The Choice to Love: A Step-Mother and Daughter’s Journey

Sharing my “Mother’s” Day Journey with my daughter

My daughter Abigail and I, on a regular “day in the life of” — those are the best days.

When I first met my daughter she had just turned five; a raging ball of emotion and wildness that overwhelmed and captured everyone in her midst. She didn’t just live her life at the tender age of five; she barreled through it with reckless abandon.

I have often told Abby that she’s a runaway train. It is my job as her mother to keep that train on the tracks and help her navigate the complexities of life, but also to do so with wellness, character, and yes, joy.

I won’t lie here — those first few years were hell.

Abby was not very fond of me; this new person in her father’s life. One who told her what to do and then held her to it. She has admitted to dreaming up ways for me to meet a quick and painful demise.

I am glad that I survived those early years because it was totally worth it.

Abby was a mess. There’s no nice way to put that really. The first time I met her, her father had brought her over to my home and as we talked in the kitchen, this five-year-old loud, laughing, running-through-the-house kid drug a chair from the table and climbed up on top of my kitchen counter, shoes and all, to rifle through all of my grocery items.

What on earth is this child doing? I don’t know about you — but I was taught to ask for things. You don’t just climb all over people’s kitchen counters!

If I had only known the wildness my parenting would have to endure. The consistent emotional outbursts (some of these were hours of ongoing wails or fits), the calls from school (most of this involved impulsivity and hygiene issues,) the near-violent invasion of personal space…if asked to go play or do anything in her room, at the absence of any other human being for more than a minute, Abby became weepy or had a full-blown meltdown. This time limit of a minute — no exaggeration. Dealing with these episodes, mixed with the almost frantically excited bursts of play and noise — we were all exhausted.

Nights consisted of at least one or two screaming nightmares, sleepwalking (or flailing) events, and nearly nightly night-terrors that were traumatizing to her father and me while she never remembered them. She woke up refreshed and ready to tackle her day. We did not.

I wouldn’t mention those things to embarrass my daughter and I certainly wouldn’t mention them if she weren’t a fantastic young lady who has grown immeasurably. She is a fine young lady. Her ambition is to be a doctor. To take her form Tasmanian Devil to doctor is quite a challenge — but God knew I was mean enough and stubborn enough to handle it.

Abby was suffering from a terrible trauma (due to the absence of her birth mother and the issues arising from the time she spent with her previously,) but also some mental health issues that were literally dominating the entire family.

Our child was suffering and we knew it.

We loved her. Entertained her constantly. We did our best. We cried a lot of tears at night, spent and consumed with worry. Are we doing this right?

Will this child ever love me? — I worried and worried.

I worked on developing more structure for her — this was crucial, I feel, in helping quiet her wildly intelligent but challenged mind. I knew that somehow, if we could be consistent, and if I did NOT abandon her, things would get better. This took time.

I encouraged her to play outside, started her in Girl Scouts, tried my very best to teach this hysterically laughing, farting child to be a lady. (I am still working on that part.)

It was a terribly difficult process for growth: her tornado personality mixed with my OCD, my need for space and quiet — I thought we’d all go crazy those first couple of years. But I grew to love her deeply.

But watching her suffer through some of these issues was heart-breaking.

Something must be done, and we all knew it.

It took a few terribly difficult years before we secured the insurance/stability/ability needed to have our daughter evaluated. We knew what was happening was beyond our scope of care, and that something had to be done before this emotional child became a teenager and had all of those challenges to face.

I am grateful that we finally took her in for some help. Mental health issues, some quite serious, run way back in Abby’s family and I was terribly worried about some of the behaviors I was seeing. Sometimes it takes an outside “eye” to see things more clearly. While the family saw it — this child is hurting, but her “mother” did blah blah blah!… — it was easy to feel so much compassion and love, to be so close to the situation, that it was hard to know what to do.

I think everyone just kept thinking she was just upset about her mother being gone, and eventually, she’d heal from it. And they were right, partially.

I saw so much more than that. I knew this was more than missing her mother or not understanding why things were the way that they were!

I saw dangerously sharp mood turns, unhealthy repetitive/obsessive coping mechanisms, fear and anxiety, depression symptoms, all juxtaposed with wild and uproariously fun (to her, but not always to other children) play, and a dozen other things that worried us…I just wanted her to be well.

And happy.

And play like a child — but without the constant worry that permeated her thoughts.

(And oh, she did play! And I am happy we all survived that too. She did, felt, and loved everything 200% — regardless of consequence!)

The diagnosis — and not just by a quick conversation with her doctor — came by way of a long evaluation. She was diagnosed with ADHD, depression, and anxiety. None of this was surprising to us, but we were very relieved to have some reassurance, a plan!!

We began medication (which has changed her life,) learned as much as we could about how to help her now that this had a name and started her in counseling, which continued for 2 years. That was 4 years ago.

The final healing came with the severing of the strained and distant relationship she had with her birth mother. This was Abby’s choice and we support her.

Abby now OWNS it. And, she is a PRO at life, let me tell you.

She is a nearly straight-A student. She is a fierce competitor in sports at her school, well-respected and loved amongst her peers and I fully expect her to be a leader, a mentor, and a compassionate advocate for any pier under duress or with need. Abby is a creative, energetic, ambitious, self-assured, happy young lady.

This beautiful spirit — once choked by mental health garbage — is now able to function. To fly. To sing without tears.

In short, she is amazing. My daughter is going to do something fantastic with her life — now that the cobwebs of an unruly mental health situation have been cleared away, her life brought into focus — and I am honored to have been a part of it.

She calls me Mom.

I cannot begin to express the gratitude I feel for having this child, this beautiful, funny, articulate child in my life. Her mind works very differently, but we teach her ways to manage it, capitalize on it, use it to her best ability. And we teach her that she DOES NOT have a mental illness(s) — she has mental health challenges.

And I’ll rise up
I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise unafraid
I’ll rise up

— I’ll Rise Up (song) by Andra Day

And she is fierce enough to rise to that challenge. And I am one persistent Momma.

We GOT this Abby. We do. — Love, Mom.

Thank you for reading this incredibly emotional part of my journey. Abby was very open to the sharing of this article, in that it might help some other person her age who is suffering, or feels alone, that there truly IS healing out there.

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