Learning from our experiences so they don't show up in our lives again is a good idea, right? The same can be said for how we respond when hearing about another family who has encountered a struggle like divorce, addiction, or suicide. Instead of looking for reasons, pointing fingers, making judgments, or spreading rumors, we can choose to use their challenge to incite awareness, potentially making positive changes to our parenting, and/or to open up conversations with our kids, and to lend a hand or say a prayer for the family involved.
How many times do you learn about a family in your community who is in the midst of a major trauma? In the last week alone I heard about a 14-year-old girl who was accidentally run over and killed by a teammate, a 6th grade middle school student who hung himself, another middle schooler who attempted to take her life, and I heard about a bunch of teens caught for popping pills at prom. That's only the things I heard about...I imagine there were scads more tragedies involving kids in our area, not to mention around the country.
And you know, when we hear these stories about other families, the response tends to be..."Where were the parents?" "Why didn't the parents know what was going on?!"
I believe [as parents] we do the best we can with what we know, and our life experience has great impact on how we raise our children.
I am going to share some hindsight about a time when my parenting, and our family, struggled. I do this today, in the hopes that my hindsight will be your insight...maybe something I write here will cause you to rethink or respond differently when you hear about another family going through a crisis; or if you happen to the be "that family" today, you will have the courage to ask for guidance.
Let's start with a very brief summary of my parenting challenge...Nine years ago this month (May, 2008), my eldest son Nick (20) called me from across the country to ask for help. He was failing school, about to lose his job, and he was coming off of an alcohol binge not remembering the last 3 days of his life. For me, this phone call was (almost) totally unexpected and started a series of spiraling events in his/our lives that lasted until May 2010 when he fully decided he wanted to create a life for himself that didn't include alcohol or drugs.
Walking through the experience with my son, this is what I learned:
- Wasting time and energy wondering where I went "wrong" as a parent was not productive. My son needed help, pronto! All of my energy went into reaching out and learning about resources that could help him and our family deal with the circumstances in front of us. I had no idea what addiction was, I had no friends who'd been through it that I could tap into. I read every book I could get my hands on to help educate myself, the Internet (somewhat helpful) was both a blessing and curse while going through this situation. There were indications of a problem before Nick's call, but no more room for denial on my part.
- You cannot change someone else, no matter how desperately you want to do so. We don't have control over our children's journeys. The more I tried to control the outcome; the more I realized how futile it was. All I could do was support and encourage my son along the path, never choosing to do something for him that he could do for himself.
- When a family member is in crisis...such as addiction, divorce, suicide...it's a family problem. It's not something where you can just drop your kid off at the counselor's office and say "fix him/her, I'll be back in an hour." When one member of the family is broken, the family system suffers and working together is the only way to create lasting, positive change.
- You have to focus on your family and getting the help you need to become healthier individuals and to grow as a family unit. Blinders must go on when it comes to the looks or comments that might come your way from other people (sometimes well-meaning, sometimes ignorant). Advice from others cannot substitute your best judgment and inner instincts in the course of action you take to channel through the challenge you are in.
- Every struggle you face...be it as a parent, a spouse, a human being has the ability to grow you as a person if you choose to make it a vehicle for change in your life. The people I best connect with are those who have known struggle, been vulnerable, and are willing and humble to look within and become stronger as a result of the things they've had to face in life.
I can say, with 100% conviction, walking through addiction with my son was a blessing in disguise. It could have turned out much differently, I know no matter what I'd say the same thing. His challenge was the catalyst I needed to learn a great deal about becoming the parent he needed me to be while he was in turmoil. The situation also gave me the opportunity to reevaluate my personal choices/beliefs and how I was parenting, and most of all it gave me the ability to be compassionate and without judgment for others who are facing any sort of personal or parenting challenge.
Our teenagers need us more than ever before. They need us to be open-minded, connected to our own emotional life, and present to their needs as they come up. They face outside influences and pressures we never had to. It doesn't have to take a tragedy to learn the lessons I have just shared or to take action to make changes in your family life, though there are no shortage of examples we can learn from everyday.
Be the parent you wish to be...what does that mean for you? Maybe you'd like to be more patient, more understanding, more comfortable and connected around the people you brought into the world.
I'm here and would be happy to help you along on your parenting journey! Don't wait, send me an email right now so we can connect!