, the next time I catch that pesky fear rising, I’m going to turn, face it, and say, “Of course she’s not. She’s going to be something better.”
To ponder: What fears are picking at your confidence with your special child these days? How might reframing empower you as his or her parent?