Help the stressed mom of a miserable kid

I love my daughter but she is an emotional handful. We dropped her off for freshman year of college in September and she hasn’t stopped texting, crying, whining and complaining since. She has anxiety and depression so I didn’t expect it to be easy but I wasn’t prepared for this and it’s taking a toll on me. I’m starting to lose my cool with her and I know that’s not productive.

She’s made some friends - none are really close friends yet and she doesn’t feel she has a “group” but she likes her classes, she has good grades. The workload is not overwhelming so far. She’s managed to find something to do each weekend night except one. She’s joined a few clubs. The people on campus are warm and friendly and seem to be her “type”. She’s met some upperclassman who have taken her under their wing and she can open up to them about her struggles. We saw her two weekends ago and she looked great - i almost didn’t recognize her. Normally shy, she was outgoing, saying hi to people and was stopping along the way to chat with classmates, dorm mates, etc.

So what’s the problem? She seems to be stuck between a rosy 20/20 recollection of HS and a fantasy about college. The person she’s getting to know isn’t as close as a friend she’s known since she was 4. The campus event she went to with a new friend isn’t a “party” that others go to. The cute college town she has access to isn’t NYC. She HATES the weather despite the fact that she’s <3 hours from home. Whatever is good or positive is not good or positive enough. She misses her “old life” - the life that other than the last two months of HS and summer she complained about 24/7 because it consisted of constant homework and small town lack of fun.

I’ve tried to get her to acknowledge what’s good and focus on what needs work. Try to think: “I like my classes, people are so friendly but I’m hoping to make deeper connections and find a group.” instead of her typical: “I’m broken”, “I’m a shell of the person I used to be”, “I hate my life” , “I forgot what happiness feels like” etc. etc. She’s admitted if she had a close friend or two and a small group, everything would be GREAT.

My life consists of reading CC posts about unhappy freshman and sharing tips. I’ve also suggested she try to write down 3 things each day that were positive and try to do 1 thing each day to expand her circle or deepen a casual relationship even if it makes her uncomfortable. The therapist is giving similar advice. I’m starting to think she’s never going to be able to break out of the negative thinking.

If you’ve read this far - thanks. If you’ve been here - any tips? If you think I’ve got it all wrong - I’m open.

I would suggest that she see a counselor on campus – talking things through with a professional might be helpful to her.

I would also remind your D that:

–Close friends take a long time to cultivate – she didn’t get as close as she was with her HS friends in 2 months (FWIW had this conversation with my S more than once when he started college).

–Her old life at home isn’t there anymore (ex. her friends are away at college, she can’t return to HS) so there is no real choice but to move forward.

–Life is much happier when one can focus on the positives.

Thanks for replying - i should have been more clear. She is seeing someone 1x per week. Because of scheduling issues she’s only had 3 sessions so far so hoping that will help. She saw a therapist all through high school who was prepping her for this.

I’m glad she is seeing someone.

I agree that she needs to talk to someone on campus. Her RA or housing can direct her as to where to find a listening ear that might just show her a side that she hasn’t looked at yet.

Has she been home yet? One thing the kids need to realize is that home isn’t what it used to be. There is no going back. We had our kid come home over labor day. But first we checked with his friends parents to make sure nobody else was going to be home. Then his best buddy showed up and surprised his mom. So that didn’t work. Then a few weeks later, we let him come home for fall break. Nobody else was around. He figured it out real quick – there was nothing left at home for him (except us and the dog of course). He’s been pretty good since then. Have to embrace the college experience. Good luck.

If it continues, maybe find a therapist for you who can help in setting boundaries, and crafting appropriate responses to your daughter. Sounds like it is just growing pains of realizing college is not utopia, so maybe lessen the sympathy provided and put the burden back on her to solve it-asking her how does she plan on addressing her concerns, has she made plans to transfer, etc. Good time for her to realize her agency in the situation and take corrective action if she wants to.

One of our kids was very unhappy her first year away at college. Fortunately or unfortunately, we only had one big very unhappy crying conversation where she asked to transfer (we said no, due to her generous scholarship).

