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August 3, 2007

The Sacrifice Survival Skills Require

Mariah is 13. She eschews Harry Potter for everything Tolkien. Just because. When her nose isn't in a book, she's mostly fused to her iPod, but can frequently be found playing the video game, Diablo.

She loves to draw. (Draws tattoos on her dog, Elle). Writes in her journal faithfully. Pages and pages. Avoids social situations as much as possible. Would rather observe than be observed, listen than talk. Seeks out quiet, secret places whenever she can. Has a few good friends, but mostly, Mariah is by herself.

She layers her clothes in odd pairings. Tube tops over tee shirts, skirts over leggings. Jewelry on rawhide. Orange is her favorite color.

Lately, Mariah's penchant for cocooning has increased. Sequestered away with Elle among her books, journals, art projects, and technology, she is perfectly content. Last summer, she would call her friends several times a week. This summer, camp and a couple of sleepovers have been more than enough. Actually, her most significant interaction of the summer was a three-hour text session with a friend who is a year ahead and going to high school. She doubts she'll ever see her again.

There is an odd Anne Frank-ness to Mariah. Almost a self-imprisonment. And yet, there is the beauty: of self well-known even as the self is being discovered; her voice and instincts clear as a bell chime on a still, fall morning.

But Mariah's mother is worried. She's not developing social skills like other girls. She's too contrarian. Too opinionated. Too eccentric, intellectual, sensitive, honest, aware.... Mariah is just too much. And when you're too much, you don't fit in. We may not want to admit it, but what we call survival skills in the 21st century actually involve a fair amount of amputation--the cutting off of self. Especially if we're born female. It's what we are required to do as the passage out of innocence. The sacrifice to end our childhood. We become less. Hide who we are. Edit our gifts. Distance ourselves from our questions and dial down our passions. All so that we can fit in. It's what society expects.

Even Anne Frank figured this out. Which is why the diary we read is third generation: Anne Frank's edit of her original, then edited by her father. Personally, I'd like to get my hands on the original. She must have been like Mary, sitting at Jesus' feet. Simply choosing to be who she was: the unedited seeker of truth, doing what was counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. Listening to Jesus instead of preparing the food.

Mariah's mother is going to take her to a psychologist to help deal with her "depression." I just hope Mariah doesn't stop wearing orange.


Mariah sounds like a typical artistic bent teen. My son is one of those artistic creative types and about to turn 23. Why does Mariah's mother feel the need to take her to a psychologist--is it because her daughter is not living out her mother's unfulfilled dream of what she herself wanted to be but never did? My mother's dream was to be a nurse which never happened and so she tried to make her daughters become what she couldn't and failed--we just had no interest in that career path. Or maybe Mariah's mother is worried because her daughter isn't fitting into the traditional mold the Christian church and authors like the Eldriges and Elizabeth Elliott try to push on all females (gag! gag!.) Mariah's mother will get a lot farther with her daughter if she will accept and affirm her for who she is--stong, unique, intelligent etc. (all good qualities), rather than try to make her into her own image of what she wants her to be via a psychologist. There's no faster way to alienate a person with a creative artistic bent than that and if mom pushes hard enough, she'll have a full scale ugly rebellion on her hands.I wonder how happy mom would be if Mariah suddenly turned into a promiscuous party girl? Mom, praise and celebrate the beautifully talented daughter God's given you who has a mind and knows how to use it, lest you cause her to shut you out of her life completely.

Taking Mariah to a psychologist? Good heavens. The girl sounds like me when I was that age, and my parents let me be that way. The result? I didn't get into any trouble. I ended up a church-going Christian, pretty good wife, mom, and published author. I have a happy life, with a lot of love, joy, creativity, and fulfillment.

Being content not to party with friends and being content to stay in her room and write is a really good sign that she's got all the makings of a writer. It's what you have to be happy to do if you're going into writing as a career.

As for her clothing, that's just typical teen wear these days. No harm in it.

The tension is real: deeply desiring the fullest expression of individuality for our daughters (and others) AND deeply desiring to protect them from a world that is unwilling to see past the facade of appearances to the core of worth, heart, beauty, creativity, all things good.

Though Mariah's mother may be misdirected in her form or level of concern I wouldn't be too quick to judge her consideration of counseling. Not because there's something wrong with Mariah that needs to be fixed, but perhaps because she deeply desires that Mariah be understood, heard, listened to, in ways that she is unable to offer - and in a context of confidentiality and support that every mother wants to provide but knows ultimately she cannot.

My hunch is that Mariah's mother has done so much "amputating" of her true self over the years - in order to survive - that she doesn't know anymore how that might look different for Mariah or even for herself. It might just be that a fear-based internal voice leading her to help for Mariah will be the best non-amputating thing she could possibly provide.

Mariah's mother knows well, whether she'll admit it or not, the Anne Frank reality that Sally so powerfully articulates:

"It's what we are required to do as the passage out of innocence. The sacrifice to end our childhood. We become less. Hide who we are. Edit our gifts. Distance ourselves from our questions and dial down our passions. All so that we can fit in. It's what society expects."

