Today, I had one of those moments as a counselor that comes back to you later in the day. While most problems I choose to leave behind at work, one followed me home today and just spoke to me. I’ve replayed a heartfelt statement made by a 10-year-old girl about her mother over in my mind on the way home and now again, and it’s made me reflect.
This student whom I don’t know well has recently experienced a big change in her living arrangements, so the father asked the counselor to check in on her, encouraging her to have someone to talk to. Mom used to have primary custody but due to some “bad choices”, she and sister are now living with dad.
For many girls this age, this would be devastating. Most girls who have grown up with their mom would remain loyal and true, no matter what the circumstances. So when I discovered this really wasn’t the case for her, I was surprised. She is relieved and happy to be living with dad now.
While I spent 30 minutes having her spill her family story and what’s led to this, I began to understand why. Her mom has drug and alcohol dependency issues. She leaves the girls at home at night with the front door unlocked so she can sneak in late at night after a trip to the bar. She doesn’t cook them dinner or always have real food in the house, yet she spends her money on cigarettes and liquor. She acts like she’s doing a great favor to take the girls to Wendy’s while also lecturing her on the chips she eats in the school lunch.
She’s yelling at her daughters one moment, while trying to convince them to hang out on the couch the next. She comes to her elementary-age daughter crying when she’s had a fight with her boyfriend. She takes this girl to her gymnastics class but drops her off. Or, she comes inside and asks to borrow her ear buds so she can watch Netflix instead of her daughter practice. One day she dropped her off and didn’t show back up.
And when she’s tries guilting them into feeling grateful for the stuff she’s bought them, this pretty girl shakes her head and says to me: “I just want her time”.
Mom’s not there for her, and dad is. He shows up, and pays attention. He’s not always on his phone and he stays home when she goes to bed. She trusts him. So, yes, she feels safe and grateful to be with him. This is what a good parent does, and she recognizes the difference.
I wonder what my kids would say sitting in a stranger’s office. Am I there? Do I show up? Do my actions show them that they are more important than my friends? Do I recognize and care about how they feel? Is my time more important than theirs’? Am I showing and telling them I am proud of them?
I sure hope so because kids notice.