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My daughter is friendless, depressed, and wants to move

August 31, 2012 | By | 2 Replies Continue Reading
Depression and school avoidance can be challenging problems for parents of teens

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

My husband and I just got a divorce. We have been living separate lives for about three years. During that time my 15-year-old daughter has had depression on and off.

Her father left for another women and is now living 200 miles away. For the first five months of the divorce he didn’t want to see her. But he is now seeing her every other weekend and holidays. His girlfriend is now acting like a parent.

I’m a relaxed parent and they are controlling in the house but they want her to be independent outside of the house. They won’t drive her anywhere or pay for anything. She hates being at her Dad’s.

She had friends at the local high school. Her closest friends graduated or got boyfriends. The group she is in used to like her. The divorce made her into a sad, mopey girl. All her friends in this group rejected her. They say she is annoying.

She has friends on Facebook. The Facebook group lives in a small city about 200 miles south. My family lives there so I visit every three months and she sees her friends then. They accept her and are there for her. She now has a Facebook boyfriend from this group. I’m glad she has people who care about her and I do drive her to see them and my family.

I’m much happier since the divorce and I’m finally getting my life together. I’m getting my real estate license and I know so many people in this town. We have lived here for 11 years and I can make lots of money here.

My daughter wants to move to this other town. She says she will never be happy as long as she is here. She knows everyone and they reject her. She is basically ready to give up. She missed about 40 days of school last year because of sadness and sickness. She refused to go to school.

My family lives in this other city. I love them but they are toxic and depressed. Their lives are miserable. It’s 400 miles from her Dad. Also, I wouldn’t make a living in the other city but I do have spousal support. I considered moving to make my daughter happy. But I don’t want to. I’m happy here.

I’m done changing my life to make other people happy. I have put my life on hold for too long. She wants me to move and put it on hold for another three years so she can move to be with her friends. She is refusing to thrive unless she moves. She says I don’t  understand and I’m being selfish.

I want her to learn to adapt to this environment and make herself happy. She loves animals more than people. She wants to be a zoologist. She rides horses. Since the divorce, I haven’t been able to afford riding lessons or a horse. Also, if she fails at school she will not be going to college to do what she really wants to do. That is a shame because she is half Native American and she gets a free ride through college.

Please help? How do I help my daughter to be happy and stable here, in this city?

Signed,
Ellen

ANSWER

Hi Ellen,

My heart goes out to you and your daughter. It sounds like the last several years have been pretty rough on both of you. In addition to the predictable challenges of adolescence, your daughter has had to adjust to the divorce, the period of alienation from her father and his new wife, and adjusting to having parents who see things very differently from each other.

Given your daughter’s history of depression and school avoidance, it sounds like she would benefit greatly from a professional mental health evaluation as soon as possible. She needs support, and possibly treatment, to complete her education and feel better about herself. If she is depressed, she cannot “make herself happy” by sheer will. As much as you would like to make her happy, your role in being able to change her mood is also pretty limited.

When someone is depressed, it is very hard to make and keep friends. While it’s positive that she has these Facebook friends, I suspect that these friends only see a glimpse of your daughter when she is on vacation, has no responsibilities, and has minimal stress. My suspicion is that even if it were more feasible for you to move, she would wind up carrying her depression with her.

Being a newly single parent isn’t easy either and while your daughter may think she would prefer to live in another town, it isn’t something you can realistically consider. You need to make the final decision about where you live and I think your instincts are correct. First, you need to think about your ability to make living and pay rent. Also, you will benefit from being someplace where you already have friends and social supports rather than making a move at this stage in your life. It’s great that you enable your daughter to visit these Facebook friends in the other town periodically and that she can stay connected online.

Your daughter’s problems go beyond having friendship difficulties, per se. They are symptoms of her depression. That’s why it’s so important that she be seen by a mental health professional. Seeing her so depressed and unhappy and your waking up each morning—unsure whether or not she will be well enough to go to school on a given day—has to be very stressful for you as well. For this reason, it would be very beneficial for you to participate in a parenting component to her treatment.

Hope this helps.

My best, Irene


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Comments (2)

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  1. Elizabeth Armstrong says:

    Dear Ellen and Irene,

    Great advice Irene! My situation with my eldest daughter (15-years-old) is almost identical to Ellen’s from four years ago. I have three younger children who are all thriving in the school system, but my oldest has just now presented me with a powerpoint she spent nearly two hours preparing to demonstrate the “pro’s” of us moving 200 miles south to be near her friends.

    I would like to ask how Ellen’s daughter faired through her final years in high school, and how is she doing now? Irene, if you have any additional feedback/advice you can provide, I would greatly appreciate your time to respond.

    Best,

    Liz

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’m in a similar situation, but there have been suicide attempts along with the depression in my teenage son.
    We did family counseling and he goes to ongoing counseling, which both have helped a bit. It isn’t easy. The only times that I’ve heard that changing towns or schools helping is where a kid is the target of a bullying group, or did something that is a continuing embarassment that you may not even know about. I’d ask her about it if she hasn’t told you anything specific. We had to cyber school for one year due to the depression, and then he went back to school the next year. This did isolate him from any peers, which was bad, but at least he wasn’t held back for that year (and it relieved a lot of the stress for me having to call him off and try to see to it that the work was made up – which I found impossible). Maybe this option could be an idea for you. Good luck to you, this is such a hard situation for anyone.

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