Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The holidays cometh. Stores are stocked with gifts galore. Colorful, twinkling lights adorn windows, eaves and trees. Lists are made and checked twice. Families once again plan to share their own special time-honored traditions. Giving reigns above receiving. And in stores, Andy Williams once again croons, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."

But if you're a parent whose child is away from home in treatment, it may not feel overly wonderful. Though grateful for the help they are getting, you may be struggling with loss, emptiness and even guilt. You wonder how you'll ever get through this holiday season without them home. Your commitment wavers and you might even start rationalizing about bringing them home early. You cry new tears and at times resent the holiday joy going on around you.

Stop! You do not have to go down that path. Doing so will not lead to anything good or productive. Step back and look at the Big Picture for your family. Yes, it will be different this year. But that doesn't mean it can't be a wonderful, joyful, gratitude filled holiday. Is your holiday glass half full or half empty? Start with a dose of reality.

This is a good time to revisit why it became necessary to seek 24/7 help for your child. Write down all the reasons you had for making that most difficult decision for placement. List all the fears you had for your child and all the chaos and trauma going on in your home at the time. Do this to remind yourself of the necessity of your decision and of your responsibility to act in the best interest of your child. Now reflect back on how you felt once you knew your child was safe and being cared for, guided and instructed by dedicated, caring professionals who are completely focused on your child's well-being. Remember how it felt to finally have hope again?

Though this holiday season will be different with your child away, it not only is possible to make it a joy-filled time, it is vital that you are determined to do just that.

For starters, you deserve joy and happiness. A short while ago things were looking rather grim for your family as you watched your child spiral out of control. But today your child is safe and working toward his or her future. There is much to celebrate this season, not the least of which was the courage and commitment you demonstrated by getting the help your child needed. It is critical to your family healing process that you take care of yourself and give yourself permission to be joyful.

Next, as parents, it's your job to set the tone and the example for your children. While their friends may play an important part in their lives, you are their role model. They look to you for clues on how to navigate through life. Ask yourself this, "If my child were to duplicate my attitude about how I feel about the holiday season, would I be okay with that?" Are you modeling attitudes of depression, sadness, loss and anxiety…or happiness, joy, hope and gratitude? How would you want your child to feel and behave?

Are there other siblings at home? They likely have taken a backseat to their program-sibling for a long time. Those at-risk teens have a way of throwing a family's balance way out of whack. The other kids deserve to have the focus put back on them. Pay attention to how much focus is given to the child who is away from home vs. the children still at home. Is it fair? Is it balanced? Are they feeling as important as their sibling who's away? Don't they deserve to have a fun-filled holiday season? The same thing holds true for your spouse or other dear friends and extended family. Focus on enjoying your time with them. Open up dialogue and find out how they are feeling and what they'd like to do to make this time special. Find out what their needs are and determine to create a tighter bond with them.

Do you have a family holiday tradition that you're finding hard to face this year without your program-child at home to participate? Putting the emphasis on those at home who look forward to that special holiday tradition can create a shift towards an "attitude of gratitude." If it still seems insurmountable to you, then put that tradition on hold for now and create a new one. Maybe something that represents the forward growth for your family. Find a way to be in service to someone else. Perhaps there are shut-ins in your neighborhood or church group…lonely people, whose families are not nearby. Find a way to include them and make them feel remembered and special this holiday season. Nothing cures emptiness faster then being in heartfelt service to someone whose day you can cheer.

Be supportive of the holiday policies and procedures of your child's program. They have been established with purpose and reason, i.e., from the limited space at the facility, to teaching values, such as the spirit of the holidays and the value of family vs. the materialism of our society. If your child has had a "sense of entitlement" attitude, pay attention to how you have helped set that up in the past. Also, be mindful of how violating the guidelines sends your child a message that it's okay to break the rules. It's neither something that's worked well for them in the past, nor will it when they return home and are expected to abide by the rules and structure in place. Again, model the behavior you want them to emulate.

Re-focus on your family and facility's long term goals and commitments. Make sure your choices are truly in the best interests of your child. There's obviously not a set standard, industry wide or program to program regarding holidays gifts, but if what you send is in direct violation to your school's guidelines as a means to compensate for your guilt, then intentionally violating the school's policy will not make matters any better. If buying your child's love and respect was a solution before the program, they wouldn't be there today. Also recognize that if you bring them home before program completion because you miss them, then that is about your needs, not theirs. For two-household families, work in concert with each other. Co-parent for the benefit of your child and work as a team with your school.

And for those parents who are considering placement now . . . if it is needed, do not wait. If your child is in crisis mode, then so is your entire family. If that child were in need of an appendectomy, you wouldn't postpone doing it till after gifts were unwrapped or some other family tradition celebrated. You would do it when it was needed, before the crisis intensified. Postponing placement so you won't have to be without them at the holidays, is again about your needs, not theirs. As a parent, you have the responsibility to make decisions based on their best interests. Be realistic. If things have already deteriorated to that level, it is unlikely you would be having the Hallmark-holiday you want anyway.

