Filling Our Tool Belt - A Parents Reflection on Parent Support Groups
I've always joked about how parenting is one of the hardest jobs but comes with no manual or training requirement. My husband and I took each phase of parenting as it came, always a few steps behind the curve. With two healthy, happy kids, we seemed to be succeeding. Suddenly, when our second child, our son, was 16, we hit a bump. Our parenting education went into high gear as we sent him off to wilderness to deal with his depression and substance abuse issues. It became clear that there was a parenting manual - many parenting manuals. Books and classes, support of therapists and counselors. There were exercises, letters, webinars. We filled our parent tool belt with this information. So much information and all of it useful, enlightening, and, somehow, overwhelming. Why didn't we know about these resources before we were in the woods? Were other parents equally blindsided?
We made progress at home learning to create healthy boundaries with the help of the wilderness program therapist. We made progress working with our son while he transitioned to therapeutic boarding school. We made progress in couples counseling learning to parent together. But it was difficult not to feel guilty, not to feel like we'd failed. One place that I felt better was at our local Al-Anon meeting. We attended a meeting especially for parents of addicts. Seeing other parents at different stages of the journey made my experience normal. I was reassured by those who had reached a place I considered a success, watching their child or young adult get their life together. But, I was afraid when I saw parents who'd attended this same meeting for 15 years and still dealt with issues with their qualifier's addiction. I learned more about boundaries and letting go. The 12 steps were helpful and another piece of the puzzle in dealing with our son. But the meetings were not quite it. Many of these parents didn't have the resources or opportunity to send their child to an extended, intense program. They sometimes didn't understand the decision or didn't understand the use of resource. Then we learned that our son's wilderness program offered a local parent support group. We attended several times while he was still away.
Sharing this seemingly unique experience with other parents who had also experienced the loss that comes from sending their child away was a relief. We no longer felt like the only ones. All the information and training was important but it wasn't until we attended these meetings that we finally felt that we weren't the only parents that had been in this spot and made this difficult decision. We were able to learn from parents who had a greater understanding than we did and we were able to help parents who hadn't come as far. We especially benefited from Dr. Reedy's calm, concise, insightful counseling during these meetings. There was always at least one a-ha moment when he stopped the world from spinning and everything would make sense again. After nearly a year, our son came home. We have created a new relationship with him that has healthy boundaries and he is making his way. We make mistakes, he makes mistakes but our tool belt is full and we work hard at our relationship.