As parents we are supposed to care for our kids. We are supposed to teach our kids right from wrong. And we are supposed to be good role models for them in life. Even if all those things are true, as parents we still may need to rely on others for support and strength.
Here is a list of some of the ways I have gotten support during the past year, while my son has been in Wilderness Therapy and at his current placement, an RTC (Residential Treatment Center) in Utah. I will add other resourses to this post in the future. I would love to hear from fellow parents! Please chime in below, in the Comment Section because it does "take a village"!
What are your lifelines and support systems?
1. Therapist - A parent needs someone to talk to who is unrelated to the day to day drama we face when our kids are struggling. A good therapist is trained to help parents navigate all the ups and downs we feel when we can't "fix things" for our teenagers and when life's challenges are too much to bare. Yes, your kid may need help but it starts with you! Find a good therapist.
2. Education Consultant - Here is another major player in the puzzle of helping your struggling teen. Ed Consultants know all the programs that are available out there. They have visited many of them and keep connected with the staff and administrations of Wilderness Programs, Therapeutic Boarding Schools (TBS), Residential Treatment Centers (RTC), Step Downs and Young Adult (18-26 yrs) Programs. A parent just can not make important decisions without the guidance and expertise of an Ed Consultant. It is important to note that judging a program based on their website alone, is not wise. A talented graphic web designer can make a program's website look beautiful, but the staff and location is what makes your child's placement a good fit. The Education Consultant will cost you on the front end of the process, but they are essential at all stages of your journey. A must-have component on your team!
3. Local Meet-Up Parent Support Group - For some folks, this may come in the form of a local Al-Anon group meeting (which I have attended). You can google to see what's available in your area and find out times and locations for those meetings. For me however, I found that a more specifically directed group for parents of kids in Wilderness, TBS and RTCs was just what I needed. There is a local group in the San Francisco Bay Area is called WILLOWS IN THE WIND. They have an additional new meeting location in Broomfield, CO as well. Willows in the Wind is a 501(c)3 non-profit that supports parents and families who are looking for more information of what's out there in the way of help or currently have teens and young adults in treatment programs. They have three Bay Area meeting locations: Oakland, Los Altos Hills and San Rafael, CA. Visit their website for more information. It is a safe place with lots of support for parents of troubled teens!
4. Berkeley Parents Network - BPN is a non-profit online forum for parents who live in the SF Bay Area. Members share advice with other parents about all sorts of topics including parenting, schools, health, career, relationships, travel, and local businesses and services. It has been helpful to me for gathering information and links to other resources, especially when info may be difficult to find. (It is how I found Willows in the Wind!) It is not necessary for you to live in the SF Bay Area to use the website. Many of the posts are older, from the past few years, but it can still be helpful to read those posts on the related topics of Wilderness, Ed Consultants and RTCs for a perspective on how others have handled different problems and their personal situations.
5. W.A.B. Connect Wilderness And Beyond - WAB is an emotional support group with a new website and a weekly parent participation phone call. It began in 2017 by two sets of families who wanted to share their experiences of what therapeutic wilderness was like for them, as well as what follows, with other parents by forming connections. The individual stories may be different but it is very powerful to hear from others going through similar situations, including their wins and set-backs. Weekly call topics and notes as well as a blog are on the website. This awesome group of parents will prove to you that you are NOT alone. It provides a safe place to share, listen and learn from others with adolescents and young adult children at every stage of treatment.
6. Letter Writing - Every week my son writes us a letter. These letters are part of the therapy assignments in Wilderness and at the RTC. It has become such an important weekly connection for us and we truly look forward to receiving the email version of his handwritten letter at the beginning of the week. We answer him back, usually on Thursdays with a typed letter that we send to his therapist, who prints it out on the other end to give to him. Our son's letters are not very long and his penmanship is rather sloppy and rushed, but we've encouraged him to add more content in the letters to create a back and forth dialog. We put a lot of thought and effort into our replies to his letters. Sometimes we keep it light, but the letters are always encouraging and positive. I have saved a copy of all the letters and plan to put them into a three ring binder to save for posterity. Letter writing has become such a lost art in communication these days. I treasure the chance to re-read each one and actually hold that piece of paper in my hand. Yes, it's old fashioned but it has a value that can not be underestimated. It becomes something to look forward to, rather than the quick rewards of the instant gratification of texting or phone calls. One could even say it builds character.
