“Oh, I remember when you were that little,” I said to my 16-year-old daughter, Hallie, as I was admiring a baby in the store. She just sort of shrugged and smiled politely to acknowledge me. But her sadness showed.
She mentioned it to me once or twice after that day. “Mama, you make me feel like you’d rather I be little. It makes me feel like you don’t like me now – that you liked me better then.”
“Honey, no. I didn’t like you better then,” I replied. “You were wonderful when you were little and you’re wonderful now. I love you more now than I did then because I love you more every day that I know you.”
Of course, my oohing and ahhing at all the little sweet smiling faces and tiny toes that passed by me in the grocery store repeatedly made her feel insecure. I couldn’t understand why my appreciation of these beautiful little people would make her feel any less wanted and appreciated. I suppose it was my years of saying “Oh, I remember when…”
I didn’t realize what I was saying. I didn’t realize how saying those words would make her feel less loved, now, in her teen years.
Teens are sensitive – and often sad
It’s no secret that the teenage years are a time of complete and utter confusion, chaos and indecision, late night studying and being glued around the clock to a cell phone. It’s also a time when kids are at an increased risk of depression.
According to PsychCentral, roughly “10 to 15 percent of children and teens are depressed at any given time.” Research indicates that one of every four adolescents will have an episode of major depression during high school with the average age of onset being 14 years old.
I come from a long line of depressed people on both sides of my family, so I’m sure my daughter suffers from depression as much as, if not more, than I did as a teenager. I still suffer from depression.
But today’s teens have it harder than we did growing up. And that 10-15 percent mentioned above, I think, should be much, much higher. I know most of my daughter’s friends and classmates and the majority of them are much more depressed than she is and at least one student from her school committed suicide.
I remember what those teen years were like for me, minus the cell phone. One minute I was laughing orange juice out my nose. The next minute, I was crying hysterically. And upset about stupid stuff. I mean, I see that it’s stupid stuff now, but it wasn’t stupid to me then.
So it’s important to choose what I need to be serious about when it comes to her feelings, and what I should help her to laugh at. Sometimes it works and sometimes I get thrown out of her room. It’s a bit like walking on eggshells at times and I find myself choosing my words and attitude very carefully. (Did I say egg shells? Trying to carefully step around land mines blindfolded is more like it.)
A dream changed my perspective
I had a dream (more like a nightmare) one night recently. I dreamed I was in a grocery store, in the cosmetics section to be exact. I was the same age I am now and holding my daughter, Hallie, as an infant. I was looking at her, admiring her cuteness and sweetness, breathing in that baby powder, milk, and honey freshness, but then I started to look around for my 16-year-old Hallie.
“Hallie?! Where are you?” I yelled frantically, beginning to completely freak out.
She was nowhere to be found. I started to panic. Actually, I was past panic zone. In the dream, my mother was with me. Looking into my eyes as if I needed to be in a straightjacket, she asked, “Carol, what are you talking about?! You’re holding her!”
I fell to the floor, baby in my arms, everyone in the store staring at me, and I bawled inconsolably. I wanted – no, I needed my 16-year-old Hallie back.
Imagine my relief when I woke from this horrid dream and my 16-year-old was sound asleep in her bed. When she woke, I hugged her and kissed her and squished her and told her how much I love her.
I told her about the dream. I told my mother about the dream. I told them both I will never again say, “Oh, remember when…” and I will show her how much I appreciate her as a young woman, hormones and all.
Choosing my words
It’s a year later, and I’ve not once mentioned the “I remember when” statement. I steal glances at sweet babies but I say nothing, taking Hallie’s tender feelings into consideration. I let her admire the baby first.
I’m becoming much more conscious of the words I use. Sure, we bicker sometimes, but I’m careful what I say to her. I don’t ever want her to think she’s not wanted, she’s not loved, she’s not special, she’s not appreciated. I want her to feel celebrated and loved and wanted every day. I hear what her friends’ parents say to their children and it makes me so sad. I hear what parents tell their children in the supermarket and my mouth drops open in disbelief and shock.
Does your child/teenager seem depressed? Do you tell her that she can come talk to you about anything without judgment? Because more important than anything else, they just need a parent to confide in, to talk openly with, to be held, to be told how much they’re loved and that everything is going to be okay.
If they know you’re on their side, no matter what, they will be okay.