Thank you

I'm feeling overwhelmed and full of gratitude by the response to my essay.  I've heard from so many people who have sent me their poetry, shared fears for their children, mentioned me on Twitter, and written from jails and mental institutes and kitchen tables.

Many of you have asked me for a list of poems that might be helpful, and when I read that, I get a little teary.  I can't tell if your ask is casual, in the category of, "Oh, I'll be in your area, where are the cool restaurants?", or more akin to laetrile treatments.  You've exhausted everything else, and the desperation of loving children who are in peril causes you to grasp at straws, seek guidance from an ill-equipped stranger.  Because you've tried everything else.  So I'm reluctant to ignore.

What I want to say to you is this:

It's not the poems that caused my daughter grow up to be the healthy and strong woman she is today.  It's what she was born to be, as are your children.  The poems kept me busy, out of her way, and feeling useful while she did the hard work of growing up.  She decided to stay on the one way conveyor belt into adulthood where you begin to understand that the problems in the world are huge, possibly unsolvable.  My poem project was akin to something you would do to keep your toddler busy:  "Here honey, while Mommy cooks dinner, could you move these pennies, one at a time, from one jar to the other one?  Good job!"  

I spent a long time thinking about shoes, and trying to understand what they meant to my daughter versus what they mean to me.  For me, safety, comfort, habit.  For her at that time, they seemed to represent selling out.  I'm incredibly proud of her for how deeply she cares about justice and right and wrong, and how hard she works to make the world a better place, and how unwilling she is to sell out. 

For those of you who have children who are struggling, my only advice is to find that thing that matters to them, and honor it in the most tender, respectful way you possibly can.  Give them a long leash, even though it's terrifying.  If you don't know what that thing is, study them until you do know.  Give them legitimate sources of power in their life.

I tend to think in metaphors.  During that time, I envisioned my daughter as swimming across the cold hostile ocean from childhood towards adulthood.  I was rowing a boat along side her, not fully understanding what it was like to be in the water with sharks, taking on unexpected mouthfuls of briny water, and getting pummeled by waves.  It wasn't my job to tell her how to do it, or why to do it.  I was just there to hand her a sandwich or a poem every so often, cheer her on, and be her biggest fan with the hope that she'd keep swimming.  Maybe a metaphor will help you too.

I wish you all a thousand blessings.  May your children grow up to be loving and wise, because they were treated with love and wisdom.

Oh, and your question about poems: here's a good place to start.  


  1. Just keep loving them. That's what I always felt to be the truest thing in my heart. Because that love is always a beacon to light their way back from wherever it is they must go.
    It is a beautiful essay, Betsy. I hope you know how many people you touched with it.

  2. I would also add that competent and compatible professional help and medications can be life-saving. And that parents should use their judgement and gut feelings when assessing the quality of that help. You see your child more than anyone else, and care more than anyone else, and that makes you an expert in a different way. There are good and bad professionals out there, and medications that help one person may do nothing for the next.

  3. The metaphor of rowing by your child as he or she swims through shark-filled waters is an apt one. Excellent therapists and other support staff rounded out the love and support we provided, for sure. Sometimes it doesn't just take a village to raise a takes a metropolis. This "Modern Love" essay was the one that's resonated the most for me in the series' history...thanks.

  4. Honey, I'm at the ocean with my pal Holly and I just read her your essay. It's beautiful and brilliant and tender and true. And you and Marisa are lucky to have each other. Dang, it's hard to be a kid and it's hard to be a mom. And sometimes we get it just right.

    XXXXX Beth

  5. Your job here is just beginning. ;-)

  6. Betsy, my journey has been long as I am the mother to six children. Just knowing I am not alone is a comfort, and my faith helps me get through these trials and tribulations. I appreciate your candidness and honesty. Thank you

  7. Your NYT letter was so helpful. To love without a voice is agony. Thank you for a language of hope.


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