The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of the word “inheritance” is money, but there’s so much more. How many of us focus on the social status we’ll pass on to our children, to the exclusion of our intangible – and perhaps more valuable – assets? I have no social status, so there is no dilemma in my house. I’m going to pass on my intangibles, or I’m not going to pass on anything.

And there’s the problem.

My daughter got a bad deal in the gene department. She was born with a birth defect that caused multiple, painful urinary/kidney infections from the time she was born until she was about three. By the time the defect was discovered, it had caused irreparable damage to one kidney, and it had to be removed. While in the hospital recovering from surgery, we learned that she didn’t tolerate certain kinds of medication very well. We found this out when she started having frightening hallucinations. It’s bad enough trying to convince a child there are no monsters under the bed when they can’t see them. When they can “see” them… well, it’s one of the most frightening things I’ve experienced as a parent. When she started school we learned that she had Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (possibly triggered by her traumatic experiences as a toddler), which led to uncontrollable behaviors that the other kids (and some teachers) didn’t understand – and mocked.

Many of you know this already, either through this site or one of many in-person self pity sessions. I’m rehashing it now only to emphasize why I feel a strong need to be patient with my daughter. She deserves my patience not only because she’s my daughter, I love her, and she’s had a rough time; but also because I feel partially responsible. I’d ask why she’s like this, but I think I already know. Family stories suggest my mother’s grandmother was a bit unstable. My mother’s uncle committed suicide. My mother was recently committed. My mother’s family tree contains a lot of prominent New England surnames, going back to the Mayflower, but it also has a history of mental illness. I live in fear that this will be my legacy to my daughter. I wish I could have washed my genes before I gave them to her.

The latest manifestation of OCD has me teetering on the brink of meltdown. Every time she hears the word “please,” she feels a compulsion to groan. At first I thought it was just Beth being surly, and she suffered the consequences (groundings, loss of allowance, loss of privileges, etc); but it continued. Beth loves her computer (like her dad), she’s not that bad a kid, and no one is THAT stubborn, so I finally began to believe her when she said she couldn’t help it.

But it’s so hard. I’ll ask her to do something (politely – with a “please”) and she’ll grunt, sounding to all the world like she’s being a snot – then immediately apologize. My emotions go from furious, to sorrow, to guilt so fast that I feel a bit dizzy.

Somehow I’ve got to make it up to her. Somehow I’ve got to find something else worth passing on… something I can nurture, that will allow her to grow and flourish… something that will be enough to make up for the garbage she’s inherited.


  1. Becca, I meant to post something earlier but somehow it slipped my mind. Colleen’s comment reminded me.

    Based on my experience, I’d take cancer over mental illness. Although it can be scary, at least with cancer there’s often a cure. Mental illness is often an unrelenting house of horrors. On the bright side (relatively speaking), it seems to me that mental illness is less of a stigma than it used to be. Not that I care too much about what others think… but it’s made it easier to talk about… which makes it a little easier to cope with.

    I don’t have as many people to talk about it as I would like. I’ve tried counseling a couple different times, but it was almost useless. All of this led to these recent posts (not only about Beth, but about my mother too).

    I’m so sorry that you have your own experiences to share, but I’m glad you did (share them, not have them). (Does that make any sense at all?) I wish no one else had to suffer through this kind of thing.

    Colleen, I don’t know where to begin or end. Sometimes I can’t tell up from down, but I hope you’re right (about Beth thinking she’s lucky). Even if she does, there’s that dark corner of my mind that thinks she’d be wrong… especially when I get off the phone with my mom (at the state hospital).

    (Boy this is the wrong time for me to be responding.)

    Thank you both for taking the time to share your experiences and feelings.

  2. Hey John: How I feel for your worry. I’m not sure how I can begin to share the guilt I carry over my daughter: the mistakes I made as a single parent, her genetic makeup (my family has quite an addication history, my brother committed suicide, my own depression, etc.) and my failure to teach her self-love. As an outsider looking in through the window you’ve opened, I can share with you that my guilt has never done my daughter a bit of good. Letting her know that I loved her for who she was rather than in spite of who she was, would have. I wish you love and patience, wisdom and grace, and the ability to live with your mistakes when you make them. Beth doesn’t need a perfect person to be her dad. I think she’s lucky to have the one she has — and I bet she thinks so too.

  3. I worry about this too. I have clinical depression/anxiety I take meds for, my sister is bipolar, my mom and dad have each dealt wiht bouts of depression, my husband has had anxiety problems and OCD issues, I’m sure my brother has undiagnozed OCD…on top of that my sister is a recovering alcoholic and my brother in law is an undiagnozed alcoholic…my poor son, we’ve set him up for disaster. It makes me wonder sometimes why I had him, what was I thinking?

Give the gift of words.