The mantra of my tribe is that Depression Lies. You may recall a post a few weeks ago about a young woman who committed suicide, a friend of my daughter. I have thought of her often, and of the culture in which our teenagers grow to adulthood (as if any of us every REALLY become adults – I still maintain that we’re all just playing at being grown-ups, and some of us are just better at it than others.) I would never blame a parent for a child’s suicide. I have nothing but the utmost, heartfelt compassion for what they must feel. Since I have personally contemplated suicide and self-harming behaviors since I was young, I feel I want to share my perspective on it now as the parent of a teenager.

It’s very difficult to judge your own capabilities as the parent of a teenager. You think you are encouraging your child to work harder, to achieve more in school, and somehow she interprets that message as “I am a disappointment to my parents,” even when you are conscious of telling your teenager how proud you are of her. And if a teenager is suffering from depression, that sense of being a disappointment becomes not just overwhelming, but seemingly unconquerable. Sharing those same feelings with their parents just makes teenagers think that they are even more of a failure, that their parents won’t believe them, or won’t understand, and their world starts to spiral out of control, through behaviors such as excessive drinking, cutting, or drugs, and sometimes with unthinkably horrible consequences – such as choosing to end their own lives.

I have consciously tried to not push my daughter too hard in school, and she has been an excellent student since kindergarten. And yet, in her eyes, I am constantly nagging her about her homework and her grades, despite the fact that she has proven to me that she’s got this – she’s proven it by her grades. These difficult few months, combined with the fact that she’s taking much harder courses in her senior year, two of her grades aren’t aligned with what her grades usually are.

One very cold night, as I was waiting for a ride at a bus stop, we talked about it on the phone, both of us in tears. I realized what she needed to hear – and what I told her – was that SHE was not the sum of her performance in school. That she is an amazing, intelligent, compassionate, talented, beautifully unique human being, and that’s what matters. Not – at this stage of the game, as she is trying to find her future – how well she did on a Calculus test. I told her I didn’t care about her grades anymore. And I meant it. It seemed to take some of the pressure off, and I am truthfully telling her now that I am proud of her when she is trying her best, and proud of her no matter what. I remember what it was like at her age, struggling with workloads, priorities, time management, work, socializing, and just trying to figure out my future. Remembering that is great help when your teenager is in the same place.

I have not chosen the “friend, not parent” role, though we are friends. I tell her when I need to say “mom stuff”, like having a conversation about the availability of drugs when she goes to college, and the dangers of drugs now versus what was out there when I was her age. I know she’s done things that I don’t want to know about, even though I thought she was telling me everything. She wasn’t. That happens when teenagers are trying to find their path to independence. We, as parents with seemingly open relationships with our children, need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that this will happen, and short of locking your teenager in her room for four years, the only thing you can do is be supportive, vigilant, protect your child-woman as best you can, arm them with as much information as you can, and hope that, if they do not feel they can share with you, that they can find someone trustworthy to share their feelings and confusion with.

My daughter was fortunate enough to have a counselor at school who, while she often gave her the same advice I did, was not me. She is a stronger and wiser soul for having had that counselor at her disposal, and having made that close connection. I was sad to see politics make her counselor leave the school just as so many students were recovering from their friend’s suicide. But that is the way of the world, and at this age, there is no sense in sheltering our soon-to-be-adults from it.

I’m probably rambling a little. I’m trying to help with my words. I’m hoping some parent will see themselves in my words, and think about what they are pushing their child to do, how they are pushing, why they are pushing, and have an awareness of how their child might be perceiving what the parent thinks of as gentle pushing. Let’s try to see our teenagers as more than just students or ultimate players, but who they are, which is so much more. We can offer guidance, but not make the horse drink. We can offer to listen, but cannot expect to be told the whole truth. We can be aware of signs of depression, but must understand that we may not see it.

These are the people we love more than anything else in the world. And as my mother always said, we are all doing the best we can with what we have at the time – both us as parents, and them as teenagers. Let’s just hope it’s enough to keep our children here in this world, instead of thinking that leaving it is the best or only choice they have.

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