Maybe a safe and sacred space for Mariah - in the context of therapy - will be the very thing that will enable her to live into her passions far more fully, with far less hiding, with far less editing - not being "too much," but being all of who she is no matter what her mom or society thinks.

I'd like to give Mariah's mother the benefit of the doubt (even if she's misguided in motive): perhaps she knows all too well of her own shutting down - now expressed in a particular idea of what her life should look like, as well as her daughter's. Perhaps there is a still, small voice that wants more for her daughter than she can offer. And perhaps, the counseling itself will affirm Mariah's individuality, her artistic abilities, her independence. Perhaps, because of such her mom will be the one to start wearing orange.

Thanks, Sally. As always: good things to think about without easy answers. 'Love that about you!

This is the way kids are these days. If left on their own, will take to their own personal community within the computer, and in the fantasy land of books.

Depression can arise from Mariah's choice of life - cutting one's self off from face to face contact and not getting exercise.

I was as troubled as Mariah's mom this summer on how go guide my own 14 & 12 year old. Talking to my mentor helped. She reminded me that even at this age we are not to stop parenting. It is still up to us to get the kids out and about, albiet facing flack along the way. They will stubbornly stick to their computer chairs and sleep in past noon if left to.

It takes a strong parent to intentionally add balance. It is part of parenting - teaching life balance.

I don't believe that getting the kids to do other stuff squelches who they are. It is about helping to expose them to all the world has to offer beyond the 4 walls of their home.

For me it meant suggesting a camp to my 14 year old daugter which she agreed to and loved, a family trip for a couple of weeks to be involved with cousins, then putting the word out that she was available as a volunteer. The drop-in program my son attends welcomed her as a volunteer 3 afternoons a week.

It has meant getting my 12 year old son to phone a friend for an hour of swimming at the local pool instead of spending the entire day at the computer. That spawned relationship renewal whereby his friends play soccer in the evenings now.

After a few hours of this and that, they still have plenty of time to retreat into netherworld.

It is a new demand on parents at this stage. Like I said, not without flack and resistance.

Did Mariah's mom say Mariah was too opinionated. Too eccentric, intellectual, sensitive, honest, aware.... Mariah is just too much or is that what you are assuming? We may not want to admit it, but what we call survival skills in the 21st century actually involve a fair amount of amputation--the cutting off of self. Especially if we're born female.

To the contray, I think that sequestering oneself off in a fantasy world is Mariah's choice of survival skills. We are created for relationships and it is only in real vs.fantasy relationships that we discover who we are. In a fantasy world we see ourselves in any way we choose, even as "special." It is in relationships that we are faced with our common humanity. But it within this awareness that we connect with ourselves, with God and with one another.

Mariah may not need a therapist, yet she will benefit from a willingness to open herself up to some new perceptions about what her expectations of herself and others are and why she is maknig excuses for choosing fantasy over reality; being herself in the real world rather than being probably someone else in a world of her creation.

My son is seeing a psychiatrist for these same reasons. He was diagnosed as "schizoid personality".

In my reading up on the subject, there is controversy as to whether this is a real personality disorder, because it doesn't hurt anyone, it doesn't keep the person from functioning on a daily basis, and people like this do get married and have families and seem to be content.

Like my son however, there was a degree of depression that did need to be dealt with. He did have anxiety attacts and other issues.

It can be difficult to know when it is time to intervene, or just let them alone. Not all of us are meant to be 'socialites'. It is good to have at least one friend, but you don't need to have a whole bunch to be 'normal'. If Mariah didn't even have one other person she could call a friend, whom she could talk to, it may be good that her mother took her to see a counselor.

My son is still creative, opinionated, intellectual and sensitive, but he is also functioning better after seeing a counselor. Sometimes we don't all move forward without a little help.

Wow. I can't help but feel compassion for Mariah--it seems like no matter what she does, someone's not happy with her. She either gets told she's too much, or she's not enough, and at that age, those messages (and I received plenty of them) can be damaging to a young girl, for the rest of her life. It really stinks for her, that she can't seem to be who she is.

I was artistically bent as a teenager (writing poetry/short essay), and have become even more so into my young adulthood (I'm 25 now). So reading the Eldredges' stuff made being more creative as a woman OK--that's a part of my purpose, to bring beauty into this often ugly world. I didn't find it constricting at all. Mariah, it sounds like, just needs to be left to be who she is, not who everyone else wants her to be.

I'm amazed time and time again at how misunderstood introverted children really are. Mariah sounds like a typical introvert and as long as she seems happy and contented, she should be encouraged to be who she is.

I am an introvert and I have two introverted children who struggle with what society expects from them and who they are expected to be. They are both bright, happy children (a girl, 17, and a boy, 9) who have such amazing musical and literary skills but receive little positive feedback for being reflective, musical people. It's sad that everyone in the U.S. is supposed to fit into a certain extroverted mold to be appreciated. It causes loneliness and doubt when someone feels unaccepted for whom God has made her to be. Our society really needs to educate itself on what traits are healthy and normal and what constitutes emotional disability!

I would suggest that anyone who has a child who seems reserved and more intense, purchase a copy of "The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child" by Marti Olsen Laney. It is incredibly enlightening and informative. Enjoy your introvert!

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