Parenting at the Deep End of the Pool


Last week a friend asked me  – who’s your audience, Nancy? Who do you write for?

I promptly responded, rather flippantly  – “Me! I’m my best audience.” And then realized that while I write because my brain and heart tell me to do so, it is connecting with readers that is often the highlight of my day.

So when a reader sent me a private message via my Blog’s new-ish Facebook page, I was touched that my words resonated with her. And after I responded, I thought why not share a bit – since she and I are certainly not alone in our concerns.

Many parents worry when their older kids struggle  – for whatever reason – on their way into independent adulthood (or not.)  And parenting at the deep end of the pool can feel lonely.

This mom, let’s call her, Sarah, said she felt both “terrified” and “relieved’ after reading about my experiences as a mom of a young adult son with mental health challenges in essays I’ve written for the Washington Post and Kveller.

Sarah explained:

“Terrified because you articulated what I know but try to forget – there are no solutions or answers, even for those of us who run our lives by checking off items on a “to do” list. Yet I was relieved that someone could put into words so eloquently my world…I have no perspective, no understanding, no peace…How did you find your perspective and peace? How did you rebuild your life?…Whatever I am doing, I always hear a voice that nags and penetrates –  (that) the most important person in your life (your child), the one who matters the most is filled with pain and despair. How do you quiet that voice?’

Wow. Sarah captures it, don’t you think? She describes that nagging inner voice so well.

“How do you quiet that voice?”

Part of my response to Sarah:

“Dear Sarah –

Glad you reached out to me; not glad, of course, that you, too, have a child that also struggles with mental illness but glad to connect. There are many of us and we should be sharing our strategies and support with each other.

Your question prompted me to reflect, how did I get to this place? How do I quiet that same nagging voice of concern that our child is in frequent inner pain?

1st – I go on defense. I know, and I mean, I know, that my husband and I were (still are) wonderful parents to our challenged child. We have many warm memories of family visits to museums, to parks, to plays, to concerts, hiking trips, historical sites. More trips to the library that I can count, cooking classes, drama, tae kwon do, camps. We listened, cared, advocated; we found therapists, groups, programs, coaching; we researched medications, theories, techniques. You name it, we tried it.  Perhaps it’s a parental defense mechanism, but I can’t fault my husband or myself for lack of effort – or lack of love.

2nd –  As I came to accept that we were not the cause of our child’s issues, I realized that the only thing under our control is that we can care. But parents cannot cure our child’s pain. This recognition lifted a burden from my heart and off my shoulders.

3rd –  In our child’s situation, and yours may differ, our child sometimes does, but more often does not want, to fully engage in the difficult process of getting stronger. And we cannot do this on our child’s behalf. We tried, oh how we tried, it didn’t work. As my own therapist once told me – your kid has to want to change more than you want your kid to change. A mantra to repeat as needed.

4th – When my thoughts go to our child being in a dark place,  I remember times when our child is not in that place. That there are periods of resilience, and strength, frequent valleys followed by peaks of joy and that sometimes life does settle down into a more stable rhythm. Because if I spent all my time worried about my child, feeling the pain as if it were my own, then two of us, not one of us, would be deeply unhappy – and rationally (and when my husband complains that sometimes I am “too practical”, this is where it comes in handy.) that makes no sense.

5th  – If I ever said that I was at peace, then let me take that back!  I’m not. My husband isn’t either. There is no peace to be had when you are a parent of a child who continues to struggle into adulthood. But there is a perspective that emerges over time from the knowledge that you have done all you can.

When I find myself in a calm and beautiful pace, like wandering through an art museum, or taking a long walk with a close friend, or sitting on the beach late in the afternoon as the sun is ebbing away, and I reflect that our child is not able just now to have similar experiences, I stop to think – my job as a parent is to enjoy it for the both of us.

Hoping this helps, Sarah. Stay in touch, Nancy W.”

*And perhaps my thoughts on this difficult subject will mean something to you too? If not, did help me to write this out;  sometimes I am my own best audience!






Filed under Adult Kids, Blogging, Books, Communications, Husbands, Letting Go, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Midlife, Parenting, Raising Kids, Social Media, Women, Writing, Young Adult Mental Health

22 responses to “Parenting at the Deep End of the Pool

  1. Vic

    This post made me cry. My teenage daughter struggles with mental illness. I worry about her so much it makes me ill. I’ve considered therapy for myself so that I can be strong enough to still happily parent my two other children. Your writing does help me understand that I am doing the best I can. Thank you.


  2. Lauren Randel


    Lauren Randel, MD 4400 East-West Highway, Ste G Bethesda, MD 20814 phone 301.656.3410 fax 301.656.3411

    Date: Thu, 11 Jun 2015 16:20:52 +0000 To:


  3. I wish I had access to a column like yours when I was dealing with my brother who had Bi-Polar. We were both n college at the time, 1950’s, and my parents lived up in New England (I live in Cleveland, OH). I am now dealing with a grandson with dual diagnosis and we are at a very hopeful time in his recovery! over the years we have had other extended family members with mental illness. the reason I am making these comments today is because I find your advice to be very HOPEFUL……Being hopeful combined with my faith journey has enabled me to live a very balanced life.My passion today is working n a partnership with NAMI and my church.
    Please continue to share your wisdom with others. I forward your email to my extended family. thank you!


  4. Thank you. Wise words that resonant so much with our family and our daughter’s struggles. Thank you.


  5. Beautifully–and wrenchingly–said.


  6. Teresa M Walter

    This post is extremely helpful. I rarely see anything posted regarding parenting adult children who struggle, especially after looking back to a full and engaged childhood. TMary


  7. Devonia Cochran

    You’ve taken my breath with this post.


  8. Lenore Rutti

    Sent from my iPad



    • I am curious…..what does “your comment I’d awaiting moderation” mean???


      • Hi, Lenore – “comment awaiting moderation means that I see your comment as the “moderator” and I get to approve it or not – that’s done so I can get rid of “spam” comments. You don’t look like spam! Thank you for reading my post, Nancy


  9. Mimi Ewald

    Your thoughts on this difficult subject meant the world to me. Thank you for sharing. I start this day feeling a bit more at peace as a result of reading this bright and early. I notice it is only when we hit another rough patch that I look back and realize things were a bit calmer for awhile- this will help me to appreciate the calm- when it’s in front of me. Thank you.

    Sent from my iPad



  10. This post has come at the perfect time! Being in transition with an (almost) adult child going through many difficult days, I truly needed to be reminded that it’s not my fault (even though I’m told many times that it is). And also the reminder that it’s ok to see the joy in life and to participate in it as well! Thank you so much for sharing your perspective!!


  11. When worry and that sense of over-responsibility get to me, I have to remind myself that my kids have free will. That they have their own journey of growth to take in their own lives. As I want to steer them in the ‘right’ direction, whatever that is, in the end their life is their own. For me there is both a deep heavy sigh and a sense of relief in that truth. My influence is there, yes. But there is a limit to what I can do. So I pray and hope for the best and remind myself that however human and fallible I am, I did my best. And continue to do my best. And that is good, and enough.


  12. Martin Wolf

    Nancy—-so eloquently and movingly written.  I applaud you.  Hinda


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