A Love Letter to my Struggling, Doubting Daughter

My daughter has depression and recently tried to kill herself. We hospitalized her for her safety, and I’ll write about that later – I know it’s an important story to tell, but I’m still pretty raw from it.
I’m writing about her depression and our experience anonymously to protect her privacy. People close to us know what’s going on, but not everyone needs to know everything. 
Part of what we are tasked with as contributors to Columbia Mom is to offer insight and share our experiences, and give ideas that may help other parents. We do this because parenting is filled with lots of questions and doubt, and can be lonely.
But there are no suggestions or helpful hints in this post. No ideas for a rainy day during COVID times. These are simply words from a heartbroken mom as I’m trying to get my girl the help she needs. If you’re a mom or friend or sister or spouse who is dealing with someone else’s depression or mental health struggles, this may just remind you that you’re not alone on your journey. 
One thing that bothers my daughter is that she doesn’t think she has “earned” my love. She thinks I have to love her and that somehow diminishes it in her eyes. She doesn’t see the gift of unconditional love just yet. 
So while she was in the hospital, I thought I would try and explain to her that yes, I do love her, and she did nothing to earn that love. That just comes with being a parent. But I thought I would also tell her how I’ve fallen in love with her over the years, to let her know that it’s not just an obligatory love.

Here is that letter. 

My darling girl, 

I miss you. You’re at the hospital and we’re not sure how long you’ll be there. I feel a bleak and dismal emptiness. I’m wearing your watch to have a piece of you near me and it sits heavy on my wrist. Awkward, clunky, and painful like the absence of you in my life, and the family, and the house right now.

You’ve said that you’ve done nothing to earn my love, so it doesn’t mean as much to you. Or at least that’s the impression I get – that because you just HAVE it, it’s less meaningful or important. And I’ve countered that with how much I also LIKE you, which IS something you’ve earned. You’ve earned my admiration and respect. But over this past week I’ve been thinking a lot more about it, because it’s so much more than that, sweetie.

