Parent Coaching, Parent Mentoring, Parent Support, Residential Treatment, Wilderness Therapy

– lots of new and exciting things are happening

Parents Support Network now has a new logo, a new website/domain, a new Facebook page and a new email- Hey it’s all new, who knew it could be done?

Please Follow/Like the new Facebook page as the old one will be suspended shortly. If you have any questions or comments please email me . Have a fantastic day.

PSN Facebook

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Email- Cheryl@parentsupportnow.com

Parent Support, Residential Treatment, Wilderness Therapy

The day you have to just hold your breath as a parent and hope it turns out okay.

Our son arrived in wilderness safely, thank god. I was convinced something horrid was going to happen, like a plane crash and I was going to have to live with that the rest of my life.  My rationale mind left the building months ago, and was secretly replaced with severe anxiety, anger, high stress, and just plain old crazy.

It seemed that neither he nor I could do anything in the emotional states we were each in.  I look back and realize that we were at such odds that sharing the same physical space was killing both of us.  He needed to be away from me, as much as I needed to be away from him.  It was like the mere sight of each other brought us both rage and anger.  The reality was we were both suffering from hurt and disappointment.  It was sad for me, I was the adult, the parent, I should have never allowed it to get this far. 

I was feeling guilty, numb, sad, and mostly frightened. The fear was not for his physical safety; he was strong I knew he could survive the elements. My fear was that of failure; his failure and my failure.  What happens if this is all he gets in life?  What happens if this is all I get as a parent?

I was exhausted, exhausted of being scared for him and of him. I was exhausted for covering up the realness of what our life was.  I was exhausted from making excuses with my family.  I was exhausted with trying not to be mad at him, myself, and anyone whom I came into contact. I just wanted to be left alone and go to sleep.

From the very beginning I realized this was not a kid problem, this was a family problem.  We all needed to work on our stuff separately and then rejoin and work together. And with that realization for the first time in what seemed like forever, I felt like I could finally breathe.

Parent Support, Residential Treatment, Wilderness Therapy

Update on Shaming.

UPDATE: This article was originally published in October 2019.

I am not surprised it has grown so quickly, and not just because of this particular subject, but many of the subject I discuss. While this article was originally written with the focus on parents of children who have been placed in wilderness or residential treatment for mental health issues, it has become clear that all the issues that I write about span every facet of all relationships both those in our personal lives and work lives.

I do believe that this article in particular speaks to one of the most difficult areas for parents, both moms and dad, and it causes us to keep silent, having other parents judge and shame us. No more, I say.

I can say, that before our life took a tumble, I can recall specific instances where I chose to judge; What kind of mother fed her kids in the supermarket? Ah, that was before I had kids, now I am like, hey mom, do you want a bagel to give the kid? Let us be compassionate, open-minded, and supportive of all people.

Enjoy the article as a re-read or a read for the first time. I would love to hear your perspective on this issue, I actually mean it, so please leave your comments or thoughts at the end.

Unfortunately this seems to be an issue that all parents come face to face with at one time or another; however for parents of kids receiving any type of mental health treatment it hits deeper and hurts more. The issue is Parent Shaming, whether it is un-intentional or intentional- Stings, – a lot.

What kind of society have we turned into where people feel compelled, forced, duty bound, obligated, or required (pick anyone, they all work) to tell you what they think about a situation that you didn’t ask their opinion on and that has no direct impact on them?

My first post to this blog was exactly 7 days ago.  In that short time I have over 200 followers on my Facebook page. I have numerous emails and messages from people thanking me because they no longer feel alone.  I have business interested in my writing. My son has told me that he is proud of me.  His friends from treatment have read it and really like it. Most recent statement was “It’s awesome, Cheryl.  when are you going to write about me?”  And countless practitioners from the mental health field have applauded my efforts. 

I am proud of myself for having the courage to do this.  I have thought about sharing Me with the world in one capacity or another for many decades. I just didn’t know what I was going to share; but now I do, and I am doing it. 

I am not naïve, but I do choose to be vulnerable. I agree in the freedom of speech and opinions. However, what I do not agree with are people who must tell you what they think, it’s like a compulsion for them, they must do it. I do not recall a statue that states, “One must convey every thought that enters your mind to others”.  

I started a Facebook group months ago to support myself and other parents whose children completed wilderness and then advanced to a residential program.  There have been hundreds of parents in and out of that group and I can honestly say there has not been one incident of mean or catty behavior. 

When a member posted something controversial, the other members didn’t jump on him or malign him, they just ignored it.  So how did my Facebook group get so lucky to have 100% of our members treat each other so well?  We didn’t get lucky; we were just a group of parents who have been beaten down, and shamed, most often by the people closest to us, and we didn’t want anyone else to feel that way. It is called compassion, empathy, and sympathy.

I have heard countless stories from my Facebook members of people being “judgey” with their conversations. A comment made in haste doesn’t disappear, it lingers for days in a persons head, toying with their emotions and confidence.

