I wish that when I was considering wrap-around services for my 16-year-old daughter last August, I wish I had the opportunity to talk to other parents who had gone through similar things…parents who had gone through similar things and survived.
So I’m writing this open letter to you, in hopes that my experience might help one or two other families find their way through this maze.
I sent my daughter to a wilderness program in Utah for 50 days last summer. She was scheduled to be released in mid August, and by early August I still had no follow-up plan. The program was recommending a therapeutic boarding school. I was leaning more toward a day school so she could live at home but have the support of a more structured social and academic environment. My ex-husband, reminding me of the stipulations of the divorce agreement, refused to talk about anything other than her returning to the public school she had attended for the past two years.
From the very first conversation with our coach, I felt better. He understood what I was saying; I felt like my experience made sense. He understood what it was like for a kid coming out of a wilderness program; I felt like he could help me help my daughter.
He taught me without patronizing me. He picked up very quickly what I understood and started there. He taught me that Liza still has a family – even though the marriage is over, she still has two parents and depends on us for guidance and structure. He taught me how and why the family is the most important factor in helping a teen negotiate the transition home. He taught me that there is hope. And support. And a way to do this.
So we set up a time and he went to work right away talking to the HB coach and all the people who were the main players in her treatment and who would be her primary supports once she returned home. And then he came to Boston the day after she returned, to begin to work with our family.
We are not easy. My ex-husband and I have had an intensely emotional, difficult divorce, and at that point were literally unable to even talk with each other. But we agreed to spend two whole days with our coach working out how we were going to help her make this transition. My friends thought I had lost my mind.
But our coach came and we met and I don’t know how he did it, but he taught us how to talk. He picked up on what was important, what was standing in our way, what we each needed in order to listen to each other. He treated each of us with respect and modeled how to handle difficulty and conflict with an eye toward solutions. He taught us to meld our agendas, to move beyond our own narrow interests and focus on what was best for our daughter.
And he supported us in weekly conversations for the next 11 weeks. We were difficult to schedule. Difficult to talk to. We had difficulty agreeing on how to handle things. But he always quietly brought the focus back to what was best for our daughter. How we could best support her. He reminded us of the agreements we had made, the rules we had developed. And week by week we built up a process for handling bumps in the road, communicating with each other, and talking.
The process has been really sort of miraculous. Not that the problems have disappeared. But we have a clear set of expectations – rules and consequences – and a contract for our daugher’s academic performance. Every time something has come up in the months since she came home, it turns out that the situation was already covered in the expectations we drafted back in August. Homeward Bound has anticipated virtually every issue we have encountered.
Just last night I was looking through our Rules and Consequences document, concerned about the issue of disrespect, and found that Chuck, our daughter and I had already discussed and agreed upon the specifics of the very issue at hand.
The documents we developed with our coach during the weekly coaching sessions, and the Family Bridge library have let us carry forward the momentum we created that first weekend in August. We have learned how to communicate, how to steer clear of threats and punishments and create respectful conversations in which we develop solutions together. We have learned how to articulate our values.
I wish I could say that the road is clear and that the challenges of the past year are behind us; I know that they are not. But I know that other families have gone through similar situations, that compassion and boundaries can turn situations around, and that I have the support I need to stay on this path.
For this I have Homeward Bound to thank.