7. Blogging - I don't know what I would have done this past year, if I hadn't started writing this blog. It has been a highlight of the challenging (yet full of growth) year we've had. I feel good after each time I hit "publish". I've learned so much about myself and realize how fortunate I am to have so many family members and friends let me know that they have read what I've written. I know some of you have not gone through many of the experiences that my family has, but you continue to show me how much you care and are rooting for us at every turn. I also love receiving comments from all of you after I publish my posts. It is a rather public forum, but I know my sharing has helped others. I have spoken to many of you on the phone. I've walked and talked with a few of you. I have had coffee and met some of you in person. I plan to continue to blog because it has become an essential release for my feelings and emotions.
Bonus tip: (For those who are not in the position to blog, keep a journal...same idea, and a bit more private! Get your thoughts out of your head and write them down! Try it, you'll like it!)
8. Self-Care - This is an important one! Exercising, eating right and getting enough sleep will allow you to function at a higher level when stress and worry take over your whole being. It can be a simple walk. I have enjoyed swimming, tennis and pickle ball. Others might prefer yoga and meditation. Whatever you choose, do it regularly and if possible daily! As parents we will not be able to offer anything to our kid's treatment program if we are unable to get out of bed and are stuck in a frozen state. It might not be easy, but do one thing per day. Put it on the calendar or call a friend and make a firm date to do something you enjoy. It will allow you to come back to the riggers of parenting while your kid is in treatment!
9. Connections - Without connections, a support system can not work. Everyday I meet people who may not know my family's story and when I have a chance to build a new or stronger connection, I am lifted up by the openness and kindness I receive. I have shared with grocery checkers at my local Safeway. I have shared with other parents and lots of friends who are too shy to ask. I try to be appropriate and not "over share", but that's what's great about having connections first, the realization that everyone's got something they struggle with. And you don't know what someone else is going through, if they don't tell you. So be brave: connect. Then share, then breathe, then let go. Take it slowly. One step at a time. One day at a time. Whatever it is that you are going through, you are not alone. And you can get through it!
10. Books - There are so many good ones. Here's one that I have read and got a lot out of it and was also recommended by a Mom from Oakland, CA: The Parallel Process-Growing Along Side Your Adolescent or Young Adult in Treatment by Krissy Pozatek.
I Don't Have to Make Everything All Better: Six Practical Principles that Empower Others to Solve Their Own Problems While Enriching Your Relationships by Gary and Joy Lundberg
The Five Love Languages of Teenagers - The Secret to Loving Teens Effectively by Gary Chapman
Are there other books that have helped you? Please let me know and I can add them to the list! Thanks!
Feeling at peace and full of gratitude for my support systems,
My son's "Spring Break" was at the traditional time on the calendar, but the length was a shortened version of the typical mainstream school week long break. At his Residential Treatment Center, they give the boys two days off, plus the weekend. We arrived on Thursday afternoon and left very early Monday morning to catch a flight back to the San Francisco Bay Area in California.
We started his "break" by participating in our weekly therapy session and with something called "Sand Therapy". Who knew it would be so fun? We were lead to one of the main houses, where a group of boys reside, into a back room. We were given the instructions to build a scene in the standing sand box. Along the walls of this room were shelves filled with all sorts of toys figurines and "doll house" types of objects. There were fences and army men, and Smurf and other well known characters, as well as small houses and plenty of animals. We had five minutes to create a scene of what it was like before our son went away to treatment.