Other than that, she just made unpleasant snarky comments when we asked her how class was, or what she was up to. But she is the type of kid who tends to get angry when unhappy, not necessarily crying & coming to us for comfort and reassurance (maybe it’s us!). We quickly learned to ask almost no questions and stick mostly to saying we love her and texting pictures of the dog.

But, something happened right around the time school let out for the summer. She was looking forward to sophomore year, to living off-campus, to starting a new program in her major.

It was a dramatic change.

You are probably a very safe place to vent, you know, a person to vent to. Maybe she feels 1000x better when she hangs up the phone and you are hearing all the bad parts. IDK. It’s hard to know what to do and what not to do.

If you are not seeing a therapist for yourself, I highly recommend. It’s really stressful when your kid is unhappy, and the therapist might have some great tips for you on how to respond to your D’s distress without plugging into it.

I’m really sorry you and your D are going through this. I’m really glad she is seeing a counselor. I have 1 close family member who also tends to catastraphize everything that isn’t quite perfect. I have found that it isn’t helpful to try to talk her out of her feelings, even when they seem completely out of proportion. Instead, I just listen sympathetically, let her know that I understand that those things can be really hard and tell her how proud I am of all that she is accomplishing. I let her know that I’m proud of her for perservering in the face of whatever is making her so unhappy. You can’t talk her out of her feelings and sometimes the more you try to help someone see the “good” the more entrenched they get in their own view. Its as if they have to dig in their heals to “prove” that everything is really bad. If you talk a step back, she may be more comfortable admitting some of the good on her own.

Think of it like a kid who is sobbing because their ice cream just fell on the floor. Its no good telling them that ice cream isn’t worth sobbing over. Its often more helpful to just give a hug and say you understand and its rotten they lost it.

I have also found that it sometimes helps to share my own bad experiences so she knows she is not alone. When she tells me her friend troubles, I let her know that I have gone through the same thing, etc. I don’t promise everything will be fine. I just let her know I understand and that sometimes things just stink. Often we end up commiserating over ice cream and it can turn into a pleasant moment.

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Can you give yourself permission to not respond to every text, to be “less available,” and/or to try to limit your emotional response to her? I know it’s difficult (been there done that), but the key FOR YOU is to not let yourself get caught up in it. She has a therapist. She is doing everything she needs to be doing.

Lots of deep breaths and whatever your go-to salvation is (ice cream? Long walks? Yoga?).

Wow - this community is great. Thank you for all the reassurances and great advice. Unfortunately, I have a very high pressure job that involves long hours so I have not made time to speak to someone myself. Of course my pressure from work just makes it harder for me to have patience for her. That and my personality which is very much about dealing with reality and not getting emotional! I think I need to prioritize speaking with someone, if only to get some advice.

I’m hoping she’s just using me to let off some steam - I have been very accessible and pounce on her every text so maybe not good - I’m feeding into it it seems. Everyone in our house has strict instructions not to text her but I do admit I’ve def been there when she reaches out to us. I also try to be calm but I do get sucked in when I should back off. It’s also horrible to say but I resent that we are paying full price private school tuition for her to be complaining.

She hasn’t been home yet but we have talked about the fact that she could drop out and come home but that solves nothing - life has moved on! She’ll be home for Thanksgiving along with all of her friends so that’s probably the worst situation. Thanks again everyone - really appreciate people taking the time to talk me off the ledge.

I think you should lift the texting ban from family members. Let her spread the love (or misery). Perhaps her dad won’t be so sympathetic if she complains about the weather or a sibling will complain back about how you made baked chicken AGAIN for supper or that you made him rake leaves for 3 hours. Oh yeah, everything at home wasn’t perfect either. You can tell her that of course you can be interrupted at work for an emergency, but you will only be able to answer general texts once you get home. If she complains about being cold, send her mittens.

