By Marcia Stein
- I'm tearing my hair out.
- I don't know what to do.
- I'm worried sick.
- As a parent, I'm a failure.
- My child's anger scares me.
- I'm afraid of / for my child.
- This doesn't happen to people like us.
If you've thought or said any of the above - join the crowd.
My son is 20 and we don't have a good relationship. Our family lives in a good area: people move here for professional opportunities and for the school districts. We did the same thing.
As new parents, we had many opportunities to compare growth and development and brag about our children. Once the kids reached middle and senior high school, we saw parents at school activities, but we didn't talk in-depth and would never have casually shared our concerns.
We heard about kids excelling in school and extra-curricular activities, how delightful they were and how helpful they were at home. Our home life was miserable and we didn't know others were suffering through similar or worse scenarios.
The school had a parenting class, but the topics didn't seem to apply to truly difficult kids. Bookstores featured many parenting books regarding young children but very few good books about the teen years, reinforcing a feeling of being alone. What were we doing wrong?
A few years ago, a TV show called "Brat Camp" featured teens with different problems during their first several weeks at a therapeutic wilderness school. This controversial show vividly demonstrated what many parents do to get their kids on track. I had heard about private schools, boot camps, and military schools but had never seen a show about a therapeutic program. It was incredible to see these kids, witness their difficulties, learn how this school worked and the therapy the kids received, and amazing to see some of the kids change over the weeks the show was broadcast.
Another important "ah-ha" moment came when I met a highly educated couple, active in our community and in their synagogue, and I learned that they were estranged from their son. This man poured out his story and I could feel his pain, his deep sense loss and shame. He and his wife had talked with family and therapists but didn't know anyone personally who had suffered severe difficulties with a teen. This wasn't a family from a bad neighborhood; they lived near us.
Shortly after that, I decided to start being honest about our situation without revealing many details. Once I was more open, I heard many stories in return, some were shocking and others were hopeful.
A colleague had sent his son to a therapeutic boarding school. Another person said they could not wait until their son turned 18 so they could make him leave the house. One teen ran away and lived on the streets for months, eventually agreeing to her parents' rules and coming home. An acquaintance has a son she had never discussed previously - her pain and loss was so deep. Another friend's son was in juvenile hall. And so the stories went.
I decided to interview parents to learn what did the parents or kids did and did not do and their results. This information helped me and I was certain it would help others.
The stories seemed to fall into one of three categories: estranged, repaired and cordial, and fully repaired and loving. It was important for me to deeply understand and accept that things might not work out for our family and I'd have to learn how to cope; I had to find out how others accomplished this seemingly impossible task. It was also essential to have hope, to feel that things might turn around someday. Most significantly, I learned we were not alone, and it comforted me.
I talked with professionals working with teens or parents, learned what they did and what they recommended for parents of teens. I spoke with therapists and coaches, a family law attorney and even a district attorney representing a parent training program designed specifically for parents of strong-willed or out-of-control adolescent children. I found useful blogs, articles and email lists for parents in pain.
I had no idea there were so many great services available, and it brought home the fact there are a lot of troubled kids and struggling parents. This insight and the information I found has provided me with some peace - and I live with hope.
About the Author: Marcia Stein, PHR, is the author of Strained Relations: Help for Struggling Parents of Troubled Teens. A human resources professional, she was inspired to write her book as a result of difficulties with her son. She has a blog with resources at http://strainedrelations.wordpress.com/ and information about the book can be found at www.tellmeaboutyourself.info.