We each got to work, selecting pieces off the shelves to "tell our own version of the story". Each scene was very different and creative. When we finished, each of us described what our sand scene was all about. We then asked each other questions, which opened up an honest and meaningful discussion about this difficult time in all of our lives.
My son's "creation" was very symbolic and genuine. He chose a Rubik's cube to represent himself. The cube had been turned and pivoted many times, so none of the sides had matching colors, and it was completely mixed up (perfect symbolism of his state of mind and being then). The cube was placed on a mound of sand with plastic horse corral fences positioned around it. Our figurines were sitting way down the path, far away from the Rubik's cube . He used a gentle Smurf character to represent me, while my partner was a giant insect with a small group of Army men in front of her. Appropriate? Perhaps not, but it told our story of chaos and disagreement.
For my scene, I used traditional doll house furniture which represented his bedroom: closed off from the rest of the house. It had his bed and computer it in and he was turned away. I used little people to show that we were all in different rooms, demonstrating a lack of togetherness or communication. The emotions behind my scene represented feelings of loneliness and isolation. Again another powerful exhibit of what our house felt like to me before our son went to treatment.
My partner had another variation of the same theme: displaying a sullen and dysfunctional time for our household. There was a row boat, three wooden barriers and a hippopotami with a computer in the center island also showing a tentacle light creature representing our son. These scenes were an emotional release. It allowed us to talk about our feelings without resentment or blame. The make believe nature of the scenes lightened it up and we enjoyed being creative in our story telling and our follow-up explanations of the symbolism.
The next part of the assignment was to create a NEW scene of how we would all like to see things, when it's time for our son to come home. (We have no idea when this will be). We put back the original pieces and quickly gathered different symbols for our new scenes.
We could see a common thread among them. There was a hope and joy focus on being together in all of our sand scenes. I used three horses next to a tie up post that could tether us jointly, with a cheerleader behind us and lots of new adventures in front of us. My son's scene had three little plastic people figures under a house. We were all facing each other. A Wonderful idea! And outside of the house was a car heading up a road towards a positive future. My partner had a equally powerful scene filled with super heroes and a common goal of sharing. Again we talked and laughed and shared our feelings and thoughts.
Our sand therapy session provided an alternate way of discussion regarding our past differences and a bit of our brighter future. It opened a door to sharing our feelings in a non threatening way. It was creative and fun! We all enjoyed our time playing in the sand! I hope we will have an opportunity to do it again! We all recognized how far we had come. We know there is still much more ahead, but we had a great start to our SPRING BREAK visit. More on our many activities in the next blog post. You won't want to miss it!
It has been a little over six months since my son went to a Wilderness Therapy Program and then a Residential Treatment center after that. He celebrated his 16th birthday in the Idaho desert. He has been sober for that whole time and without using any electronic devices, so his brain is getting a chance to not only re-boot, but to thrive. It has been completely worth the enormous expense, financially and emotionally. We are now living in a place of strength instead of fear.
People have called us brave as parents. Some have said they could never do what we did. But, last June were at the end of our ropes and frankly, life wasn't a bowl of cherries during our son's early teenage years. We had no more options. It is tough to be a teen these days. There is so much going on: instant communication and news, pressures about one's future, social anxiety, depression AND digital addiction. We worried about what he was watching, what he was playing (video games), who he was texting, who he was hanging out with......the list goes on.
We tried keeping the "conversation" going. We tried to meet his friends, get to know their parents, provide activities that we could do as a family, eat dinner together. As things went south, we knew things were getting "unsafe" for our son. His local high school wasn't helping matters either. There was an abundance of marijuana and other drugs. My own fear escalated on a daily basis. I sought help to feel better and learn new strategies to cope.
