My son tells me he wants to die

My husband and our youngest son got into a huge disagreement the other day. Okay, it was an all-out fight, without the punches but enough anger, emotions and testosterone to clear the room. Son had a friend over (play date), who went outside and shot baskets with my older son – both left the house to get away from the situation unfolding.

I’m not proud to say I was upstairs in my bed, trying to sleep. (The whole thing is probably my fault for not supervising). The time was about 3 pm and H works from home. He heard Son banging around and it disturbed H’s conference call. H is pretty much on the phone all day and his home office is right above our boy’s bedroom so when the kids get into a wrestling match, H can hear it all.

I can only Imagine the scene, H comes storming up the stairs from the basement. H starts telling Son to quiet down or he will turn off the Xbox. Son challenges him and H again threatens to shut down the Xbox. Son (11 years old, 5’9″ and 200 lbs) talks back and pushes H (who is 250 lbs) and more than 4 times older.

I hear yelling and crying from my room and it doesn’t sound like your typical sibling rivalry, so I get out of bed. From the top of the staircase, I see my 11-year-old “baby” down on the floor, crying and sobbing. He is repeating, “I don’t want to go to jail. Don’t call the police.” He sounds scared to death!

When I get downstairs, my husband is shaking with anger and it’s taking all he has not to beat-the-shit out of Son. H has never hurt the children but now that Son is so big the threat is there.

I look at H and say, “We don’t need the police involved in this. Look at me. I can help you.” H peers into my face with rage. I don’t back down, instead I offer him a solution. “Just walk away.”

What I’m thinking is Holy crap, I work in this town and if our name is in the local newspaper’s police log that will be the end of my good reputation.  Thank goodness, H walks away.

Within H’s earshot I tell son, “You can’t talk back to Daddy. If you disrespect him he gets angry. You cannot disrespect your parents.” I add this because Son’s behavior is just as bad with me. I completely understand how my husband hit his boiling point. This kid of ours is in puberty and is constantly talking back, being a wise-ass and challenging us. I sympathize with H and I feel supportive but I also feel glad he didn’t physical harm our youngest child.  He’s letting me handle it.

H begins to gather up Son’s Xbox system – everything from the box to games to controllers and wires. He threatens to get rid of all of it. (I’ve been around this behavior enough to know he’s reactive and will soften over time.) When the children were little he would take away whatever they loved most. I don’t agree with it but I accept that he gets emotional and reacts impulsively. I quietly tell the kids, “Daddy’s just mad right now; he’ll give it back to you.” Now, I think the kids even know his bark is worse than his bite!

Well, poor Son is sobbing because he’s fearful of being taken away to jail. My instincts are to hold him and reassure him that’s not going to happen but instead, I back up H. This boy of ours needs a reality-check because he is often out-of-control. I check with the other son and Son’s friend who are playing basketball. I make sure they are okay. Then, about 5 minutes go by and Son is in convulsive sobbing fits. He can’t stop.

I try to talk to him and he pushes me away. I say, “Mommy loves you and I would never let Daddy send you to jail.” I reassure him he would not go to jail. I rationalize the situation with him (oh crap, that’s what my parents did.) “Son, the police don’t put children in jail. They protect children. If the police come it would be to make sure Daddy doesn’t hurt you and that you are safe.”

I love my husband for not physically hurting my son. How many guys use their bravado in order to prove themselves to their boys whose testosterone is out of control due to puberty.

The reassurance and love from his mom causes Son to cry differently. For only my ears to hear, he says, “I want to die.” He’s as low as you can get and expresses his despair with words I’ve never, ever heard him utter. “I want to kill myself. I want to die.”

I freak out! This is from my easy-going son who has a lot of friends, who’s funny and usually cheerful. I have never worried that he has my sensitive gene because he has an outgoing personality. I sincerely believe what’s going on is all hormonal and I tell my husband that later.

My maternal instincts kick-in and I offer Son everything I think he needs to hear. “Daddy loves you. You are not going to jail. Children do not go to jail. I would not let you go to jail.”

I convince son to get up and come to the living room couch with me. I feel scared that this boy that I carried for 9 months and brought into this world wants his life to end. I hold him with his back to me and rub him gently, telling him it’s okay to be angry and sad. “You had a scary fight with your dad but I love you and will always protect you.” I hold and offer physical reassurance until the uncontrollable gulping of air from too much crying ceases.

After awhile, my oldest boy and Son’s friend comes inside and I suggest they play a board game. My son, the 11-year-old that I recognize, says to his friend, “Do you want to play Sorry?” The friend, who is known for his own emotional outbursts, says, “Okay.” And the boys commence to playing and move toward putting the entire negative event behind them.