Here is a tiny sample of some of the most insensitive things that have been said to my Facebook parents by non-treatment parents-they were talking about others people’s kids, not yours, right?

The kids are “bad” because they must have bad parents. * The parents didn’t try hard enough. * Mom should have quit her job. * Dad should have quit his job. * Those parents spoil that child. * The parents aren’t strict enough. * The parents are too lenient. * They have too much money. * They don’t have enough money. I could go on and on and on.

So why do I bring up this in my blog. Well, I received my first, let me say confusing communication via a private message. After I completed reading it, my first reaction was, “How dare you.” My almost immediate second reaction was, “Wow that person must be hurting a lot to lash out at me that way.” 

I employed empathy and not anger, because I think you will all agree with me after reading some excerpts, that anger is not what that person needs- he needs compassion. Oh I did respond and it was vicious I wrote: “Ouch. Thanks for your thoughts.”

However the “quirky” part of me wanted to respond to some of the content with the following :

Is writing this blog the best thing for your family Cheryl???.... Ah, yes.  When I am at my best, my family gets the best of me.

I thought moving to Utah was sort of a LIFE Re-boot for you and your family so I was really surprised to see that you are entrenched in writing this very intimate account of 16 yo’s  journey.Intimate is telling you what kind of underwear I wear; my writing is raw and honest.

I am concerned that despite your son agreeing to your writing it, he might not respond well, to some of what you have written later down the road.  You mean letting him know I loved him so much that I put everything on the line to help him and our family.

I wouldn’t feel right if I wasn’t able to let you know how I truly felt about you writing it.  So, your writing was about making yourself feel better and not really about me or my family?  

I would have assumed you would want a fresh start, rather than rehashing a painful and dark time, that your family recently underwent.   Fresh starts does not mean ignore and hide from the past; it means addressing issues and moving forward.

I am also really concerned for your son 14 yo son  and think energy should be put into trying to make him as happy as possible rather than focusing solely on 16 yo and all that he has seemingly put you through over the years.   Parents are not responsible for their child’s happiness. My job as a parent is to provide a loving and stable environment for my children.  It is to guide them to make good and moral decisions; and when they don’t, stand by their side and support them as they deal with the consequences. It is unfair to ask a person to carry the burden of another persons happiness. 

Wishing you the best in whatever choices you make… they are never without consequences.    That was ominous, thank you.

I do find myself rather funny at times, not always, but sometimes. I try to laugh as much as possible, so I hope you are laughing right now with me.  So with all of this being said, my final comment is of this post is…

Be kind to people. You never really know the entire story. Replace judgement with compassion and empathy.  

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UPDATE:
I googled parent/mom shaming and below are the first four articles that came up, and while some are dated they are still very revelant today.  It isn’t just my perspective, it is real.

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/new-survey-finds-80-of-mo_b_12614520

https://www.verywellfamily.com/dos-and-donts-of-mom-shaming-4137757

https://www.parents.com/parents-magazine/parents-perspective/gotcha-when-parents-shame-other-parents/

https://abcnews.go.com/Lifestyle/inside-trend-parent-shaming/story?id=37752623

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Parent Support, Residential Treatment, Wilderness Therapy

Why do I allow your bad mood to rub off on me?

I am a morning person. unfortunately I am living with three males of whom which NONE are morning people. This is a challenge for me as I wake up cheery and happy;and very ready to start the day. They do not.

And in the short distance between opening my eyes and engaging my family members my mood would go from the penthouse to the basement with the first interaction. I am met with grumbles, heavy brows, and mute people who glare at me when I say good morning. More often than not, my families lack of enthusiasm for the morning would put me in a bad mood, and all I would think was, “Thanks for ruining my day.”

This conundrum really isn’t about who is a morning person or not. It is about me allowing others moods to dictate or change my mood.

It took me a long time to understand that even though our relationship is personal, I didn’t need to take it on as my own. I can’t control how others act but I can control what I take on from others.

That concept seems simple, but for an insecure person who suffers from anxiety, let’s just say it felt like you were asking me to climb Mount Everest.

This started early in my childhood and continued to my adult life with my own family. While it might seem so easy to see for some, for me it was hard to see. My family had been in turmoil so long that every minute of everyday was taken personally. It was impossible for me to see that some behaviors had nothing to do with me. I was so unsettled that I took on all the responsibility of each persons happiness as my job, because I wanted my family to be happy so I could be happy. The more I felt responsible, the crazier I got. The crazier I got, the more my family reacted, and the cycle continued.

On a daily and sometimes hourly basis I fight the urge to suggest, correct, and guide at every turn to ensure that my family may have the best possible experience.

As I sit writing this my sons 16 and 14 are off on their own skiing at a stunning Utah slope. I issued what I believed were some basic guidelines hoping that they listened; Stay together, be patient and empathetic to each other, and please don’t go stupid, we don’t want to end the season on the first day.