The more I shared about the situation, the more I discovered that I am not alone. I met parents in the same boat, school wise, drug wise, technology wise. The more I opened up, the more others shared their similar stories with me. Wow, there is a BIG club out there! Layer by layer, as we found our way with the help of many professionals, our lives began to lighten up. We sent our son away, which led us to begin the process of amazing self discovery. We can flip this boat around! We can do it. We don't have to be afraid. We will get stronger. And stronger. And stronger.
Yes, there are days that aren't as good, emotionally. But there is strength in numbers. We met some great parents at the Wilderness Retreat. We met some great parents at the RTC (residential treatment center) Parent Days. We have learned that there are phases one goes through in this CLUB. Yes, there is relief initially, then it turns to acceptance and then it turns into strength. We are so much better for having been through all of our challenges. It's called living! We love our son. We miss our son! But we have him back as our son! And he is alive! And he is thriving!
No situation is perfect. We aren't perfect. He isn't perfect. We will make mistakes, he will make mistakes. We can learn from them. We can discuss our feelings and emotions. We will grow! Of course, no one knows what the future will hold for any of us. We take steps forward and a few steps backwards. That's okay. We have a lot of information we didn't before. We are not alone. Our journey continues. One day at a time. One step in front of the other. Breathing! Being grateful for what we've been through.
I am strong! I am no longer afraid.
I am standing tall!
Thanksgiving is next week and I want to take a moment to give thanks! I am grateful for so many things. We spoke by Skype with our sixteen year old today and he is continuing to do well at school. There are a few minor things that he is working through, rule oriented and getting assignments done, but all are handled in a way that shows growth is happening. He remains upbeat and looks great.
1. I am grateful for a new beginning. It has been a wild ride this year, but BlueFire Wilderness helped save his life. Our son admitted to spiraling downward just before we sent him at the end of June. By the end of his thirteen weeks in Idaho, he was able to see that his negative behaviors and negative friends were NOT good for him.
2. I am grateful for his new environment in Utah. It's very costly and further away in distance that we would like, but he is SAFE and following a program which will help him learn (school stuff) and succeed. He says he'd rather be home, but he enjoys it and knows he has work ahead of him.
3. I am grateful to the countless friends and family members who have cared enough to listen to me. The topic of a struggling teen is not for the faint of heart. We have opened up and in return have received so much. I know we are not alone!
4. I am grateful for my BLOG. Thank you My Warrior Mom Life readers. I know many of you personally (see #3) and others I do not, but I can't tell you, how much writing about our story has helped me. It is a release putting it into writing. I feel free-er because of it. I hope you will keep reading and sharing with others. I know I can help many people along the way!
5. I am grateful to be able to BE PRESENT. Sure, I'd like to check out sometimes, and honestly do occasionally, but being mindful is so important to my everyday existence. All we really have is TODAY! I am going to live it!
6. I am grateful to be able to WALK and TALK. "One foot in front of the other" has been a mantra of mine for the past six months or so. I __________ (walk, talk, swim.....fill in the blank), because I am able! For that ability, I am grateful.
7. I am grateful for HUMOR. They say that "laughter is the best medicine". That is for sure! Even in the darkest moments, I have been able to laugh. It is vital to my personal mental health. Know any good jokes?
8. I am grateful for HUMILITY. I have been blessed to be "good" at many different things. School and athletics came easily to me. I did work hard and practice too, but I am grateful for those gifts. Not everyone can claim them, for example: my son. It's taken me a long time to understand that.
9. I am grateful to be HAPPY. Some days I miss my son terribly. Other days, I do my daily tasks and keep moving forward without realizing it. However, I am glad not to feel that pit in the bottom of my stomach, morning, noon and night. I can BREATHE. That is true happiness to me.
10. I am truly grateful to have a partner who is on this journey with me, every step of the way. We are in a "club" we didn't sign up for. We are stronger for it. We are survivors. We are not perfect. We are able to ask for help. I am so fortunate to have you by my side! Thank you!