Make this a meaningful holiday for all of your family members. Yes, it will be different, but it doesn't mean that it can't be wonderful. You get to decide. Choose to create joy and gratitude in all that you do. Find new ways to capture the spirit of the holidays. Approach this season determined to look back with pride on this time as a bright spot in your family's history. Because of your child's program, you have new reason to have joyful hope and anticipation for the future. These are all definite ingredients that make up "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year."

About The Author:
Glenda Gabriel is a strong advocate for parent's rights and the parent-choice industry. In addition to being the mother of a program graduate, she's worked for many years developing vital parent support services for structured residential boarding schools.


The decision of placing your child in treatment may likely be the toughest decision you've ever made. Emotions and stress run amok. The pressure to make the right decision for your child is overwhelming. Since there are no quick fixes or easy answers, how do you get through this time? How do you de-stress and decompress? What can you do to make it easier on yourself and help your child? Chunk it down into manageable pieces. Here are five specific things you can do to eliminate that feeling of being on an emotional roller coaster.

1.) Recognize That You Are In Control Of Your Life: With all the emotional turmoil, tears, fears, worry, hand-wringing and frustrations that have invaded you and your family's life because of your child's out-of-control behavior, you may not feel that you are in control. Certainly, there are circumstances that you cannot control, but you always have control over how you deal with events and circumstances. It's a matter of reacting vs. responding. For example, when your teen launches into a screaming tirade and your reaction is to escalate it with rants and raves of your own, versus thinking before you speak and responding in a normal tone of voice. Always being in a reactionary state will fuel stress and keep life in an upheaval. You have control over your emotions and you get to choose. By merely reacting to events and circumstances, you give up control. The reactions control your life, but by responding instead of just reacting, you are in charge. No one can make you do anything you don't want to do, nor can they make you feel anything you don't feel. You are in control.

2.) Trust Yourself: Pay attention to your gut instinct, that quiet place within. Whatever name you give it, listen to it. It's there as your own personal compass. It will never fail you. Ever had the experience of going against that feeling? How'd that work for you? Ever have the experience of trusting that feeling? That worked better, didn't it? It always does. If you're not used to accessing your own personal beacon, start paying attention to it. It serves all areas of your life. It's a skill you can fine tune and become more sensitive to. Nowhere in your life will that be of more importance then as you make your way through the haze of confusion you feel when dealing with a struggling teen. Take the time to quiet your mind and shut out other distractions. Learn to listen to that quiet voice within. Sometimes you might not like the answer you get, but it is important to pay attention to it nonetheless. Ignoring your natural knowing can set up bigger hurts and/or disappointments and stretch out the learning curve on lessons you need to learn.

3.) Do Your Homework: Living in the information age can be a double-edged sword. Never before has there been a time when you could gather such vast amounts of information, so quickly. The huge arena of resources and solutions available can be overwhelming. One option that might serve your family well is to enlist the aid of an Educational Consultant to help you sort through all this information. From their experience of working with program staff, and making on-site visits to many schools and programs, they are in an excellent position to offer direction and clarity. They are there to help you determine the best option for your family, but you need to do your part as well. Be open to their coaching. Listen for the purpose of learning and understanding. You are in new territory, but you don't have to reinvent the wheel.

4.) Partner With Your School: Having explored your options, you've made careful decisions and chosen a placement for your child. From day one, commit to work as a dependable team member with the school or program. The adage, "United we stand, divided we fall" applies here. As parents, you've undoubtedly had the experience of your children playing Mom against Dad for their own purposes. All kids do it at some point. Now it's been necessary to 'extend' your family to include the professionals at your child's school, because you need their help. This is one of those areas where trusting yourself comes into play. You trusted yourself to choose this program, now align with them and make sure your child knows you are all working together and that you support each other. Before placement, you tried many different things to get your child's behavior turned around. Now you've asked your child's school for their help and they have a lot of experience to draw on. Use it. Rely on these professionals who are dedicated to helping your child and your family. Follow their direction. Be teachable. Model respect for your child by abiding by the rules and guidelines they have set in place. There's a reason they are there. Be an asset to your sSchool. Create a united front for your child.