In retrospect I wondered did I issue those words so they would be safe, or was it about my desire to avoid having them both show up bitching about what the other did, and they would kill my mood? Honestly I am not sure.

However even before I finished my little speech, one of my lovely children had the audacity to roll his eyes, and truthfully at that moment, it sent me right back into my old patterned reaction to allow it to effect my mood, and I have the tendency to go to right to angry. I immediately thought, You my son are a total dick. I bought you a season pass, rented season equipment, drive you to the resort, and you can’t allow me a little grace?

I am frustrated with myself that I can go back to those emotions and reactions so quickly. When this happens I feel like a therapy failure, I know I am the adult and have to take the higher ground, and not get sucked in, but it feels so personal, and that makes it so hard.

I have spent the better part of my almost 50 years operating like this, taking on other people’s junk, my parents, siblings, husband and kids. It is a pretty sucky way to live your life. It was and can still be exhausting, but I am learning. I am a happy person, I am an optimist, a total glass half full kind of person. I believe that almost anything is possible, and as a result will continually try at something even when told, it’s not possible. And guess what at least half the time it doesn’t work out, but I still feel a sense of accomplishment for trying.

So for today my goal is to be kind to myself and realize that patterns are hard to break and that I too should give myself some grace. And remember, to allow yourself some grace as well.

Parent Support, Residential Treatment, Wilderness Therapy

Learning how to trust your gut.

So can you recommend a good therapist for me? Those words have been spoken by millions of people in the world. Most often it is asked of people we trust, as picking a name out of a book just doesn’t feel right. Hey it is not to say that it won’t work. My last therapist in New Jersey was picked from a website and she was one of the best I have had to date. But now that I am in Utah I need to find a new one.

I dread it, I really do. It feels like I have to go through it all again, family history-who was nuts, who wasn’t. How is my marriage, how are my kids, blah, blah blah. I realize it is my desire to avoid that process, which is why it has taken me over three months to even ask the question. Today is the day that I needed to ask the question because I saw some stuff in myself this last week that had me feeling like I was falling back into some old patterns, and I want to stay on top of it.

So today, as I would say, “I sucked it up buttercup” and reached out to the two people that I trust the most with regard to my mental health and the relationship I have with my family. The first is my sons therapist from residential treatment and the second is my parent trainer. Not only do I trust them impeccably, but I am hoping that they know someone with whom I would “Click”.

“The Click” is hard to describe, you know, you just click. It is vital and necessary for me in any relationship, especially in a therapeutic one. It would be great if there was a checklist for it, but there isn’t, it is a feeling. I know it when it happens. I meet a new person, and automatically feel like she has known me forever and “gets me” and the words flow easily back and forth. It feels more connected than say a neighbor or co-worker, and the element of trust is heavily involved. When I feel that someone “gets me with all my weirdness” and doesn’t judge me that is when the Click happens.

In the past I failed to listen to my inner voice telling me the therapist I chose wasn’t right for me or my son. I ignored the “click” and instead focused on the education and the list of diagnosis’s they treated. I figured it must be me, and I went against my inner voice and continued forward, wasting everyone’s time.

The funniest or saddest situation, depending upon how you look at it was the time my husband and I were in couples counseling. At that time the only thing that we were agreeing on was that the therapist we were seeing was judgmental and neither one of us really cared for her. And after each session we would decide which one of us was her shit list that week. Talk about messed up, we were bonding over our common disgust for the therapist-Funny yes; brought us closer, yes; helped us with our issues, no. Does that mean she was a bad therapist, no-she just wasn’t good for us.

This dance over the years made me feel like I was a bit nuts. When I attempted to pursue the concept that something was being missed, I was continually dismissed and made to feel like I was overreacting and being one of those nutty helicopter parents. When I said the medication didn’t work, they looked at me like it wasn’t possible. I was intimidated by almost all of the mental health professionals we sought treatment from, for both myself and my son.

I now know the truth. I never really trusted them and because of that I was never fully honest about how I was feeling. I didn’t speak up and let them know that I felt that my needs weren’t being met, that I was intimidated, and felt dismissed. For me- No Click, means No Trust, which means No Progress.

Through this journey I lost confidence in myself and my ability to be a parent. I often joke, you never want to piss off the guy renovating your house because you never know what he is going to stuff behind the sheet rock. I felt similar with therapists. I didn’t want to make them angry, question them, or piss them off because they were inside both my sons and my head and I didn’t know what they were going to leave in there. I know is sound weird, but hey no one said every feeling is rational or logical.

So again I am on my quest for a new therapist, and this time is isn’t because I didn’t click with the last, it is because I moved across the country. However what is different now is I trust the people whom I am asking a recommendation from, and I have much more confidence in myself and my ability to speak up than I did over a year ago. I know that I have the power to say Yes or No and I am the one who gets to decide. I will no longer feel intimidated or afraid of speaking my mind. My hope is, that all the others that have ever felt similar find their courage and voice as I have.