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! I am only one Mom of millions, but I remain a
When my son came out of the Wilderness Program at the end of September, he was pretty scruffy. Before heading to the new school, he was able to take a really long, hot shower at our hotel. On the packing list was an electric razor. They don't allow regular blades, as you can imagine. After he cleaned up, he looked amazing! WOW!
But his hair was still long, about shoulder length. I didn't really mind it that length. He looked good. But we were sure surprised when we heard from his therapist that all the boys just had their haircut, a few weeks into his stay at the Ranch. When our Skype call began, what a sight he was! Short hair! He said he hated it! Another WOW! He looked good. It was a little short on the sides and a tiny bit longer on the top.
These haircuts were part of the program and to have self-respect for caring how one looked. I liked it, but I'm a parent! Each generation has their fads. Remember how long everyone thought Elvis wore his hair? And the Beatles? And the hippies in the late 1960's? We hardly think about it anymore. We didn't even flinch when our son asked for purple hair, or other colors in the past two years. We didn't need to make that one of our battles!
But I can see how differently he acts with this new shorter hair cut. There is a sense of "clean-cut-ness" to make up my own word! So the sixteen year old is clean shaven AND short-haired! What a change from four months ago. His last hair cut was for his 8th grade graduation. And with that haircut, the purple dye was added by our loyal hair salon owner friend. She even came in on her day off to help us out! What a pal!
Now we hear that the boys at the Ranch are participating in "No Shave November". It raises awareness for cancer patients. I'm all for that! We hear that some of the staff members are joining the boys on this one! Way to go guys! One week in the month down, three to go! I'll keep you posted to how it all goes!
Until then, "keep it short on the sides"!
From the John Waite song MISSING YOU:
"Everytime I think of you, I always catch my breath
And I'm still standing here, and you're miles away".
I have many MOM moments like this because my son is at an RTC (resdential treatment center)/school in another state. I'm sure it's natural, but every once in a while that feeling of "missing you" comes over me.
I know he is safe. I know he is doing well. I know it's WAY BETTER than just four months ago, but it still gets me. There is a bittersweetness too it all, he is only sixteen. I also realize this is not a permanent state and that he will come home again. It won't be anytime soon, however. Until then, the house is quieter and much neater. I don't go to Safeway every day to shop for groceries. The water bill is lower, but the little everyday activities are not the same in our house. We could have used his help with the decorations and the treat or treaters on Halloween, that's for sure.
I am sure on his end, he is thinking many of the same thoughts about being away from home. Yes, he has structure and lots of people who care around him. He is doing a lot of fun activities: a ropes course, lots of board games, feeding his newborn calf and hopefully some school work. I wonder if he gets sad at night when he goes to sleep? I wonder how often he thinks of his doggy at home and the way she "growled" at him when he tried to pick her up? I wonder how much he misses his old life, even if it wasn't working, because it was easier?
I write this blog because I want to help others going through struggles with their teenagers. I also write it to help myself, because it does. Right now I have a lump in my throat and a few tears in my eyes, but that's okay. I will be okay. I have to be!
Reflecting on life,
P.S. And the weekly letter just came from the Ranch, from our son and it's super cute. He says he's making friends, just got a job as a manager filling the calves food and is having a really good time! I am a Happy Mom!
The process for parents with kids at a wilderness program, therapeutic boarding school or residential treatment center is plain and simple. Change is necessary. It isn't easy but, if the kids must change, so must the parents. It's called a Parallel Process.
There are dozens of recommended books that are important to read and take to heart. I have listed some of the books that I am currently reading. They can help parents and families see what changes may be necessary to have positive outcomes. This list is just a starting point for self-discovery and breaking old patterns. They are filled with many valuable lessons and practical advice. I will be adding more titles in future blog posts, but for now I suggest this short list of books that I have liked:
The Parallel Process by Krissy Pozateck, LICSW
Growing Alongside Your Adolescent or Young Adult Child in Treatment
Not By Chance by Tim R. Thayne, Ph.D.