Remember you are her safety person – this is both a wonderful thing and a curse! She clearly feels close enough to you to vent all of her anxieties, but you are stuck dealing with them in your head, while she might just have needed to verbalize them to someone she trusts. What I did with my similar anxiety prone daughter was use the “uh huh…hmmmm…that sounds frustrating…it sounds like you wish you could make close friends faster…” just be a calm ear. Don’t try to fix it for her, but offer suggestions so that she can fix it. Also, delay your response to her texts, try answering only once a day. She can complain, that is her right, but YOU don’t have to give in to the complaints or agree with them. It’s hard, but in the long run, she will figure things out and you won’t feel as stressed out. Glad she is seeing a therapist – spread the complaining around!

It sounds like she might be doing well at school but acts miserable only to family. Agree that you don’t have to react to every text or lament. Email her on a weekday morning and tell her that you left your phone at home so won’t be able to check texts all day long.

This may be really off the mark, but since you mentioned that she seemed well when you saw her, is there a possibility that in her mind, the whining/crying/kvetching is the way she’s comfortable connecting with you emotionally? She knows that you’ll engage when she’s a mess, she loves to feel your love and engagement, so she puts herself in that needy spot with you. No doubt she feels some of that misery authentically, but she uses it as the currency of your relationship. And if you are busy and stressed, nothing like an emotional crisis to get mom’s attention! Is there some pattern of this in your relationship with her? None of this is to say it’s not completely genuine – there is history - but writing a different version of a relationship can be really hard! This is something a professional might be able to help with.

What do you think would happen if you listened, said “wow, that sounds rough” or “I am sorry things aren’t he going the way you’d like”, then (compassionately) move on to talk about something else. Let her feel that your love and care are there even when she’s doing great. Arrange times to talk regularly so that a crisis isn’t always the starting place. The idea of sharing one good thing (both of you should do this) may help, especially when it’s not in the context of an emotional call.

I do know that kids need to unload and parents are a safe place to do that. And that it’s not unusual for them to feel so relieved after sobbing to mom that they can dress up and head out to a night of partying when they hang up (while mom lies awake all night worrying about her child!)

It’s always hard to know what’s going on, and as long as you keep the channels open to talk, you’re on the right track. I am sorry you are feeling the stress of your D. Parenting can really be difficult.

There is a very high chance that your daughter is going to get through this just fine. A year from now this may be a distant memory and you might just be wishing she would text or call more often. You said she seems to be stuck between the 20/20 recollection of high school and fantasy of college. Another word for that may be grieving. She is grieving the loss of her past, and fighting it in the process. And that’s what it is, a process. Resist trying to convince her that it isn’t so bad or that it will get better. Just listen, stay in the now “what’s happening today?,” “tell me about your ____class today,” “what’s that professor like?” Etc. Be interested in the now. She’ll get her legs under her. It’s a developmental process, some don’t go through it quite as smoothly as others, but they do get through it.

Read @Lindagaf’s and @NEPatsGirl’s threads about their daughter’s first semesters, you’ll learn you aren’t alone.

Remember too, one of the things she’s grieving the love and security that you raised her in, that’s something special. You all have to find your strength.

You’ve gotten nearly all the thoughts I’d share. And we do want to keep the communication lines open in case there’s a true crisis. But in pop psych there’s the concept of being “codependent.” It takes many forms but is basically about when we actually enable issues or behaviors (or complaints) by getting so involved.

Many of us have been surprised when loved ones respond well to not offering advice, thoughts, encouragement, etc. “I love you and I’m sorry you feel that way” can work. CC does also sometimes tell parents to examine their own involvement.

I know you’re trying your best. Hoping she gets through this.

My kids are older than yours. I have a first year law school student. Yesterday she called me up to tell me how stressed she was. She has midterms now, but she needs to figure out where she wants to apply for her first year internship. AND on top of that, she has finals in Dec, but needs to send out all job applications before end of year. How is that possible?! Yada, yada, yada. I listened to her for a while then I said, “It sounds very stressful, but I know you will figure out what you want to do and I have faith you will get it done. You know you are a strong student, so I think you will do fine on your exams. But guess what, if you graduate #1 from your law school your will get a job, and if you graduate last from your law school you will also get a job.” She laughed about that.