Post script update: Found an awesome therapist who I immediately clicked with. I guess I know it’s right, when it’s right.

Parent Support, Residential Treatment, Wilderness Therapy

Ultimate measure of a man, or in this case boy.

Not a week goes by that I am not on the phone with a parent talking Wilderness Therapy or Residential Treatment.  I would like to believe it is because I am just so amazing and who wouldn’t want to talk to me right?

The reality is, the majority of people who reach out to me just need to talk with someone who understands what it means to have a child in treatment. Someone like me who knows first hand the crazy, uncertainty, fear and doubt that is reeling in their heads on an hourly basis.

My most recent conversation was with a mom who wanted to know how much family support I had at the beginning. I in-turn asked her, “Are you getting any family support?” Her immediate response was; “No, that is because I haven’t told anyone.”

This is all too familiar, and I did the same when my son left for wilderness. The idea of how to share this news is overwhelming. Do you tell people over the phone, in person, or consider sending an EviteHey welcome to my life, it is a disaster right now, let me tell you what has been going on for us, pure sarcasm, yes, but in truth figuring out how and when to tell the important people in your life that you did this is never easy.

It wasn’t that I didn’t love or trust my family and friends enough to tell them, it was just so raw, painful, overwhelming, and I was numb. I felt all alone as I did not know of one other person who had done what I just did. I was going to stay “underground” as long as I needed to feel safe.

Eventually I shared with a few people and on one very melancholy day a friend stopped by and her daughter handed me a letter and told me it was for my son and asked if I could make sure he got it.

I lost it right there in my driveway. The air was sucked out of my lungs, and I started to sob; loud, gross, snotty sobbing that actually had me bent over with my hands on my knees gasping for air, for what felt like an eternity. This looked like a scene from a TV drama where someone was told a loved one died.

I was so overwhelmed with emotion. I didn’t realize how much I needed someone to tell me that they still loved my kid. I never expected it to come in the form of a stunning, both inside and out, 15 year old young lady.

The three of us stood and hugged in the center of my driveway that day. That one event gave me strength for what I was going to have to do in the very near future. I was going to have to share the news with my family that he really wasn’t at “camp”, he was in treatment; and he would not be coming home, but instead be continuing on to Utah.

The day came to drop our son off at Catalyst Residential Treatment and the morning of, we went to this cute little restaurant J and D’s Family Restaurant where we tried to act normal, despite what we were about to do was anything but “normal” for us.

While seated in the booth, I slid a piece of paper across the table and explained that I would like to send this note to our family, that is if he was okay with it. He read it, said it was good, and made the request to omit one line. Not more than a half hour later we said good-bye and parted ways, not knowing the exact next time we would see our son. Two days later I was able to come up for air and it was time; time to share with our families what an extraordinary young man we had. The email went out with the -the subject line reading- The Ultimate Measure of a Man.

Blessings Cheryl

The Ultimate Measure of a Man

Martin Luther King Jr said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”   

Our beloved son has exemplified this beautifully this summer. On May 19th in the early morning hours, he was awakened and escorted to Clayton Georgia with only the clothes on his back to be an unwilling participant in a therapeutic wilderness program.

He had been struggling with severe social anxiety, and recurring depression all of which are related to his Adhd. However, his rapid decline in April made it quickly evident to us, that without swift intervention the likelihood of a permanent detrimental effect on his future was guaranteed.

He has thrived in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia.

  • For 88 days he has hiked miles from campsite to campsite using nature and all it had to offer as a healing tool.
  • For 88 days he built his shelter every night from a tarp and cord.
  • For 88 days he has slept in a sleeping bag with only the stars and moon as protection.   
  • For 88 days-everyday he built a fire and prepared his meals over it. 
  • For 88 days there were no bathrooms, showers, toilets or sinks.
  • For 88 days he has withstood Mother Nature subjecting him to a tropical depression, a heat wave, an unusual amount of rainfall and numerous swarms of mosquitoes.    
  • For 88 days he has teamed with nine other young men in similar circumstances forming their own community called G5, working, arguing, problem solving and healing.
  • For 88 days he worked on ‘Busting a fire” with a bow drill
  • For 88 days he backpacked from location to location.
  • For 88 days he did simple daily chores, complicated by the wilderness.
  • For 88 days he worked on relationship skills
  • For 88 days he worked on problem-solving
  • For 88 days he participated in daily emotional check-ins
  • For 88 days he participated in group and individual therapy
  • For 88 days he journal-ed for himself, and to us.
  • For 88 days he addressed life’s hurts, wants, joys, failures and successes. 
  • For 88 days he stood a little taller each day.
  • For 88 days he has started to learn how to be vulnerable.
  • For 88 days he has started to like himself a little more.
  • For 88 days he proved the ultimate measure of the man he is.

