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Dear Care and Feeding,
My daughter is 12, and up until two years ago, she was a ray of sunshine. She was the happiest baby and an easy toddler. Right around the time puberty reared its ugly head, several things happened. We relocated 600 miles away, her paternal grandparent was diagnosed with a debilitating terminal illness, and her biological father lost his ever-loving mind. He’s been minimally involved in her life and in and out of jail, rehab, and psychiatric treatment. (My husband has raised her as his own.)
But now her visits to the grandparents’ have been interrupted by things like cops, arrests, and being woken up at 2 a.m. to bail her bio-dad out of jail. I was furious about it. Visits have been few and far between and are supervised now.
Understandably, my daughter’s now pissed at everyone and everything. I can sympathize to some extent, but she’s been absolutely vile. She’s hateful to her brother, sometimes even physically aggressive (for what it’s worth, they are close in size and age). She screams at me constantly or is disrespectful. She will follow me around to continue (screaming) arguments even if I try to put her in her room or close myself in my own room. We offered therapy (I go, her brother goes, we’re very therapy-positive), and she told me she’d say that we abuse her. The same entitlement that I assumed my ex’s parents had nurtured in him has now shown up in her: She demands things, refuses to do her chores, takes money and candy from her brother, steals things out of my room (makeup, money, a phone). She quit her extracurricular activities, and she seems to be rapidly cycling through friends as well. I’m tired, scared, and desperate.
—Out of Ideas
Dear Out of Ideas,
I am so sorry that you are going through this. It sounds, honestly, like a perfect shitstorm of puberty, destabilization, and trauma, which means you cannot handle it on your own. Your child is suffering, your family is suffering, and you all need help. You must take her to therapy despite her threat to claim abuse.
Therapists are mandated reporters, which means they have to report when they suspect abuse or harm, not just when someone says there is abuse or harm. They are able to use their discretion to a certain extent, and if your daughter’s claims are as far-fetched as you say, it is very likely that your therapist will try and learn at least a little bit more before calling it in. If you are still concerned about it, it is always possible to schedule a consultation with your local Child Protective Services office to get a little (or a lot) of clarity on what to do with this very sticky situation.
But you have to put that fear aside. You have a child who is hurting herself and others. You have trauma being passed from one family member to another, and everyone here needs help that is beyond the scope of your ability. You must first do what’s right for her and then pray for the best outcome for yourself. That’s what parenting is. Good luck.