Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
This is going to sound terrible, but I want to disown my 16-year-old daughter “Clara.” I’ve tried. I’ve really tried to raise her to be compassionate and caring for other people. But it’s never stuck. She was the stereotypical “mean girl” in middle school, with a clique of close friends who would bully other girls who didn’t live up to their standards. I tried cajoling, punishment, doing what I could to disrupt her ties to her “bad influence” friends even when I wasn’t sure they were bad influences, getting her involved in more wholesome activities, you name it. Nothing’s worked.
Her bullying isn’t limited to school, either. There’s this boy who lives a few houses over, who’s two years younger than she is. I’ve never asked about his medical condition, but he’s visibly disfigured in his face. Clara took an instant dislike to him when they started sharing a bus ride to school, and seems to have gone out of her way to make nasty comments and let him know how much she hates him. I’ve grounded her twice for following him home after she gets off the bus to harangue him with abuse, but that hasn’t stopped her when she isn’t under direct observation.
The final straw came last weekend.
She made a bogus police call on him, claiming he was inappropriately touching another kid in the neighborhood. I’ve had to retain a lawyer because she might be charged for filing a false police report, although she hasn’t been arraigned as yet, and the lawyer doesn’t think it’s likely they’d charge a minor. Confronting Clara about it, she eventually admitted she knew it was false, but “He’s so ugly, it should be a crime” was apparently enough justification for her to sic the cops on him.
I don’t know what to do with her anymore. I want to wash my hands of the whole situation. I don’t know where I’ve failed with her, but I don’t think it can be fixed anymore, and I just want this to be over, and never see her again. I’ve cut far less toxic people out of my life before, but if it’s your own child, it’s harder to shut that door. What should I do?
—Can’t Deal With This Anymore
You can place Clara up for adoption, but at her age, she’s unlikely to find another family and may languish in foster care until she’s old enough to live on her own. Perhaps you’re at the point where that no longer matters to you. However, I think you should consider trying to get her some professional help before washing your hands of her. It’s possible that she has a personality disorder or some other psychological issue that’s guiding her behavior.
Consider finding a psychologist to do a full battery of psychiatric tests to see what she may be dealing with. If there’s something going on beyond her control, Clara may benefit from talking to a therapist or even taking medication. You’ve only got a couple years before she’ll be old enough to care for herself, but getting her some help before that happens may change things before that. If it doesn’t, you’ll at least know that you’ve done all that you can for her. I’d also recommend getting a therapist for yourself if you don’t have one already. The situation with your daughter has been difficult for you and a lot to process; you deserve some support, too.
If you decide to cut Clara off when she graduates high school, you should let her know sooner than later that she needs to begin to prepare for life outside of your home. Encourage her to start thinking about her future plans now so that she isn’t blindsided if you do cut the cord.
More Advice From Care and Feeding
My 6-year-old is currently enrolled in Catholic school, with many of the classes taking place over Zoom. The teacher is horrible. She threatens to rip up and throw away tests if kids talk during a test. She says things like “Are you bleeding, is there a bone sticking out?!! Why did you interrupt me?!” She also gets very annoyed and impatient when children who are distance learning get lost or ask questions. She spent 10 minutes today complaining to her students about all the work she had to grade last night after helping her own kids and making dinner, and that she lost her Saturday too because she was too busy grading their papers. It was odd behavior and not appropriate. What should I do? I’m fearful to approach the teacher directly for fear of reprisal directed at my child.