On day 89 our son has exited the woods, with brighter eyes, a little more self-confident and the beginning of a willingness to be vulnerable.  He is grateful for the opportunity that was thrust upon him, and he is tentatively ready for the next leg of his journey.  He has accepted the next gift that we have given him, which is to continue working on himself in a safe nurturing environment. 

On day 90 he transitioned from the wet woods of Georgia to the beautiful majestic dry mountains of Utah. He will continue his journey at a small therapeutic boarding school, where he will reinforce the skills he has learned in wilderness, but this time in a more traditional setting.

While intellectually we have no doubt this is the right decision, it pains us to have our family remain incomplete for an additional length of time. A separation like this is not easy on anyone, in spite of the willingness of all parties. 

We have made a very conscious decision not to share this information with many people.  We made this decision in deference to our son; he deserves the right to tell his story when and if he is ready.  He did not ask to have this happen to him, and he deserves the respect of privacy, which we chosen to grant him.

So we in turn request that you not share with others; and please limit your explanation to the kids to he went to boarding school to deal with his ADHD, they do not need to know all the details.   

So at this time we ask for your support as we navigate new territory.    Feel free to offer support by occasionally asking us, “How is he doing”. But please know that you shouldn’t be hurt when you might only receive a simple response of ‘good, thank you for asking”.  As we continue to navigate the healing process for our son and family, it comes with both an emotional, mental and physical exhaustion that doesn’t leave much desire or energy left for us to share information with others.

So for right now,we know he is safe where he is, as he continues to work on being a healthier person. He has truly embodied Martin Luther King Jr’s  definition of a “Ultimate Measure of a Man”  He got knocked down, he didn’t give up, and instead he chose to embrace the gifts that were handed to him and he continues to work the process every day.

May God continue to bless our son.

Parent Support, Residential Treatment, Wilderness Therapy

Have you ever been Parent shamed?

This is an issue that all parents come face to face with at one time or another; however for parents of kids receiving any type of mental health treatment it hits deeper and hurts more. The issue is Parent Shaming. Whether it is unintentional or intentional-it still stings- a lot.

What kind of society have we turned into where people feel compelled, forced, duty bound, obligated, or required (pick anyone, they all work) to tell you what they think, about a situation, that you didn’t ask their opinion on and that has no direct impact on them?

My first post to this blog was exactly 7 days ago.  In that short time I have over 200 followers on my Facebook page. I have numerous emails and messages from people thanking me because they no longer feel alone.  I have business interested in my writing. My son has told me that he is proud of me.  His friends from treatment have read it and really like it. Most recent statement was “It’s awesome, Cheryl.  when are you going to write about me?”  And countless practitioners from the mental health field have applauded my efforts. 

I am proud of myself for having the courage to do this.  I have thought about sharing Me with the world in one capacity or another for many decades. I just didn’t know what I was going to share; but now I do, and I am doing it. 

I am not naïve, but I do choose to be vulnerable. I agree in the freedom of speech and opinions. However, what I do not agree with are people who must tell you what they think, it’s like a compulsion for them, they must do it. I do not recall a statue that states, “One must convey every thought that enters your mind to others”.  

I started a Facebook group months ago to support myself and other parents whose children completed wilderness and then advanced to a residential program.  There have been hundreds of parents in and out of that group and I can honestly say there has not been one incident of mean or catty behavior. 

When a member posted something controversial, the other members didn’t jump on him or malign him, they just ignored it.  So how did my Facebook group get so lucky to have 100% of our members treat each other so well?  We didn’t get lucky; we were just a group of parents who have been beaten down, and shamed, most often by the people closest to us, and we didn’t want anyone else to feel that way. It is called compassion, empathy, and sympathy.

I have heard countless stories from my Facebook members of people being “judgey” with their conversations. A comment made in haste doesn’t disappear, it lingers for days in a persons head, toying with their emotions and confidence.

Here is a tiny sample of some of the most insensitive things that have been said to my Facebook parents by non-treatment parents-they were talking about others people’s kids, not yours, right?

The kids are “bad” because they must have bad parents. * The parents didn’t try hard enough. * Mom should have quit her job. * Dad should have quit his job. * Those parents spoil that child. * The parents aren’t strict enough. * The parents are too lenient. * They have too much money. * They don’t have enough money. I could go on and on and on.

So why do I bring up this in my blog. Well, I received my first, let me say confusing communication via a private message. After I completed reading it, my first reaction was, “How dare you.” My almost immediate second reaction was, “Wow that person must be hurting a lot to lash out at me that way.”  I employed empathy and not anger, because I think you will all agree with me after reading some excerpts, that anger is not what that person needs- he needs compassion. Oh I did respond and it was vicious, I wrote: “Ouch. Thanks for your thoughts.”

However the “quirky” part of me wanted to respond to some of the content with the following :

Is writing this blog the best thing for your family Cheryl???.... Ah, yes.  When I am at my best, my family gets the best of me.

I thought moving to Utah was sort of a LIFE Re-boot for you and your family so I was really surprised to see that you are entrenched in writing this very intimate account of 16 yo’s  journey.Intimate is telling you what kind of underwear I wear; my writing is raw and honest.

