“Why did you do that? You’ve taken the only thing he had to care about.”
A friend I haven’t seen in a while is trying to convince me that the hubby and I have made an awful mistake by not allowing our son to go off to college in another state this fall. She faces me as we stand at a reception amidst hundreds of people. I feel that feeling in the pit of my stomach – the one that comes when this wasn’t the response I was expecting.
I try to gather myself back together to explain the “why,” but I can’t seem to make any sense to her. I decide to give up trying to explain to my friend the intricacies of our situation.
“Maybe we did make a mistake. I hope not. We made the best decision we could.”
I disappear into the crowd when someone else appears to talk to my friend. I shuffle around, weaving through the others, searching for my hubby. I want to go home. I feel lost and misunderstood.
Making Tough Decisions
My youngest son, Blake, has been struggling with depression for at least two years now. He’s up all night. He sleeps all day. He has little he looks forward to. He also has OCD, which I thought had become a minor issue until we began therapy as a family recently. Blake was accepted this past school year to his first choice college – a small, extremely demanding school without dorms or a meal plan, where he will have to live in an apartment with at least three others and navigate his way to school and around the city.
Although we celebrated his acceptance to the school, the hubby and I were deeply concerned how Blake would go from struggling with his mood and needing constant support to finish high school to functioning in this challenging environment. We spoke with him repeatedly about how important it was to start new habits now, long before he went away, so that he would be ready to function far away from home. He said he wanted to work on it. As a family we implemented schedules, made sure he was reinforced for positive steps, engaged his school’s and his psychiatrist’s assistance, and utilized tools to help with the whole process.
It didn’t work. Things got worse. We asked Blake to get help from a therapist. He balked at this over and over.
“What good will that do? The only person who can help me is me. It’s a self-discipline problem,” Blake told us.
Finally, we had to tell him that we just couldn’t send him to school this fall. We asked him to take a deferment. It was one of the toughest choices we could have made. We wanted him to go. He claimed it was the only thing that he cared about in life. And, yet, his behavior said it was going to be a disaster. Our new family therapist, a veteran in working with extremely tough cases, wondered why we hadn’t made that decision sooner. Why? We didn’t want to break his heart. And, indeed, when we delivered the news, Blake cried for days.
When my friend wandered up to me at the event and wanted to know how Blake was, I just figured she’d understand that we’d looked at every other option before deciding to ask him to wait a year. I figured she’d know the amount of soul searching the hubby and I had to do, and how much courage it took to make the decision and stand firm – and then to stand back and watch our son’s devastation as he refused comfort from us.
Instead, she admonished me for having made that decision.
“You took away the only thing that mattered to him. You should have let him go. He might have surprised you and risen to the occasion.”
Sure. He might have. Don’t you think that the wish that kept us from making the decision sooner was that he would show us he could do it? He’s struggling with mental illness. He can’t force himself to function. If he’d been able to, he would’ve shown us that he could do what was needed when we told him that school next year was on the line. He has work to do first. He has to get healthy.
I know my friend’s advice was well-intended. I know she has my best interests at heart, and Blake’s, too. I also know she had to make a tough decision about sending her own young adult child back to school.
Hearing this unexpected response from my friend has toughened my skin a little bit. It’s made me realize that I have to be firm in the decisions our family makes and recognize that others won’t always understand the in’s and out’s of those decisions. It’s made me recognize how important it is not to judge the decisions others make for their families. And it reminds me the importance of not offering advice unless I’m asked. I love my friend, but her reaction still stings a bit – and it’ll just take time for that to fade. In the meantime, our job is to keep working in therapy and applying what we are learning every day.
Fingers crossed that Blake will be ready to head off to school in Fall of 2018!