Parenting does not end when they turn 18.
Our middle daughter Katie’s introvert personality was evident in her first years. She was tearful with unfamiliar people, preferring the security of mom or dad. In kindergarten, her social skills were behind her peers—we attributed this to her late birthday. So we gave her the gift of an extra year, a transitional grade before grade one. In elementary school, she would cover her ears when walking down the hall as the loud hallway noises were overwhelming to her. Although she was labeled quiet, she excelled academically. She was a voracious reader and a math whiz as well as a quick runner and a skilled soccer player.
We exposed our daughters to a number of activities, and when Katie said “enough” after two years of dance lessons, we obliged. She seemed to be content as the middle child, letting her somewhat more outgoing older and younger sisters take the limelight. As she grew, she enjoyed being a contrarian and challenging convention. Her 4th grade teacher recommended her for the gifted program. Her 5th grade teacher said she should be a litigator.
When Katie was 10, our family moved to another state, and she found it difficult to make new friends. She continued to excel in sports but began showing signs of anxiety. In middle school, she did not fit in the typical mold of the “Ra-Ra” crowd in our upper middle class public school. She began to show signs of defiance. The summer before she began high school, Katie underwent a neuropsychological assessment. She was diagnosed with Generalized and Social Anxiety Disorder.
High school did not get off to a good start. She was cut from the soccer team, skipped her English class (the soccer coach was her teacher), and earned a Saturday detention all on the first day. However, with the help of an amazing adjustment counselor, she did make it through her first semester.
Then, tragedy struck. Katie’s dad died unexpectedly, just after Christmas. This set back my already misfitted and quiet daughter socially and emotionally. She’s clung to me ever since. She managed to get through high school AND college (close to home), even earning a master’s degree in public administration. All the while, she remained socially isolated. High school friendships gradually faded as she disengaged. She preferred to remain relatively unknown. She made some early attempts at being social in college, joining the campus’s Amnesty International group, but that was short-lived, and she went through five years of her BA/MPA program without making one friend.
For the past three years, I’ve done what I could to guide her or connect her to people that could help as she seeks full-time work in her field. To date, she has garnered only part-time or contract gigs. She cannot support herself and lives at home. Despite being a walking encyclopedia of knowledge, she is sorely underemployed. Her confidence and self-esteem are at an all time low. Most of the time she feels invisible.
Throughout, I have guided and cajoled her and sought help and enlisted friends and educators.
One saving grace has been Katie’s passion for animals. She has been committed to veganism for over eight years. She landed a job working for a greyhound rescue organization while in college, and she continues to work there on a volunteer basis. Through word of mouth, she has become a sought-after dog-sitter and uses this fulfilling weekend work to supplement her income.
No doubt my intervention and advocacy have helped in some way, but the struggle is not over. My goal as a parent has always been to raise my daughters to be happy, well-adjusted, and independent young women. Katie is a work-in-progress. She is currently working with a state agency that provides vocational assistance to the disabled. (Yes, Social Anxiety Disorder is a disability—an invisible disability). I remain optimistic that Katie will land the right job soon. After all, her dad and I gave her the middle name Hope, and I continue to have that for her.
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