I am concerned that despite your son agreeing to your writing it, he might not respond well, to some of what you have written later down the road.  You mean letting him know I loved him so much that I put everything on the line to help him and our family.

I wouldn’t feel right if I wasn’t able to let you know how I truly felt about you writing it.  So, your writing was about making yourself feel better and not really about me or my family?  

I would have assumed you would want a fresh start, rather than rehashing a painful and dark time, that your family recently underwent.   Fresh starts does not mean ignore and hide from the past; it means addressing issues and moving forward.

I am also really concerned for your son 14 yo son  and think energy should be put into trying to make him as happy as possible rather than focusing solely on 16 yo and all that he has seemingly put you through over the years.   Parents are not responsible for their child’s happiness. My job as a parent is to provide a loving and stable environment for my children.  It is to guide them to make good and moral decisions; and when they don’t, stand by their side and support them as they deal with the consequences. It is unfair to ask a person to carry the burden of another persons happiness. 

Wishing you the best in whatever choices you make… they are never without consequences.    That was ominous, thank you.

I do find myself rather funny at times, not always, but sometimes. I try to laugh as much as possible, so I hope you are laughing right now with me.  So with all of this being said, my final comment is of this post is…

Be kind to people. You never really know the entire story. Replace judgement with compassion and empathy.  

Parent Support, Residential Treatment, Wilderness Therapy

A major way for a parent to help a child in crisis, is your willingness to look at yourself in the mirror.

The one thing that will be asked of all parents on this journey is to take a good look in the mirror.  It was not easy for me to do, but it was necessary.  I contend that I am NOT to blame for what actions my child took, I did not force him to make the choices he did, however I did need to take responsibility for my own actions and how they may have contributed to his and our situation.  I did not feel guilty, I did the best I could at the time, but now I was capable of so much more and I needed to work toward that.

About a month after my son entered wilderness I started to write him his weekly letter, generally my letters were on the longer side, about two to three pages, nothing crazy.  This time it was different, I had started to write and I just kept going, and going, and going. When I stopped typing five hours had passed and I was sitting in front of an document that was eleven pages of single spaced type. 

I was dumbfounded at this point I really didn’t know what I was supposed to do with it, this wasn’t a letter if was a manifesto.  What teenager is going to read an eleven page letter from his mother?  I figured I wrote it for a reason, I just didn’t know what that reason was; so I asked for guidance from the person who I trusted the most at the time, Jeremy, my sons Wilderness therapist and sent him the email below:

I have spent a lot of time thinking about him since I got your email on Thursday morning.  I was not shocked that he chose not to write a letter to us.  I know that he did that because he is feeling some form of some emotion.  

I believe what I find very unsettling is that he is me, I have said it often, and to some degree that frightened me, as I was a tough case as a kid.  I spent the last couple of days reflecting upon my childhood and as I did I couldn’t believe what I recalled.  I just started to write a regular Sunday letter to him and it turned into another whole world, it became the story of me that I wanted him to know about.  It kind of just happened and it is long.   I am not sure how you will feel about it, or if you feel that it is valuable or appropriate, But, if you think it is okay I would like to share it with him.  Maybe the timing is not right, I understand, but please let me know if it can be shared with him at some point. 

The reply was simple:

Cheryl, I think this letter is great, and the timing is good for me to take this to him today.

Thank you, Jeremy

As a parent I didn’t want my son to know of my failures and faults for various reasons, but if we were going to work this stuff out, I had to be honest.  For the first time ever he saw me as human and flawed with insecurities and uncertainties.   I felt a sense of pride in what I created, but I was so much more proud of the fact he was willing to read it and he chose to show me grace, by not throwing it in my face. This Manifesto was truly the turning point in our relationship.

Selected excerpts from my Mom Manifesto

…..I realize now that what you needed from was so very simple, and well within my ability to provide it to you.  You just needed my unconditional love and acceptance, 100% of the time.  You needed it on the days you did your homework with speed and accuracy, and you needed it on the days you refused to do it as well…….

…..I put conditions on my love.  I doled out my acceptance and love to you as a reward when you met my expectations of success.  ………

……….Instead of me learning to accept the unique and good person you are, I tried to change you to meet my expectations…….

……..I was a child who needed help, my being overweight was only the symptom of my deeper issues, issues that I didn’t even know I had or what they were.  I just knew that I felt like crap, I didn’t feel loved, I felt judged, and I felt like I couldn’t get out of my own way to help myself.  I knew deep down I needed help, and on the rare occasions that I tried to speak with my parents they shut me down and told me to get over it, buck up, toughen up or go on a diet, none of which I was capable of doing at that time……

….I religiously went to therapy once a week and on the difficult weeks I sometimes went twice. It was hard, really hard.  I cried a lot, and I mean a lot, both inside the therapist’s office and outside his office…… I learned that I was the only one who controlled what I did…..  I learned how to value myself, and that I couldn’t control what others think of me, only what I think of myself…..