I have another daughter who is pretty far along with her career. She also called me up last week about how stressed and upset she was about having to do a move within her company. She would get a big promotion, but she wasn’t sure if it was the right move for her. This is kid who rarely got worked up and could handle pressure very well. I also just listened and let her know I had faith in her to figure out what to do.

I used to feel I need to jump in to fix everything for my kids, but I have figured out I couldn’t do that and they also do not need me to do that for them. More often than not, they just want someone to listen to them and believe they could do it on their own. As far as for myself, I would be emotionally crushed if I had to take on my kids problems on top of my own. This enlightenment all came about after few years of therapy. :slight_smile:

OP - I would try not to respond to your D as often. When you do, just sympathize instead of trying to solve her problem. As long as she is healthy, doing well in school, seeing her therapist then try not to worry too much. I wouldn’t be surprised if she is perfectly happy when she is not talking to you.

I think NorthernMom61’s post is very wise.

Many of us have had this situation. Aside from any clinical depression or anxiety issues, misery in the first semester approaches normal! I never put any limits or boundaries on my kids" negative calls, and they faded by early spring. I saw and heard many of their dorm mates going through the same thing, thinking of leaving or transferring. Some kids even seemed miserable to the point of being worrisome. As far as I could tell, most of them, including my own, ended up thriving.

I guess our best response is to listen and not catastrophize ourselves. I had all kinds of helpful suggestions but I doubt they had any effect whatsoever, nor would any other response from me! Time is what helped. Time to really get that feeling of “home” at school and build some sense of history with new friends. Also, once a student declares a major the department becomes a sort of home, sometimes.

Some schools have support groups for kids adjusting to college, for those who feel lonely etc. And of course extracurriculars are a great way to expand the social circle.

Once caveat: if depression is severe or clinical, or a kid has a clear psychiatric condition like bipolar disorder, it is absolutely essential to take calls and monitor the situation for safety.

@NorthernMom61 good memory, its now been 3 years and my D is finishing up this year.

@Dancer41 that first year can be really tough on some kids, even those that are used to being away from home, travellling and such. Its a huge adjustment for all of them but some don’t embrace it as well. My D sounds much like yours. She used me as a sounding board, I only heard about the negatives, and honestly I’m still that sounding board when things aren’t going right but now I also get the good news! At first I was giving advice and then I became overwhelmed with the calls and the crying, much like you.

I visited in October and then her father visited a few weeks later. She was glad to have company for those two weekends because she hadn’t made any friends and on top of that was having roommate issues. She came home at Thanksgiving and made sure we all knew how unhappy and lonely she was. Her boyfriend broke up with her (Turkey Drop). Even at Christmas she hadn’t adjusted. She dove into her academics and isolated herself. She questioned her choice of schools. Second semester she went into a single. I didn’t think it was a great idea but staying in her triple wasn’t either so…

She got through that first semester and really enjoyed being home for winter break. When she went back for second semester I set boundaries…I didn’t pick up the phone every time it rang, instead we talked weekly unless it was urgent. I stopped giving her advice, instead I did what others above suggested, I just showed empathy. I did tell her making friends takes a long time, that roommates aren’t necessarily your friends for life, encouraged her to join some groups even if it wasn’t exactly what she wanted. She started to volunteer and then tutor and then…you get it.

By the time March, spring break, rolled around, everything and everyone settled down. Its now just a distant memory, but it was hard at the time. I’m a single Mom and although she does see her Dad and he is always available to her, that unconditional love was mine to bear alone and it was exhausting.

I talked to her yesterday and she was telling me all her plans for this weekend, Halloween stuff. I reminded her about her freshman Halloween weekend and how she stayed in her room by herself. We talked about how great things are now but that it was gradual, not freshman year, every year got better and she made friends and has a social life. She is still very academic and so not a lot of free time for socializing but enough to have fun! I think if you asked her now, she’d say she has loved her time away at college. And boy has she grown, both intellectually and socially.