5.) Be Open to Change: Your child is just one member of your family. You are another. You all interact and influence each other's lives. As the parent, you're hoping your child will grab this gift for a chance to begin anew and make changes that will benefit their life from this time forward. It's real easy and real tempting, to put the entire focus on them. But if you want to make a real impact on your child, support them with love, but put the focus back on you. Be courageous enough to openly identify what you can change to create a better outcome; a better relationship with your spouse, your child or the other children at home. What can you do to be a happier, more contented you? Your happiness is not dependent on whether or not your child ever makes any turnaround choices. It's not their job to make you happy. They are working hard enough on their own. Don't put the pressure, spoken or even hinted at, that they are responsible for your happiness too. If you want to gain the respect of your child, be willing to look at your own life, choices and actions. Be willing to own them, just like you're hoping they will do. Set the pace for them. Get over the thought that this makes you bad, wrong or stupid. That will not help. Rather, openly look at what's not working and create the kind of life or the kind of relationships you want. Get involved with your school and their program, for it will be a valuable resource for you on your own journey. It takes courage to do this, but it also takes caring enough about yourself to want to be your best self. No different then you want for your child.

This may be one of the most challenging times in your entire life, but being aware of what you do have control over, and letting go of what you don't, will greatly reduce the crazy-making stress you've been enduring. And as you progress, take the opportunity to "pay it forward" by sharing encouragements and the lessons you learned with other families in your school. It will affirm and anchor what you've learned and how far you've come. It feels good to give back. You can make it through this and come out better than before.

About The Author:
Glenda Gabriel is a strong advocate for parent's rights and the parent-choice industry. In addition to being the mother of a program graduate, she's worked for many years developing vital parent support services for structured residential boarding schools.


Anxiety. Guilt. Fear. Shame. Isolation. These are constant companions for parents of at-risk teens. In contrast to parents of other children with special needs, they find little, if any, compassion and understanding. Rather, they are faced with overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, discouragement, failure, fingers of blame pointed at them, harsh judgment and criticism. Support withdraws. People turn away and walk a wide circle around them, as though their pain might be contagious. A pariah. The one to be avoided. I know first hand what it feels like to live in that dark, frightening place.

Despite everything you have tried, your child continues to self-destruct. You dread the phone ringing because it likely means more bad news from the school, your neighbors and/ or the authorities. None of their solutions are working either. Yet, the love for your child, and your resolve to halt their downward spiral, forges your sense of duty and responsibility to find a solution before all remaining options disappear.

With great courage, you research new alternatives and are heartened to find professionals dedicated to helping families, just like yours. As you transition through the steps of placement, the roller coaster ride of emotions surge onward as you embark on a new chapter.

Although you may experience a sense of relief in knowing that your child is beginning to get help, you also feel the emotional void of not having them in your home, a void that you must fill. As I moved on from being one of those people, to working with other parents experiencing the same things, I learned first hand how coaching and encouragement from peer parents can lift that enormous burden. For me, the giving and receiving of mentoring was an invaluable part of the family healing process.

Shortly after my child's placement, I was fortunate to be part of a parent support group. Through that unity and support, we not only helped ourselves, but also helped each other. Within that system of 'parent mentoring,' we saw our own direction better and became more capable of focusing on being part of the solution. For the first time in a long time, we had reason to hope.

Developing and strengthening our parent network allowed us to stop focusing solely on our child and 'tend to the wounds' of the other people in our family, including ourselves. The need for parents to take care of themselves is a frequently overlooked, fundamental basic. However, it's much like the flight attendant's speech at take-off, "if the need for oxygen becomes necessary, you must place the oxygen mask on yourself first before lending aid to someone else." There is a heavy toll placed on each member of the family of an at-risk teen, and to provide the best possible support for your child as they work to make and sustain the changes required, it is vital to "place the oxygen mask on yourself first."

As a result, the parent support mentoring system affords you a "soft place to fall," and you start to regain some balance in your life. There is strength in numbers, and from that strength, you build a reservoir of energies that allows you to invest in the support of your child's program. It also allows you to support the program in which you placed your trust and your child. With the support of your parent mentors, you know you're no longer tackling this challenge on your own. While mentoring one of your peer-parents, you often find that you not only helped to lift their spirits, but also lifted your own, thus creating a better day for both of you. As parent mentors, we invite you to join us in the excitement of looking forward to the parent conferences at your child's school and reaffirming those lessons with other peer parents when you return home. Your parent mentors will cheer you on and celebrate joyful days, as well as exchange concerns, information and offer practical ways to create solutions. You will learn from each other, laugh together and lead by example, which will create long-lasting bonds of friendship. In addition, these bonds will help you and your family to become an active and important member of your School's team effort.

This is such a personal battle and there are no instruction manuals on how to make these big changes, but with the help of other parents who have already experienced and truly understand these challenges, it is easier. It's like the old adage of "it takes one to know one," that makes peer mentoring a benefit to parents as much as it does our kids.

On those days when you want to give up, draw on the strength and support of your fellow parent mentors. At this point, it may be hard for you to visualize that light at the end of the tunnel. However, if you stay the course , and take advantage of all the resources available to you, both you and your child will pull through it.

Remember . . . no one ever said it would be easy . . . just worth it!

About the Author:
Glenda Gabriel is an advocate for parents rights and the parent choice industry. She has worked to develop vital parent support services for structured residential boarding schools.