Dear Dr. G.,
I am very, very stressed. I am the mother of 3 and I am in over my head. I am exhausted. Ever since my 16 year old daughter started to have problems with depression and anxiety, I feel that my family has been falling apart. My husband and I have been arguing about the best way to help my daughter. My other 2 kids also seem to be having problems. My 12 year old daughter who has always been an excellent student is suddenly losing interest in school. My 10 year old son who was always my easiest child is now talking back to me. I don’t know what is happening. My life was going so well a year ago. I am really not sure what to do. My husband says that I am too permissive and that the kids would act better and be happier if I was tougher with them. I feel that my husband doesn’t let anyone in the family express their feelings. He grew up in a family in which kids were taught to keep their feelings to themselves. My husband has always had a tricky relationship with my 16 year old daughter who is very sensitive. I’m not sure where to start here. Please help me and my family.
A Scared Mother
I am so happy that you wrote to me. It is important for you to know that what is happening in your family makes complete sense. When 1 member of a family is having problems, it impacts everyone. The family functions as a unit where the mood of one person affects the mood of another and on and on. It is likely that the 2 younger children may be worried about their older sibling or even feeling that they are not being attended to. Perhaps, they are experiencing anxiety or depression as well. Don’t get alarmed. I don’t know this for sure. I am just making some suggestions.
It also makes sense that you and your husband are experiencing some marital tension. This is often a response when a couple is stressed about a child’s problem and then tend to blame each other. Or perhaps, your kids have been sensing marital tension and are responding to that. Or, it could be a little bit of each. You and your husband have different ideas about parenting and this is a source of stress for everyone in the family.
My best suggestion is that you go see a therapist who specializes in treating children, adolescents, and families. This is important for the marriage, good and consistent parenting, and for each of the children. My hope is that you will all learn how to interact most effectively with one another and that your daughter will receive the help that she needs for her anxiety and depression. The younger kids will also get a chance to describe what it is that they need.
I wish you the best of luck on this journey. I love to watch families get back on track. Please get back to me after a few months. Also, do not forget to take care of yourself during this process. If you don’t take care of yourself, you will certainly not have the stamina to help your family. Please don’t isolate yourself from friends during this process. Social support is not only important but it is necessary.