Well-Intended Advice

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“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.

Giving Advice

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!

12 thoughts on “Well-Intended Advice

  1. Lisa

    We can’t exactly put ourselves in someone else’s shoes… we can only empathize and offer support. All you can do is make the decision that feels most right to you. New decisions can be made at any time. They aren’t set in stone. I think that is something our young adults need to know, because they haven’t yet learned that there are many ways down a path. Whose path is ever a straight line? My wish for Blake – is that when he IS ready, he will recognize the value of this year, the work he accomplished, and how much he has grown. Then his going away to school will be an incredible victory for all of you, and it will be clear that it was the right decision. 💗🙏🏿💗🙏🏿

  2. Dr. Sarah Haider

    It sounds like you absolutely did what was best for your family, and Blake. I applaud you. YOU need love an support and positive reinforcement just like Blake-this decision could not have been easy. Way to go, Angie, for putting in the time and effort to make a difficult decision for the sake of your son’s health.

  3. You are doing your absolute best to take care of Blake and your entire family Angie. No one can ask any more of you than that. In my humble opinion your efforts are nothing short of heroic. Be gentle with yourself and keep doing what you think is best. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.
    Paul K.

    1. Hi Paul. Thank you for your kind words of support. I think that’s what parents with children with OCD (and other emotional issues) just do. They try to do their absolute best. I will remember your encouragement to be gentle with myself – sometimes it’s not so easy!

  4. Everyone who has ever given unsolicited advice to a friend should read your post. Of course you know your child better than anyone and are making these difficult decisions with only his best interests at heart. From what I know from reading your blog, I don’t think there was any other reasonable choice (my unsolicited opinion :)). And this year will be a gift for Blake, and hopefully he will take advantage of it and be ready to go off to college next year – healthy and happy.

  5. Maureen

    No one knows your son better than you and your husband do. No one agonizes over what is best for him and loves him more than you and your husband. You are amazing! Blake is so lucky to have such incredibly devoted and thoughtful parents. I think that for many adolescents that are struggling with issues even less difficult, going off to college hoping that their issues resolve on their own, is often unrealistic and risky. My son’s struggles are very similar to Blake’s. I do wholeheartedly believe both my son and Blake will find their way. Thank you so much for your blog.

    1. Maureen, Thank you for reading and for commenting. One of the beautiful things about blogging is the community! Thank you for your vote of confidence. I truly believe that parents are the ones who know their children best – and do what they do out of love. I agree that it’s not best to send someone off to college hoping their issues will resolve. As a therapist, I’ve seen that they usually don’t – and the kids return home to get help. I wish all the best for you and your son. May our young men find the strength to grow and flourish!

  6. This post is great.
    I hope you dont mind me posting here. I’m kind of asking for your help, and would appreciate it in helping me deal with things right now. Your blogs help me and others – just the idea that other people suffer similarly in many ways in a help to read about.
    I just started writing myself. I’ve been suffering with OCD for years amongst other mental illnesses. Right now I don’t feel comfortable to talk about it publicly and never have – I’ve suffered in silence for many years.. I want to help others and want to share my thoughts with the world at large to have people understand a little bit more of the debilitating illness we deal with. I would love it if you could help share my post and blog in any way possible – I really would. Please let me know – it would be appreciated. People like you really help in our world and I’m hoping I can do my bit too.
    The blog (first post) is here:
    Thank you, its appreciated.
    -Do Things Twice

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