…….. I knew that someday I would find my place, even if I didn’t know where it was at that moment…..

…..So you wonder why I am sharing this story with you now….A parent’s love for a child runs so deep, a depth you will never understand until you have children of your own, it is almost blinding.   Being a parent is so scary.  I was so afraid to fail you and to fail myself.  So much so, that I forgot all the good and important things I learned so long ago…..  I became consumed with being a successful parent, instead of just being the parent you needed…..   

…..So my son in the woods, I have done all I can with sharing my story, there is no more to it.  The future of your story is up to you.  I will remain open and available to you for when you are ready to open up to me.  You will control what happens next, however based upon my past experience, I would like to suggest for your consideration, that you take back control of your life and you learn to speak, share the pain, anger, shame and hurts that you have been carrying around with you.   Speak them aloud in the woods, to the sky, to Jeremy, the guides, your friends, anyone who you trust.  The truth as painful as it is really does set you free.  I lived it and I know it.   Try to leave the bad feelings and anger in the woods, or write me a letter and tell me, I can take it, I am way stronger that you think I am. I have gone through the fire and back myself, and I survived.  You are so strong and I know you can do it too if you want it, and you don’t need to do it alone, lean on your tribe, Jeremy and G5 are your people right now, they have your back.  Trust the process, I did a long time ago and it helped, I just needed to be reminded to trust it again now…..

I feel blessed that I had the nerve to overcome my fears and share my story with my son.  I truly believed it may have helped me more than it helped him.  Hug someone you love today.

Parent Support, Residential Treatment, Wilderness Therapy

Taking care of yourself is a must if you want to survive having teenagers.

 

Our first lesson as Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness parents was to engage in Self-Care. This directive came from the family therapist Kayla. I am going to speak the truth here in that I thought it was a giant load of tree hugging BS. Where was the real therapy, I wasn’t paying a fortune for you to tell me to go spoil myself with manicures, pedicures, and massages.

As I had never heard the term Self-Care before, and I thought that words self-care and spoil yourself were synonymous. I was wrong, yet again. Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.

The light bulb went off in my head, and I realized that I stopped caring for myself a very long time ago. I lost myself somewhere in these past years, and in truth, I really did want to get back to being me.

I couldn’t recall the last time I laughed, like really laughed; like laughed so hard you are convinced you are going to pee in your pants laughing. The last time that the idea of socializing with family brought joy instead of anxiety and frustration had alluded me. I couldn’t remember the last activity we did as a family that didn’t end in slammed doors, raised voices and the war cry, “This is why we don’t do anything together”.

And most importantly, I couldn’t remember the last time I had fun with my boys. It was no wonder we were messed up. It became clear to me that I was going to have to work on myself just as hard, if not harder than my son was going to work on himself.

I was spending so much time trying to put everyone else and our family back together that I lost and let myself go. I am not talking about the extra twenty pounds I put on. And for the record, I believe there should be a formal term for the weight you gain while your kid is in treatment, like the freshman fifteen, maybe the traumatized 20, I don’t know.

A great article on self-care can be found on pathforward.org, it clearly explains that self-care is not an indulgence but a discipline. At first I was thinking about the activities I was going to partake in to care for myself. But it quickly became evident that the first level of my needed self-care was to start respecting myself, and to actually stop doing things.

I was a people pleaser. I had a deep sense of obligation and I did not want to let people down. I was going to have to start saying no. If it wasn’t required of me, I was going to stop doing it. I let go of clubs and extra-curricular activities, and volunteering. As each obligation fell by the wayside I felt a bit lighter and not so stressed. I finally got the to point that the only obligations I had were work and family.

The shift was even evident in my job. I was no longer going to work 2 to 3 additional hours each day. I was no longer going to take work calls or check emails after hours or weekends. My job wasn’t life or death so I had to stop treating it that way.

I started to ask for help from a select group of trusted people in my life. I cried a lot, and I mean a lot. That in itself was self-care, allowing myself to feel again, feel the pain and sorrow that I had become.

I started a crusade to be kind to myself, such as practicing positive self-talk, setting boundaries with things and people that triggered me, worked on my coping skills, went back to individual therapy, acknowledged and pursued treatment for a lifetime of anxiety, and only surrounded myself with people whom I felt safe. Let’s just say to some people it may have felt like I fell of the face of the earth, and in the past I would have obsessed over what they thought, but at this time I had to choose not to care, I needed to take care of me.

I became a voracious reader of all things wilderness (my favorite books are posted on Letters to My Son Facebook page), I consumed books like they were chocolate candies, by the handful. The stack of books on my nightstand was starting to teeter. Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict had the most profound effect on my ability to view things differently, and today it remains the most meaningful to me.

I started to break the silence and starting talking to other peer parents. At first they were hard to find, but we must emit a pheromone that allows us to find each other. I found peer parents in line at the grocery store, in the airport, and online just to name a few interesting places.

