My Parent Workshop Experience
A “parent workshop” weekend. Really? I have already admitted to myself that I failed as a parent. I am in the most emotionally exhausting and agonizing time of my life. My family system had malfunctioned. I dislike “group” meetings and I am supposed to feel comfortable in a room of total strangers? It really was something I did not want to attend.
While doing our due diligence of the program, we had read about the parent workshops. Because we lived on the East Coast, we were trying to have our parental visit coincide with a parent workshop. We debated skipping the workshop since our daughter did not earn a parent visit until the week she was leaving the program. In the end, we decided to attend. We had already invested so much emotionally, as well as financially, it did not make sense to miss what would be the final part of our journey in Utah. In hindsight, it was definitely the right decision.
Very early on, it became apparent, that even though we as parents were not attending the wilderness program, our child’s success depended on us actively participating in the program. You can choose how much time and work you want to do while your child is away. That also goes for the parent workshop. Nothing is forced on you. If you like to be involved in all of the conversation, that is great. If you are the quiet type that likes to sit back and soak it in, that works as well. There was never a time that I felt pressured or put on the spot. Whether you speak or not, you are heard. It can be the glance you give another parent as they tell their story. It can be the nod of understanding, or the tears you shed. No matter what your actions are, you are in a room full of people who understand you. I remember telling my husband that I did not want to leave. For all the frustration, turmoil and sadness we had lived through to get to this point, for the first time in a very long time, I could be myself with a group of “friends”. A full weekend where if I chose to discuss something, I did not have to preface the conversation with, the reason that we did this is because..... everyone in that room just knew. To feel that close to people you literally just met......it was truly liberating.
Every family has their own story and circumstances as to why their child is in the Wilderness Program at Evoke. Lets face it, the one thing that all of us had in common, is that for our family's safety and future, we knew our children could no longer live at home. Your child desperately needs help, and you, the parent, are no longer in a position to help. The reality was we were pushed to an extreme decision because of an extreme situation. We knew that the types of behaviors we were experiencing constituted a crisis. Unless you are a parent who has experienced this type of situation, you cannot understand the emotions that go along with this decision.
A parent workshop is pretty much what you would expect. Group discussions, breaking up into smaller group discussions, role playing and then of course experiencing some of the rituals your children have been performing. You have heard of the “Bring your child to work for a day” program, my husband and I told people we were in the “Bring your parents to the wilderness for a weekend” program.
During your parent workshop you are shown various primitive techniques your children are taught to survive in the elements. One of the most important techniques is how to start a fire. It blew us away. Only sticks, rocks and nesting materials, etc., were used to get an ember. They would then blow on the ember to get a flame, that is if you were lucky enough to get an ember. And then voila, you have fire! This is truly the primitive way to start a fire and believe me, it is hard work. These kids practice and practice to get their first ember. Some kids never are able to grasp the technique to get a fire going. After witnessing how difficult this process is, the parents are then asked if they would like to try to get an ember. To show you how difficult this is, out of all the parents who chose to try, and there were many attempts by many parents, I believe only one parent was able to get an ember and start a flame.
Before being involved with the Wilderness Program, I have to admit, I did not realize how important fire building was. We only had daughters and they were never involved in the girl scouts. Through this experience, I now know that everyone should know how to start a fire without having matches. It is an essential survival skill. You never know when you’ll find yourself in a situation where you’ll need a fire, and you don’t have matches. I, myself, knowing my level of survival techniques, will always carry matches with me. Matches are now at the top of my travel packing list!!
Our workshop leader was Paul Goddard. Paul, as I am sure is true with the other leaders, was very informative and caring. As a facilitator, it is important that it is about the group. From time to time, your particular circumstances may come in to play, but for the most part, ours was truly a group discussion that helped most of the parents. Ok, I cannot lie, you always have that “one” parent that needs to make it about “them”. I am just glad it was not me! Well, I hope it was not me!!!
Your group leader will work with you to learn how to model healthy behaviors for your child. I cannot speak for everyone, but when we left the workshop, we were in a better position to know how to respond positively and resolve conflicts with our daughter. That being said, our daughter is still in aftercare, so we have not really had to practice most of what we have learned, other than letter writing. Our daughter's home visits will start shortly, so I may have a different opinion after those visits!
The parents that were in our group were from all walks of life. Some parents had decent relationships with their children and were able to communicate with them, others were at the the point where they had no communication with their children. Or, if they did, it never ended on a good note. You had families who were the type that went on family vacations and tried to eat dinner together five nights a week. Then you had the families who were segmented, who spent no time together. We all were seemingly "normal," parents. The common thread we had was that we had run out of skills to deal with our troubled children.
Some of the parents were married, some happy, some obviously not. Some were divorced; some there with their exes, some not. Some religious, some not. Some very wealthy, some not. Some outdoorsy, some not. We were in the category of happily married, becoming poor after paying for the program and definitely NOT outdoorsy. If you are not that experienced in what I will call “the outdoors life”, heed the words of your wise leaders – because of the heat and altitude in the wilderness, our “leader” kept reminding all of us to drink and stay hydrated.
The parent workshop will give you tools to use. Is the workshop perfect? I think that as good as the leader is, it really can depend on the parents that are in the group. Regardless of that, in my opinion, whether you get one small morsel of advice, or are just able to have a weekend where you realize that you are not alone in this journey, it is worth the effort to attend.
I will end this with saying that you never know what people's lives are all about. Most of our group went out to dinner each night after the workshop ended. Here, we had spent all day together, we hardly knew each other, and we still wanted to stay as a group at the end of the day. And why, because we understood each other, we had a bond and we knew why we were doing what we were doing for our children. When the other patrons saw us, I am sure they thought we were a group of friends who were just going out to dinner. We looked like everyone else there, and for most of the time, we laughed and enjoyed each others company. Yes, inside we were crying our eyes out, but with a group of “new” friends that knew why. Did the Parent Workshop solve all our issues, of course not; but, for one short weekend, we were supported, embraced and yes, to a certain extent loved by strangers who were just like us.