“Sometimes no amount of attention could ever transform your child into a child who isn’t drowning. And the only sane action is to ignore them, literally stepping across the child who is having a meltdown but whose needs you will never be able to meet, in order to attend to the child who is quietly starving and whose future you actually can make bright.”

A friend said this about her children. Two young men. Very different. Now grown.

I couldn’t fathom it. She described a state of compassion burn-out that I haven’t reached. I still delude myself that I can get through without choosing between my children.

Though this month I have been tested. And I am dizzy with grief and indecision. My daughter’s school counsellor has reported to my son’s school administration things that my daughter said about her brother in counselling.

They were minor things that she complained about. “He’s very negative. Miserable. Argumentative. Talks about disease and death. Wants to own a skull.” But she also said he has a compound bow. And the policies of the school board suggest that the child having access to a weapon or replica, whether or not it could cause harm, is significantly worrying. And so now we are having meetings with police officers, his counsellor has been contacted, his locker is being searched, his social group is being examined.

I was angry at the counsellor for reporting these things to members of my son’s school administration. She pointed out to me that she didn’t need my permission to talk to them, as they belong to the same school board and so, are part of her organization.

Burgers in the Blanket Fort
I discussed it with both kids, expressing concern about whether my daughter should continue to see her. “I know that the things you said about him were overstated, but that doesn’t make you responsible for her interpretation of it. He is difficult to live with, and I want you to be able to vent as freely as you like about him, without worrying that it will be misconstrued. You shouldn’t have to fear, at the end of a session, that you need to go back and reword it if you overstated things.”

She agreed.

The counsellor saw my daughter this morning. And my daughter said, “I don’t know if I can continue to see you.” The counsellor, knowing that I was angry and waiting to hear back from her about my anger, also knowing that I had concerns about the conflict of interest, pressed forward in the conversation with my daughter. “Well what do you want?” Of course my daughter wants to continue the relationship, but wants assurances that it won’t harm her brother. The counsellor of course says, “you know I can’t promise that. If I worry that you’re in danger, I have to tell people. But I would make sure I had your permission because you’re the boss.”

This seems strange, since she then told me the same day that she doesn’t need our permission to go to members of the same school board.

My son says he doesn’t care. He’s used to being scrutinized at school. “They can’t actually expel me unless I do something violent, right? How about I just don’t do anything violent and endure the scrutiny?”

But that’s not the point. The point is that when the client-counsellor relationship has  turned into the child asking for promises that you won’t upset her family by revealing her confidences to them, then it’s already destroyed the illusion of a safe space. The point is that I don’t trust the counsellor anymore or know what to believe is true of her constraints and policies just based on the things she’s said in the last 24 hours.

But regardless of my distrust, and of my desire for my daughter to have a true safe space – my daughter doesn’t know what healthy counselling and that easy assumption of confidentiality looks like. She only knows that she’ll be devastated to lose this relationship.

The truth is that I am already choosing between my children daily, in small ways.

Maybe, as my son says, the damage has been done. There is no saving him from being stigmatized as a potential violent offender at his school. And so maybe his sister may as well get to make her own decisions, even if there may be further consequences for him. Maybe there’s nothing that can be done to save him from being known as ‘that kid’ in the system, but meanwhile his less abrasive sister has been quietly starving for attention and shouldn’t have to sacrifice another resource in a vain attempt to protect her brother.

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