One parent in particular has literally been by my side this entire ride. We found each other through a “parents losing their minds because they didn’t know what to do with their freakin kid FB page”, that wasn’t the official title but it felt like it to me.

I posted about putting a child in Wilderness, and then almost as quickly I put it up, I took it down. I was afraid someone I might know would see it; at that point I was still embarrassed and ashamed of what was happening in my family. But in that brief moment Grace (not her real name) saw it and reached out. At that time was true grace for me, the first peer parent whom I deeply connected with. We spoke on the phone for over an hour and clicked immediately. No need to underplay our kids, no need to dance around or make excuses, we were in the same situation, and there was no need to try to pass it off as better than it was. We were able to lay it right out for each other, and we did.

The long and short of it was that Grace lived across the country from me. Our children went to different wilderness programs, but at the same time. We kept in touch over the months our kids were in the woods. And as fate would have it our sons ended up as roommates in the same RTC. We both feel that we couldn’t have made up the story if we tried. Both of our kids have graduated and are at home now.

Our children communicate regularly as much as we do. She is one of the most important people in my life along with several other peer parents. We formed our own little support community to handle the ups and downs. And I don’t feel like I could be any luckier. Our kids are doing well, and we have each other for continued support.

And just because my son is home, I haven’t abandoned the concept of self-care. I find that I am a better person, wife, friend, and mother when I take the time to care for myself.

Consider incorporating self-care into your life if you don’t already. It is a game changer.

Parent Support, Residential Treatment, Wilderness Therapy

When all else fails try writing letters to your kids.

Our son was now in the woods and there would be no opportunities to talk with him until a one-day visit half way through the program and then the day we were to pick him up. The only telephone communication to us was a weekly update with his therapist and a session with the family therapist. I was a concerned, not understanding how we, he and I, were going to “get better” without talking.

In 2015 Gretchen Schmelzer, Ph.D published The Letter your Teenager Can’t Write You. It was part of the introduction packet Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness provided to me. I read it and then cried, maybe bawled is a better descriptor. I felt like I let my child down because I just didn’t see it, I didn’t see all the pain until we were too far in. It was then that I understood the real work was going to be accomplished through our letters.

I was desperate to connect with my son. I wanted him to know how much I loved him even though I “sent him away”. I loved him fiercely and just wanted it to” be okay” for both of us. I am going to share the very first letter I wrote to my son on May 26, 2018. He had been in wilderness 7 days. This particular one, I am sharing the entire letter, I can’t say that I will do that with any or all of them, but I think it is very appropriate, to understand the power of the written word over the verbal conversation.

05.26.2018

My Son:

As I sit to write my first letter to you while you are at Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness (BRTW) I am not sure where to start; I guess I should first tell you how relieved I am that you are safe, and how much I love you.  Each day I wake up and the first thing I do is look at my cell phone to check the weather.  I do this because since the moment you left this house, I changed the weather on my phone to reflect the weather at BRTW.  By doing this I feel connected to you each day, continuing to love you and look after you, even if it has to be from a distance.

In the two weeks prior to you leaving, a lot of things were said between us, granted not in the best way, usually yelling; but they were important things.   I hope you were able to “hear” what I was saying, I feel they were important things that are worth repeating, so……  I want you to know….

  • I will use every ounce of energy I have to continue to help us no matter how much you try to push me away. My help may not look the way you want or expect it to, but I will not give up on you, or us ever.
  • I will spend every penny I have on getting and using the tools we need to help us, which right now means BRTW for you.

I do this because….

  • I love you to the moon and back and beyond.
  • I know that no matter how you act towards me you love me too.
  • I know you have the most loving heart of any almost 15 year old boy I have ever met.
  • I know you are compassionate, kind, and love little kids.
  • I know you have a wicked sense of humor.
  • I know that you are an affectionate teenager, always willing to give or take a hug.
  • I know that you are a talented artist both with drawing, and writing songs and lyrics.
  • I know that you are strong, both in your body and mind.
  • I know that you are not perfect, no one is.
  • I know that we all stumble and the stumble does not define our futures, we do.
  • I know that you are human; and sometimes being human is scary, not just for you, for all of us.
  • I know that we all need help at different points in our life dealing with the scary.

The truth is, I do not like my own “story” right now, and I am scared.  So I am choosing to work hard here at home to learn how to change my story.   I have been doing the assignments that Kayla and Jeremy have given me.  I am trusting the process that they have laid out for me.   I have started to journal to try to figure out how I feel, what I feel, and what I need to do to change my patterns.

I suspect I have rambled on too long already, but I want to remind you of something I said to you in the darkness of your bedroom a couple of nights before you left….Before you can expect others to like or love you; you need to like and love yourself first. I know that you are worth both liking and loving, my hope for you is that you can see it too.

Love you to eternity and back.                 Love  Mom

Today I encourage you to hug your child for no reason other than he is yours.