Yes, I love you. And I can see where you think a part of that is obligatory; like I love you because I have to, not because I want to. Or I can’t even help it. Like if the choice were mine, I’d choose NOT to love you. And it’s certainly not obligatory, but you’re right – there is an element that I can’t even help. They handed you to me and BOOM! I loved you. With such a deep fierceness that I can’t explain. And you’re right – you did not earn that love – that was not even a choice I made. It simply is.
But what I’m realizing I have never communicated well is that through the years, I’ve also fallen in love with you and the person you are and the person you are becoming.
When we kept you up too late as a baby (like past 6:30 p.m.) and you spent the entire night screaming your face off, I fell in love with your ability to communicate your feelings.
When you were a baby and you’d furrow your brow and just look at me when I was trying to make baby you smile. I fell in love your willingness to make someone earn your reward.
When I went in to kiss you good night and you were C-O-V-E-R-E-D in Sharpie because you’d climbed up my desk and rummaged around the bins on my high shelves, I fell in love with your persistence. 
When you spent hours and hours swimming across the shallow end of the pool working on your free style, I fell in love with your determination and work ethic.
When you’d repeatedly walk out of the powder room in the old house with chocolate all over your face, I fell in love with your chocolate-covered beautiful face, and your outrageous belief in yourself that you’d be able to pull it off without anyone knowing.
When you would fight mightily about doing a chore that you were supposed to do, I didn’t fall in love with that, but I did still love you.
When you created little games and lives with your little Beanie Babies in New Zealand, I fell in love with your imagination.
When you were so little and always tried to run away, I fell in love with your independence.
When you discovered the kitty’s food bowl long before your big sister did, I fell in love with your powers of observation. 
When you play the-card-game-that-shall-no-longer-be-named with your little cousins, I fall in love with your patience and kindness.
When you patiently listen to Grampsie talk about whatever he talks about, I fall in love with your compassion.
When you, day after day, slugged it out in 5th grade and just kept showing up, I fell in love with your perseverance.
When you question your faith and religion, I fall in love with your deep thinking.
When you would wear whatever struck your fancy once you got older, I fell in love with you being you.
When you decided to run track in 5th grade, I fell in love with your courage. And then watching you work so hard and do so well, I fell in love with your perseverance.
When you said you wanted to volunteer with the homeless, I fell in love with your compassion and kindness.
When you used your character voices in the 3k class, I fell in love with your sense of humor.
When you told your principal during your placement interview that you didn’t like Math, I was surprised, but I fell in love with your sense of self. And then when you decided that you really did want to be in Algebra 1 Honors and you worked really hard and asked your teacher for a recommendation, I fell in love with your determination and work ethic.
When you told me on the first day of school you’d been thinking of killing yourself, through my terror and sadness, I fell in love with your trust in me to get you the help you need.
When you lie, I do not fall in love with anything then, but I still love you.
When you tell me your armpits smell like roses, I fall in love with your delusional sense of humor.
When we were hiking Abel Tasman and you were at the front of the line all three days singing the Hamilton soundtrack at the top of your lungs, I fell in love with your sense of adventure. And your stamina.
When I watch you run your Cross Country races and kick it at the end, I fall in love with your grit.
When you protect a friend’s secrets, I fall in love with your loyalty.
When your sister would say she couldn’t carry her backpack because it was too heavy and you’d grab hers and yours and whatever else was in the car, I fell in love with your strength and helpfulness.
When we were in New Zealand and you would tell me you could walk the rest of the way to school by yourself, I fell in love with your confidence. And when you’d walk home in your bare feet, I fell in love with how well you adjusted to life Auckland.
When you make sense of something I’ve been struggling with, I fall in love with your insight and your wise old soul.
When you tell me the truth about something even though it’s hard, I fall in love with your honesty and integrity.
When you say mean things to your sister, I do not fall in love with that, but I love you even then.
When you bake with Grandma, I fall in love with your love for her and your patience to make rainbow cookies and hamburger cupcakes.
When you forgive one of us for something we’ve said or done, I fall in love with your kindness and compassion.
When you used to hang on me so tightly with your arms and legs and I wouldn’t use my arms at all to hold you up and you called it our magic trick, I fell in love with your silliness.
When you do crazy quick math, I fall in love with how smart you are.
When I read your writings – short stories, cartoon strips, essays, whatever it is – I fall in love with your brilliant, creative mind.
When you just roll with whatever it is and sacrifice what you want to make it easier for the family, I fall in love with your selflessness.
When you tell me you appreciate all I do for the family, I fall in love with your gratitude.
When you reveal your thoughts and fears and hopes and dreams, I fall in love with you, sweetie, all over, every day.
Love is the glue – the sticky stuff that keeps you together when it’s hard and not so fun. The plain old, regular, obligatory love that someone doesn’t earn is what keeps people stuck in. That’s the unconditional part of it. And that is a beautiful gift.
I may not always like you, or respect some decisions you make, and there could be things you do that I may not admire. There could come a time in our lives when we may choose not to be around each other, for whatever reason. But even then, I will still love you.
So please never doubt that you are worthy of love, darling daughter of mine. You are – you are worthy of it and deserve the very best and fiercest and deepest and most precious love that there is in life. Whether or not you think you “earned'” it or not. 
I can’t wait to have you home again and look in those gorgeous eyes, through all those crazy long lashes of yours. But more than I want you home, I want you healthy and believing that life is worth living. Yes, sometimes it’s tedious and sometimes there’s a lot of bulls%&t, but sometimes it’s amazing. Sometimes you have a daughter like you who fills up your soul with so much joy and utter contentment simply by being.
Love you. Love you more. Love you most. Love you so much more than most, my sweet girl.


  1. That was such an awesome and truly inspiring letter. I hope it helped your daughter to see her true self and I hope and pray that she is able to get the help she needs and is able to recover from her pain. I also hope and pray for you and your family. God Bless!


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