As a woman in her 30’s, having made it through adolescence, high school, young love and hasty decisions, a divorce, and also a couple of serious relationships, I can say with certainty that I have experienced a broken heart more than one time.
I felt it when my first serious boyfriend in high school kissed my friend and we broke up; I felt it when my dad decided he loved a much younger woman and walked out on us; and I felt it again as an adult when the man I fell in love with after my divorce ended our relationship for reasons that elude me to this day.
The good news is that I’m okay. I have moved on. And I like to think that these experiences have made me stronger, more realistic, and less willing to put up with people who aren’t ever going to really show up for me. Until recently, I thought that my journey to get here was difficult, but then my teenage daughter met a boy who, inevitably, broke her heart.
My daughter, nearly sixteen years old, and I have always maintained a close relationship with very strong communication. I have told her many times that nothing is off limits for conversation. I’ll always give her the facts and my opinion whenever she has a question.
I had already resigned myself to the fact that she would most likely have sex before she was married (a parent can dream, right?). And it looked like things were getting pretty serious with this particular guy. So I broached the subject with her. She said that they had not gone that far, yet.
In the interest of not wanting to become a grandmother in my thirties, I let her know that if she ever did feel as though things were going in that direction, to talk to me. We would invest in some birth control. A few short weeks later, she made that request.
In the beginning, she was over the moon. I noticed her confidence level rising, her grades were perfection, she had a great attitude not only towards me, but also towards her two younger sisters which, let’s face it, is not always the case. Her chores were done daily with no complaint or coaxing from me, and she even pitched in on some additional housework. She was bubbly and smiling all the time, and it was wonderful to see her in such a state of happiness.
Then, I started to get to know the boyfriend a little better.
His appearance wasn’t that bad; to me, all teenage boys have shaggy hair, bad skin, and dress a little weird these days. He was just over two years her senior, having recently turned eighteen and that was about it. No job, no car of his own. No college in his future. Now, I’m not trying to sound harsh here. But at 18 years old, I would think that at least ONE of these things should be in place.
It wasn’t just the lack of employment that bothered me. It was his lack of motivation to do anything at all about it. He had lived with his grandparents since he was very young, and they had pretty much given him a free ride. However, that was quickly coming to an end, as they were growing tired of supporting him.
So, here I was: with a boy who my daughter was completely crazy about, but who brought nothing to the table that showed he’s responsible, dedicated, purposeful, or mature. At no time during their relationship did I hear one single intelligent remark come out of his mouth. As a matter of fact, the very first time he came to the house to meet me and I asked him if he had a job, his reply was that he was working on it, but had to wait a while because he had just gotten high the other day and wouldn’t be able to pass a drug test. Hello, future of America!
However, my daughter had never been happier. So I tried to overlook his shortcomings. I had some talks with her about the things he could do in order to be more successful. I gave him advice on finding a job, let him come over to use the computer for filling out applications, helped him create a resume, and encouraged her to encourage him.
This kid seemed like someone who had missed out on the swift kick in the butt that most parents eventually give to their children. So I was trying to step in and provide that for him. Some may feel that what he did was none of my business. But I assure you that when you are the one forking out the money for movies, dinner, dates, and eventually birth control pills and doctor’s visits, it becomes your business.
Eventually, it got the point where it was very clear to me that this kid was going nowhere. My daughter (and my wallet) deserved better than her lazy boyfriend. I wanted her to realize this on her own and find the strength to move on. After all, I’m strong and she’s my daughter. It should be a no brainer. What I forgot was that I didn’t just find my strength on a shelf in a store of pretty things one day. I found it after I went through heartache.
And she did, too.
I had gotten to the point where I just didn’t want to see this kid, much less try to sympathize with him at all. Then he called out of the blue to say that he had to come over immediately because he had something to tell my daughter. This couldn’t be good. Spring break had just started. The kids were all geared up for an entire week of sleeping in, going out, and having as much fun as possible. She did just that, too. Except that I noticed she seemed just slightly different. Her smiles seemed forced, her laughter scarce, her music darker, and she was constantly on her phone or online talking to the boyfriend. She spent even more time in her room, which seemed impossible already. And times when she didn’t know I was watching her, she looked so sad, lost even.
Now, many of you may not agree with this, especially you teenagers. But I made the decision to cross the threshold into her sanctuary and go through her things. Yes, I did that. While there weren’t too many clues in her room to help me find what she wasn’t telling me, her computer was a plethora of information, as most are. And I was shocked by what I read there. Turns out, this boy had not only cheated on her, but couldn’t even man up enough to tell her himself; she had to hear it from the other girl.
