Broken family…

I’d never kick out my child.

Those words sound so obvious and, in some ways they’re true. In other ways they stab me deeply, hurting enough that I’m surprised there’s no blood.

Our family never felt broken, even when my ex and I separated. His disappearance from home simplified our lives and brought calm to our small part of the world. Apart from his infrequent visits, we were at peace.

I posted earlier about Jeremy’s relationship with his father. What I only briefly mentioned was that I consider him the lucky one for this. Emma got most of her father’s attention and a lot of it was negative.

Their father was furious with me for leaving him, telling everyone I threw him out of the house like garbage. I don’t know if it was an attempt to get back at me or a desperate need to have someone on “his side” but he drew Emma in, telling her that I didn’t love her, he was the only one who loved her.

When Emma was thirteen she told him she was angry at him because of his infrequent and sporadic visits. He apologized then promptly blamed me; claiming I was cancelling visits and not telling the kids about his calls.

I knew something was happening that spring. Emma had always been sensitive and emotional, her mood bouncing between sunshiney charm and furious outbursts. Suddenly the only person who could calm her was their father, someone she almost never called before, and her outbursts worsened with every call.

Within a month she was gone. Jeremy had been declared a child at risk due to his sister’s behaviour and Emma was off to a group home for his protection. My ex promptly filed for custody, so quickly you’d think it had been planned.

Our first court date was the day of our annual family camping trip. Jeremy and I went on our own after my appearance, trying to pick up the pieces of our broken family. Meanwhile Emma was in a group home. That whole trip contained a huge feeling of “someone’s missing”. The feeling was half relief/half anguish.

Emma was home by the spring, my ex had long since lost interest in his court case. Then he dropped his bombshell comment on her, telling Jeremy he only loved him. That night Emma took one of her photographs off the wall and threw it, smashing the glass to pieces along the hallway. Then she grabbed a piece and ran to her room, locking her door behind her. It was the first time she cut herself; it definitely wasn’t the last.

That year was a frantic juggling act. Jeremy was in his final year of grade school which meant helping to arrange his high school placement, I was working full time and struggling to keep my home life separate from my job, and I was desperate to find help for Emma. Her counselor suggested an atypical case of Parental Alienation Syndrome; atypical because it was by the non custodial father. Her psychiatrist decided on bipolar disorder and started trying new medications. None of the medications made a difference.

I called in sick to work one day and took Emma to the hospital because she pleaded to be admitted; she didn’t want to kill herself but thought she should. Then I listened in horror while the on call psychiatrist earnestly told Emma that the only way people got admitted was bleeding to death in the back of an ambulance. Cutting, no matter how often, wasn’t good enough. The doctor basically gave my daughter instructions on how to kill herself, claiming that was the only way to get help. Every morning when I woke the kids for school, I was terrified I’d find Emma’s body.

Emma destroyed every framed photo of her, claiming I didn’t love her anyways so the pictures didn’t matter. She ran out of cutting space on her left arm and moved to her right then her legs and her stomach. And she went after Jeremy with a vengeance. When they were little, the two of them were best friends; people often commented on how good they were together. Now it was like they were in a caged death match. Jeremy was traumatized.

Emma’s last day living at home was shortly after Jeremy’s grade school graduation. I’d baked him a chocolate cake and sprinkled it with gold stars; with a little frosting left over. The cake went quickly but Jeremy’s frosting remained.

I was on our balcony when screams erupted then I walked into the kitchen to discover Jeremy cowering in the corner while Emma punched him and called him names. The frosting container was smashed on the floor. Judging from Emma’s screamed insults and Jeremy’s pleading comments, she was mad because he’d put his frosting in the freezer to see if it would taste like chocolate ice cream.

I watched them for a few seconds, unable to believe Emma was beating her little brother over a scant quarter cup of homemade frosting. That was it. I’d reached my absolute limit. I told her she had to leave. She bolted to her room then came back a short while later, a bottle of pain medication in hand.

“I’m going to take these and you can’t stop me!” she informed me then shoved a handful of pills into her mouth.

I called 911 and she proceeded to spit out the pills then pull a bookcase down over them. The police arrived to chaos. The bookcase was in front of the entrance to the living room and we had to step over it to get to anywhere in the apartment. Emma criss-crossed it randomly while telling the officers how she needed to pull it down to protect herself from me. I was violent and scared her. Then she walked over and calmly asked me to remove a sliver of glass from her foot. One of the things she’d broken had cut her. I removed it then the police removed her, saying they’d arrest her if they found her back there again.

It was Emma’s last day living at home; three years ago on Tuesday. She was subsequently diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Emma is a wonderful daughter; exuberant, vibrant, and an amazingly gifted writer. I feel lucky to know her. And she will never live here again. Even after all this time people ask me if she’s finally home and the knife digs a little deeper.


14 thoughts on “Broken family…

  1. I was misdiagnosed with bipolar years ago and recently accepted that I have BPD. I feel so bad for you all, I’ve been the epicentre of traumatising drama, and I know how raw I feel and how intensely I experience emotions. Hopefully with time Emma will develop coping strategies to help her deal with her emotions, I’m hoping for the same thing for myself.

    • Thanks Lenny. That was one of the hard parts, people kept telling me she was playing us and she wasn’t. She was genuinely hurt and lashing out. She is doing better, slowly, year by year.


      • Yep, it’s not deliberate, and it’s so often faulty coping behaviour related to past trauma.

  2. As a mother, my heart aches for you and the pain this must cause you. I can’t imagine the courage it took for you to write it. Dealing with your child’s mental illness is quite scary. Having a child who has admitted to thinking about suicide- I know that fear and feeling of helplessness. Thank you for sharing this. I know it wasn’t easy. We are all just doing the best we can, right?

    • I think this was my hardest post to write. There’s always that worry that my best just simply isn’t good enough (those fun 2am musings). And it definitely is scary and helpless.

      People give her grief for smoking and I can’t help thinking, hey, she’s alive to smoke. Let’s look at the big picture here.


  3. Life is difficult. Have I ever mentioned Scott Forbes’ A Natural History of Families?
    ” Why do baby sharks, hyenas, and pelicans kill their siblings? Why do beetles and mice commit infanticide? Why are twins and birth defects more common in older human mothers?”

    • Also, I thought you might want to hear a recent conversation. It’s really short but I thought you might like it anyways. I was reading your blog when Jeremy came up behind me. He looked at your picture for a moment.
      “Who is she?” he asked.
      “Ashley. She reads our blog too.”
      He looked at the picture a bit more. “Is she trans?”
      “Yes,” I replied.
      He smiled and said, “Neat” then he wandered off again.

  4. There are so many ways to experience life and family. We have stereotypes in our head and so often things come out of our mouths without thinking about whether someone might have an alternate experience, you know? So many injuries due to assumptions and not really thinking before we speak.

    • Thanks. I think our automatic default is to assume everyone around us is like ourselves until evidence proves otherwise.

      At some point soon Emma will move into her own place and then I can tell people she’s an adult now and living with Mark. That will be so much better for everyone and a relief when it comes to explanations.

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