The day after Christmas we were traveling to relatives in Pennsylvania when my daughter’s friend told her, during a text conversation they were having, that she’d considered overdosing with a bottle of pills the night before. They’re both 13.
As any of you who are medical professionals, educators or parents know, the schools these days talk openly, and often, about suicide—there are assemblies dedicated to the topic, including speakers and resources. The kids are given a litany of people to go to if they feel any suicidal urges or if they think a friend will hurt themselves. Parents, of course, are some of those people.
My daughter showed the text to my son, who was in the backseat with her, and then texted with her friend in all caps. She told her not to. She asked her why. She told her to talk to her parents right away. When her friend (who I’ll call “H” from here on out) wouldn’t, our daughter reluctantly told us.
Doug and I have always told our children that they could talk to us about anything. And boy have we had some conversations. There have been too many times to count when I’ve been astounded by the topics we end up discussing (and the jokes we end up telling). It’s beyond wonderful to have them trust us this way, but it’s also a huge responsibility when the topics turn serious, and this was about as serious as they come.
Clearly, we knew what we had to do. But when it’s somebody else’s kid, a few more factors come into play. In this case, the problem was that my daughter had made the friendship out of school. I’d met her mom once, but couldn’t remember her name. I didn’t have their phone number. I’d dropped my daughter at their house once, so knew where they lived, but didn’t remember the actual address. Besides all of that—and really the biggest issue—was that I didn’t want to get involved.
Oh, that sounds horrible, and it’s not quite what I mean. Of course I wanted to do anything that would help this child get help and potentially save her life. What I didn’t want to do was broadside her parents. I’d been broadsided once, and it’s the worst feeling in the world when somebody else—some stranger—knows one of the most important things about your child, but you don’t. It wrecks you a little, and it certainly leaves a scar.
Additionally, H was so adamant against telling her parents that we knew our daughter would likely lose her as a friend if we did so. Again, it was a risk we knew we had to take, but having to cause our daughter pain made the move all that much harder. So, while our daughter kept trying to get her friend to tell her parents, her teacher, a school counselor—anybody in authority—I have to admit that we dragged our feet. Short of actually driving to their house and telling them in person, there seemed to be no options. I considered calling the girl’s school, but my daughter didn’t know what school she went to, and anyway, I didn’t think that would be fair to the parents either.
More than a week passed. Finally, one morning I said something to my son about how difficult this was. He looked at me and said, “No, it’s really not.” And you know something? He was absolutely right. Once I took our feelings out of the equation, the answer was easy. In the scheme of things, it didn’t matter whether I knew the parents, whether they’d hate me, whether my daughter would lose a friendship. What mattered was that this child was safe. As we’d been saying all along, were the situations reversed, we’d absolutely want somebody to tell us. Even if it involved them showing up on our doorstep out of the blue.
So I asked my daughter if she still had her friend’s address from when I’d dropped her off that one day. She did. I plugged it into Google and found out the parents’ names within seconds. I then searched their names and was lucky enough to get a phone number. I called it, with my heart pounding wildly. Although I ended up leaving a voicemail for the mom to call me, the weight on my heart lifted instantly. I knew I’d made the most difficult step. Her return call, after she got home from work, was so, so hard, and I’ll admit I got choked up and couldn’t speak for a bit, but she was grateful. Incredibly grateful. She’d had no idea, but had guessed when her daughter reacted to my voicemail. Because my daughter had told her if she didn’t tell her parents, we would. And we finally did.
Her mom and I talked for a while. We now have each other’s names and phone numbers. She’s texted me since to keep me updated, and to thank me, and to tell me she knows how difficult it must have been. As an educator herself, she knew what she had to do. But a few days after my call, she still hadn’t figured out the best way to approach her daughter. I guess we all drag our feet with the difficult things.
The things you do as a parent that nobody ever warns you about. It’s not the first time that thought crossed my mind, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. But I’m telling you this one now, so you can be more prepared than we were, just in case.
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