The kids moved on quicker than I did. I have difficulty forgetting my son’s words, “I want to die.” I worry he is developing depression, just like me, his mom. I begin thinking about whether he needs a therapist. Is he depressed?

I get online and Google the subject of adolescence and suicidal ideation. I read numerous first-hand experiences from mom’s that reassure me some children use the threat frequently as a cry for help and don’t act on it. I pray to God that is what my son is doing. Maybe it’s a good thing that he expressed himself because now I know there’s a lot of meaning behind his anger.

The next day, I nonchalantly say to Son, while we are driving in the car, “Do you remember when you said I want to die.”

Son says, “Yea, but I don’t feel that way anymore.”

I quietly take a huge sigh of relief and respond, “When you do feel that sad and angry you can come to me and I will hold you.” That’s the end of the conversation. Deep down he likes to snuggle and I hope I can keep him close to me through these tough years by offering physical affection. (He would like me to rub his back and fall asleep with him every night!)

About 7 days later the Xbox returned to its spot – only to have me take it away for Son’s misbehavior. But, it’s back again.

The moral – it’s tough being a parent. No one gives you a guidebook for every occasion. As parents, we do the best we can and hope our kids don’t hate us or themselves later.  ♥ Daylily

8 responses to “My son tells me he wants to die

  1. Your mother’s heart is beautiful…I’ve had the exact concern about one of our kids becoming depressed like I was, (depression runs strong in our family and I went so very dangerously low myself); nothing scares me more than to imagine one of our kids struggling like I did…But my counselor always reminds me that we encourage open communication with our kids and they talk about their feelings (all of them, including anger and frustration), plus they didn’t experience the traumas I did… this always seems to help me feel better – I hope it helps you, too, when you have those moments. You’re a good mom – I can tell. Your kids will be just fine – and if they struggle (as we all do in this life), they’ll have a wonderful mom to stand by them….and that’s everything in this world. 🙂

    • Thanks and I agree that we have to let our kids openly express themselves, both positive and negative feelings.

      • I discovered where my son got the phrase “I want to die.” His summer reading book had the exact quote and last night as we were finishing up his book report I came across it. My son had pulled the phrase out and used it to describe a chapter in the book and then used it again when he was feeling really low. In the book, Rules by Cynthia Lord, a boy that can’t run because he is in a wheelchair says, “I want to die.” A friend takes him outside and runs while pushing his wheelchair.

  2. I think you handled the situation really well. Children say things like that a lot. It doesn’t literally mean that they have thought about suicide just that they feel bad, It’s a phrase that is bandied about a lot and kids can pick up on it. It could have also been used to get a reaction from you as it’s pretty much saying ‘I feel as bad as I possibly could’. Unless it’s accompanied by lots of other behaviours and if things go back to normal once the situation goes there is nothing to worry about. Still, it must have been a horrible thing to hear.
    wishing you healing. xx

  3. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    Wow. My heart in my throat, all right.

    You painted scene well – you upstairs trying to sleep, etc. This would be great fodder for my sister if she were your blood!!!

    It sounds awful, the whole drama. Really bad to deal with, but I think you did great revisiting your son’s words the next day. And your relief….

    My gosh, such honesty. It would help if parents could be more open about such things, rather than trying to feign perfection (as I see some do). You can’t have perfection, or we wouldn’t be learning anything.

    Must be hard for hubby to have a home office. It must have been really bad, interference in the conference call too, ugh.

    I’m just liking how it ended.

    • Yes, I am honest about his words. I’ve mentioned the incident to a few “friends” and they look shocked when I admit my kid said “I want to die.” One “friend” who doesn’t really understand the importance of expressing these things commented, “He needs to learn better coping skills.” HA! No, he needs to just keep on talking when he feels bad so he isn’t isolated in his pain. –Daylily

      • WordsFallFromMyEyes

        ABSOLUTELY, DayLily. I do believe we are on the same page.

        When my son saw me come out of hospital & he was bitterly BETRAYED, he expressed it blunt as, to me. And I appreciate that.

        This will come in time, but when he was about 7 or 8 (need to check the journal) he said ‘I’ll kill myself if you make me stay overnight at dad’s”. THAT was horrific.

        I prefer, prefer so much, the truth. ONLY THEN you know how to respond in truth. If you are spoken to in deceit and shelter of the truth, how the hell can you ever help?

        Definitely we are alike in the appreciation of our children’s honesty of expression. Celebrate it, Daylily, for I hear teenagers are meant to be “moody & uncommunicative” – but that aint a rule, we see!

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