How Parents Boost Their Teen's Success In and After Treatment
The Family Crucible by Augustus Y. Napier, Ph.D with Carl Whitaker M.D.
The Intense Experience of Family Therapy
The Journey of the Heroic Parent by Brad M. Reedy Ph.D.
Your Child's Struggle & The Road Home
I Don't Have to Make Everything All Better by Gary Lundberg and Joy Lundberg
Six Practical Principles that Empower Others to Solve Their Own Problems While Enriching Your Relationships
Are there any books that you recommend to other parents with kids in treatment that you want to share? I am asking for titles of some of your favorites. Please comment below.
Hopefully changing for the better,
One of the self-care ideas I had was to start a walk on Fridays for anyone with anything that they were battling. My family's personal struggle is too much technology started taking over our lives. I've had a few different folks join me, but one stand-out friend who comes religiously! We need more people like that in the world, believe you me!
My doggy loves to come along and I like any excuse to walk her. My friend and I chat about what's new in my family's journey and other pressing events. During our walk on this particular Friday morning, I got a call from a number in Idaho.
"I better answer it", I said. It was the Wilderness Program, saying "Everything was fine", but wanted to know if I had received the "parent packet and log-in info for the website".
"YES, I had". I neglected to respond back to their email, so they were checking to be sure.
"Oh, also to let you know your son did well last night (his first in the wilderness) and he participated in the evening group chat, but was a little quiet." What a relief to hear that news! It was still a little bit hard to grasp that we did in fact send our almost 16 year old off to a wilderness program, out of state. I needed all the good news I could get! And so the walk continued.
I have many people who virtually walk with us on Fridays too! Sometimes I'll FaceTime them or text them as I am starting or finishing to include their energy and support. I know there are people who wish they join us, but because of distance or other restrictions, can't make it. I just want you all to know that I'll be walking every week for you, even if you can't be there in person.
Staying strong and still walking,
The weeks following our Spring Break Disneyland trip were up and down and it became very clear that we needed to take care of ourselves. I asked my therapist what exactly does "take care of yourself" really mean? She explained it was about doing things that you like, along with getting plenty of exercise. I've also heard it explained like when the flight attendant tells parents to put the oxygen mask on first, then assist your child. You come first, or you can't help your kid!
The community pool up the street re-opened in April. I began swimming in that pool five to six days a week. My routine was not hard core, but a slow and steady series of laps that were more like "water aerobics". Sitting elementary back stroke, breast stroke and a rock climbing motion through the water were just a few of the moves I did. I would increase my time each day until I reached an average of 45 minute work-outs. Boy, did I feel good after getting out of the pool. The water had a calming effect that I was craving. It was my much needed escape.
Another activity that I enjoy is shooting baskets. So after leaving the neighborhood pool, I would pass a school yard that had many basketball hoops. What do you know? There were some basketballs lying around. So, I started to shoot. First close up shots, then free-throws and then further away, three point style. I didn't make them all, but I shot and shot until I made 50 points (25 baskets). That activity felt good too. I was beginning to get the idea of self-care.
I was actually enjoying myself in the middle of a "teenage storm" at our house. I still felt crummy a lot of the time, but as I tried to "be in the moment" and "put one foot in front of the other". I was beginning to feel a little bit of relief, too. In fact, I highly recommend that you find your own personal activities to aid you in the self-help arena. What types of activities or hobbies give you pleasure? What is something that you've always wanted to take up? Or, what things have you put aside from your past that you can re-kindle? I was finally understanding what people meant when they told me "take care of yourself".
Keeping my eye on the ball!
I am Warrior Mom. I am a self proclaimed Techy and I'm NOW calling a halt to the excess use of it! Let's put some balance back into our lives, especially our teens!
Modern Map Art takes your favorite cities, mountains, and places and turns them into beautiful works of art. Our maps are a great way to display that nostalgia in your home. They make great gifts, too!