Dear Mrs. Bluth,
I don’t know how to speak to my fifteen-year-old daughter anymore. Of late, she tunes me out completely when I try to make her aware that the way she dresses and acts is losing her the few friends she has been able to make and keep in her school. So I turn to you for guidance on this matter, as whatever I have tried to do to make her see what she is doing only serves to start fresh arguments and screamfests and serves no other purpose. It only makes her more steadfast in standing her ground. What makes this so much worse is that she is my only daughter after four boys.
Simi (name changed) was a lovely, obedient, respectful child, a joy and a nachas from the moment she was born. After four boys, she was the apple of our eye, a loving and happy child who brought sunshine into any space she inhabited. She was a good student and had many friends in her class and in the neighborhood. As she got older, she took care of groups on Shabbat in shul and was a sought-after babysitter, known for being reliable and trustworthy. She always took pride in her appearance, had a lovely figure and dressed modestly and stylishly. She would never leave the house in something stained or torn, and not a hair out of place. She always had a smile on her face and a good word for everyone she met. Then Covid-19 happened and everything changed over the last two and a half years.
The masks, the Zoom classes and the social distancing that made being with friends impossible, did a terrible thing to her. For two years, Simi sat in front of a screen, glassy eyed and silent, rarely contributing or absorbing any of the classes. She rarely even got dressed and wore only her uniform shirt over her pajamas, her hair unkempt, and her attitude to maintain her grades completely uncaring. One thing she did do is eat. After some months she had put on a noticeable amount of weight. When the Covid restrictions lifted and she could go back to in-class learning, she could not fit into any of her uniforms. What made things worse is that she was in complete denial and squeezed herself into them, looking absolutely grotesque and, I’m sure, every girl in her class either made fun of her or distanced themselves from her. Over the next months, what few friends she had drifted away from her and she saw no reason to even try to remedy the situation. She stopped showering and only washed her hair when her siblings complained that she smelled. She stopped caring about almost everything that was important to her before the pandemic, everything except eating. It seemed that food was the only thing that gave her any pleasure.
She refuses to wear the two sizes larger uniforms that I was able to get second hand and insists that she can still fit into her old uniform when she moves the buttons and closes the zipper with safety pins. Mrs. Bluth, I die of embarrassment when she leaves the house looking like a vagrant. Please guide me as to how to help her see what everyone else sees and set her on the road back to who she was before the dreaded virus changed the world. I want my daughter back!
To tell you that so many children and teens were adversely affected by this terrible virus will probably do little to comfort you or change anything. What may help you better understand what your child is going through and suffering from is the staggering number of children, young and in their teens, and even young adulthood, who have fallen into various stages of depression. The pandemic has awakened a sense of deep fear and almost some deeply disturbing, trauma-like symptoms. Your daughter’s behavior definitely is indicative of this. The very fact that there has been such a great personality change is evidence that she is in dire need of psychological/psychiatric help.
There is nothing I can tell you to do for her that will help Simi get past the sadness and the fear she is living with and that has locked away the young girl who lived inside of her before the pandemic. No magic pill or potion exists that can undo that, What she and your family need right now is to have huge amounts of patience, not criticism, as she tries to find herself with the help of a child therapist. To heal she will need to feel safe and supported, and, over time, you will see your daughter return to the wonderful young person she was ….and still is, before the pandemic. I can’t tell you how long that journey will take, because every person is different, however, I can tell you that she will return to her prior self with the love and support of her family to encourage her back to health.
The world has changed for every one of us and each and every one of us has responded in a different way to the many losses we have suffered. Life goes on and hope and faith are the vehicles by which we can salvage the good and the beauty that is still present and with Hashem’s love we will persevere.