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My Daughter’s Mental Health Is More Important Than My Dreams for Her Future

I’ve learned to let Lee take the lead on whether college is right for her.

Junior Night. I parked my car and wondered, for the hundredth time, why was I going? I knew it would be like Sophomore Night, listening to counselors talk about the courses our kids should take next year to stay on a college track. In particular, they would stress the highly respected competitive University of California track, which wasn’t in my daughter’s ballpark right now.

I sat in my car, feeling a heavy weight on my shoulders. Lee was having a difficult enough time on the high school diploma track due to her struggles with ADHD, anxiety, and dyslexia. Starting at a community college was about as far as my mind could travel right now. Even Lee had said, “Mom, why are you going?”

But it was hard not to go, to give up the hope I’d had for years that maybe she’d triumph over her challenges and be able to go to a four-year college. Then I felt like kicking myself. At what cost? My daughter’s mental health was more important than my dreams for her future. I put my key back in the ignition, but then thought, “If I learned one new thing tonight that could help Lee through her junior year, it would be worth going.”

“Jennifer?” Amy, a mom I used to volunteer with at Lee’s elementary school, was standing next to my car window. Oh, boy, I thought, here we go. She’d been PTA president, the go-to brains behind every volunteer event, and was always eager to give me tips on how to help Lee succeed. She was mother to Sean, a typical kid with no disabilities, and lacked any understanding of what it took to parent a child with ADHD.

We slid into two seats in the back of the auditorium, and I noticed Amy whipping out a notebook and pen. I‘d been so busy helping Lee memorize history facts for a test that I hadn’t come prepared. I scrounged around in my purse and finally located an old grocery list and pencil stub.

Amy whispered, “Jennifer, do you think Sean should take four honor classes instead of three? How many is Lee taking?”

“None,” I whispered and leaned away, pretending I needed to hear what the counselor was saying.

“Aren’t you worried she won’t get into a four-year college?”

My head pounded. I had to get out of there, away from the perfect mom. I shoved my pencil and paper back into my purse and grabbed my keys. But then I looked over at Amy, and in that moment, I saw myself. Wasn’t I really here tonight because of my own fears? How could I judge another mom for wanting the best for her son? And what was really the best for Lee?

Deep down, I knew the answer. I wanted Lee to take things a day at a time to manage her anxiety. I wanted her to find her own path. Even if she stumbled, she’d pick herself up and figure it out, just like she’d done her whole life. I wanted her to go to college, but only if she believed she could meet the challenge. And that remained to be seen.

When I got home, Lee was busy drawing. She looked up and said, “Did you learn anything?”

I smiled and said, “I know for sure you’re on the right track. Can I see your drawing?”

She held it up, and I felt my spirits soar. Lee might have trouble reading or paying attention, but she’d poured hours of work into what she loved. And I knew that her artistic passion, or any other passion she felt in her heart, would give her the stamina and strength to go the distance, wherever it led.



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