Oh Rene, HELP!
I made a horrible mistake and I don’t know how to fix it. Two years ago, my then 13-year-old stepdaughter, Chloe, asked why we aren’t family. I told her that as long as she and my son were brother and sister, we would be family. Sadly, my son died after long and brave battle with cancer. Well, over the last several months, Chloe has withdrawn from me and she told me it was because she isn’t my family anymore. I tried to reassure her I’m not leaving, but to no avail. Not only are we not the same (what family would be?), but she won’t even look at me, let alone let me into her world.
Rene, I love her so much and hate that I hurt her. Please help!
Stumped in Sarasota
First of all I’m sorry you have to go through all this; I can’t imagine the heartbreak of losing a child. I think you are right to be concerned about losing another one, especially under circumstances such as these. But don’t be too hard on yourself; it sounds like it was an honest mistake on your part so let’s see if we can’t try some things. Here’s my suggestion.
BE HONEST: I think we earn the respect of our kids when we admit our mistakes. In this case, you didn’t mean anything by your off-the-cuff comment, which sounds like it was designed to appeal to the sensibilities of a young teenager. The problem is, as is the case with a lot of young people, Chloe took that quite literally and it was imprinted in the memory of a tender 13-year-old. In her mind, your son was her ticket for admission to the family. Now that he’s gone, she wonders what that means for her. But Chloe is older now and may be able to understand more about what you said and why.
BE TRANSPARENT: It’s clear to me that Chloe means the world to you. Is that clear to her? Time to make it so, even if you think she already knows. Tell her how much the last several years have meant to you and that you cannot imagine your life without her. Open you heart to her and ask her to forgive your parenting foible. Make sure she knows that even though your son is no longer here, you love and need her to be a part of your life.
BE PATIENT: Emotion is a tricky thing; adolescent emotion even more so. If I were you, after you’ve apologized and asked her to forgive you, I would give her a wide berth. She’s going to need time and space, to process all that you have told her. Besides, I’m sure she’s still hurting from the loss of your son as well. So say your piece, tell her how much she means to you and then leave her alone, making sure she understands the door to communicate with you is always open. I suspect she’ll come around in her own time.
I’d also add now might be a good time to see a therapist, for either individual or family counseling. You guys have had an eventful last few years and listening and learning from a professional might be just what you need at this time.
Good luck mommy!