My poor, sweet baby! He had taken all she had to offer, including her virginity, and a mere couple of months later, he threw it all away as if she were nothing special and moved on to the next opportunity. She was devastated. I was surprised at how intense and miserable her messages to her closest friends were. She spoke of being depressed, how much she needed reassurance that he loved her despite his mistake, why she felt it was okay to give him a second chance (which she did) and how much she wished he would stop smoking weed and be a better guy. Hello?? MY daughter was in this place?? My funny, sweet, laughing, beautiful daughter was in this dark place?
The Unhealthy Aftermath
I was appalled at the things that he had done and furious at him for upsetting her so. But I was also completely dumbfounded.
This wonderful girl who I had spent years building up, explaining her worth to her, teaching her how to value herself, not to settle, and how to have standards, would succumb so easily to such an obvious fool and liar. I thought I had taught her the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. I had taken all of the knowledge and wisdom that my previous experiences had given me and imparted it heartily on my child. And she had laid it aside for this guy who had just blown her world apart. Why?
Several theories crossed my mind. She’s afraid of being alone, of not being able to say that she has a boyfriend. She takes pity on him because of his absent father, family issues, etc. She wants to be “that girl” who stays by his side through thick and thin. Maybe she just genuinely loved him and believed it when he said that they should go to college together and then get married. That he couldn’t imagine his life without her. That he’s never loved anyone like this before.
Whatever the reason, it became clear that this was an unhealthy relationship. My daughter was more miserable than ever before. She had become insecure and so unsure of him that she was staying on the phone at all hours just so she knew that he wasn’t with anyone else. This guy had used her, her body and her money. He had stood her up multiple times on the weekend when she was all ready to go out and spend her time with him. And now she was heartbroken and not talking to me about any of it. This was not okay.
Dear Daughter: An Intervention
I thought long and hard about what to do to help her. The decision I came to wasn’t an easy one, but necessary. Since she obviously didn’t want to confide these things in me verbally, I thought the best approach was to write her a letter. I felt that a letter would also allowed her to hear me, all of what I was saying, without interruption and without the argument that would most likely occur if I started in on the topic while she was already feeling so confused and emotional. I wrote a beautiful letter. First I told her how much I love her, how wonderful she is, how much she deserves and why I am so proud to be her mother.
Then, I dropped the bomb. I told her that as of that day, she would no longer be allowed to see this boy. She would relinquish all communication devices to me (cell phone, Ipod Touch, laptop) for the duration of the week, only to have these things back on Fridays in order to make plans with friends for the weekend. And then she would turn them over again Sunday evening.
I wasn’t grounding her, she wasn’t being punished; what I did for her was to do what she couldn’t find the strength to do herself. I took this person who had brought pain and heartache, doubt and insecurity into her life, out of her life.
When she walked in the door after school that day, I asked her for her phone and Ipod. I told her that she had something in her room to read that required her full, undivided attention. She’d known for a while that the boyfriend wasn’t on my good side. So she wasn’t really surprised at what it said. But I was still only moderately prepared for the gut wrenching sobs that emanated from behind her bedroom door for the next hour or so.
Eventually, she came downstairs and was allowed use of her phone for one hour. She could call her best friend, a relative, or whomever she felt the need to talk to. She would let them know what was going on and that she’d be out of touch during the week from now on until otherwise decided.
I strongly suggested that she take some time to mull over what my letter had said before she called him. My hope was that she would realize how much of herself she had lost in recent weeks. I wanted her to tell him that SHE decided he wasn’t good enough for her. It was over, and not just simply that her mother says she can’t see him anymore.
No such luck.
I had expected her to be furious with me. But over the next few days and weeks, she came to me more and more to talk about all that happened. She shared how she was feeling. She shared her hope that someday they could still be friends (don’t we all do that one?). And she revealed to me some things that she hadn’t let me in on before because she knew that I wouldn’t like him any more than I already did, which wasn’t much.
She never once has been angry with me for it; on the contrary, she has thanked me for giving her the push that she needed to see clearly and allow her to hope for something more out of her life. Only once did she ask me how I found out about what he did. I replied that I am a mom. Never underestimate a mom’s ability to find stuff out.
These days, she’s back to her happy, smiling, singing, pleasant self. I am thankful every day that she has made it through this first heart break okay. She’s a little stronger, a little more realistic, and a lot less willing to take less than she deserves from anyone. Especially a boy! There’s hope for her, yet.