Maybe parenting is the art of the impossible. How do you balance these crazy opposites?

On the one hand, my daughter’s idolization of her mom is something she deserves to hold on to. She’s lost so much, it would be cruel to take that away. On the other hand, the part of her that remembers her mom is drawn to girls who are similarly abusive to her. She’s in a cycle of pursuing rejection.

For a while I was fixated on these other girls. Their bad manners, drama, cruelty. But with time it’s clear that Shayla is creating this with them, practically begging them to treat her poorly, rewarding them richly with attention when they withold or insult. When one leaves, my girl manages to find another frenemy.

Last week on therapy day I pick Shayla up at the regular time, and she’s weeping and furious at the latest insult. We get to Wendy’s office, and Shayla’s in a state, going over and over the latest insult.

Wendy says “I wonder if you remember other people who yelled mean words at you when they were mad, and you kept trying to forgive them?” Uh-oh, she’s going to go there.

Shayla lists a number of kids who she’s tangled with.

“I read a report about somebody else who did that, before.”

“Who?” Shayla seems to genuinely want to know, and have no idea.

“Most kids can remember what happened from about 3 years old. See if you can remember anything.”

Back and forth they go. Who? Who?

Finally Shayla guesses her mom, and Wendy says yes, and I tell her that’s what I understand too. She looks like we’ve just told her the Easter Bunny kicks kids in their sleep. She’s gobsmacked. “What did she call me?” she wants to know.

I don’t like repeating those words, says the therapist.

Wow, it was a payoff of two years of work that Wendy could get this on the table. I realize it’s just a step on the way, but I felt like I’d witnessed something amazing.

I was ready for big fireworks later in the week, bedwetting, or school drama. But everything was smooth. I told Shayla I was sad that her mom sometimes said mean things to her. And then I dropped it. Things settled back to normal.

I guess that’s how you do it. Little by little, as she’s able to take it, I’m going to have to dish out this ghastly story. Help Shayla see how deeply unwell her mom is, and what wounds she’s got from her. And I also have to help her keep her love for her mom alive, help her understand that under the mental illness and substance abuse, somewhere in her higher self of course her mom loves her, deeply.

What really amazes me is that this wound seems such a small piece of her life. There are the frenemies, and there’s the therapy. But so much of every day is spent on school, softball, family friends, reading.Swimming. SpongeBob. For her seventh birthday we got her a Kindle Tablet (for the parental controls) and she’s playing Fruit Ninja, slicing up watermelons. It’s not that this weight she will have to carry isn’t terrible, but it is true that she’s got so much else going on, so much energy for math, stories, dancing and silly games.

It seems impossible, but somehow she’s moving forward. Here comes Summer, and Summer Camp, and all the rest. It goes so fast!