Thursday, April 25, 2013

After a Long Estrangement: Reuniting!

My regular readers know why I wrote the book (Strained Relations:  Help for Struggling Parents of Troubled Teens) and started this blog: it was all inspired by my own difficult relationship with my son.  I haven’t written for some time because I was wondering if I had something of value to add from my story. I just haven’t tended this garden.

Here’s why.

I’ve been estranged from my 24 year old son since he was 18. I saw him briefly a couple of times in those years but we had no real conversation, and the reaction I received let me know it wasn’t time for him to talk yet.

So I’ve waited. It’s been tough. It’s like having a headache or a fever, not a severe one, but one that’s distracting and prevents you from fully experiencing whatever it is you’re doing.

I’ve had this 6 year low-grade fever. We’ve gone about our lives, working and playing, traveling and enjoying family visits, taking classes and going to museums, theaters and the movies. All with that fever that could be triggered to cause more pain depending on the discussion, movie or song.

I’ve reached out over this time in occasional emails asking if he is open to seeing me. One time I had my hopes up. He told my former husband he was ready to see me and responded to my email. I excitedly checked my email and the spam folder and there was nothing from my son. I wrote and asked for another note and he did not respond.

Not frequently, but maybe ever 6 months or so in the last couple of years I have reached out via email. It’s not in my nature to give up and I’ve had hope without a timeframe.

Recently, I wrote and asked if he was ready to see me yet. The answer was yes! We set up a time and place.

I was so excited, happy, scared, anxious, angry about lost time, and had a dozen other emotions swirling around.

The day before, he wrote that he had not made adequate plans to get there and dinner was cancelled.

This happened right before our vacation and business trip, and I was on edge. Was he backing out or was it an honest mistake?

When I returned, I asked about meeting in his town on a Saturday, and he said yes.

On Saturday, I had an early errand on the way and wound up outside the restaurant for 2 hours. I brought things to read and tried to concentrate on them. Played some music.

I went inside and waited. Then he came in, I was still sitting as I wasn’t sure if I had the strength in my legs to get up – I was so nervous. I stood and he reached out, willing to hug me. I hugged him with all of my love.

I thanked him for coming, for being brave to see me, that I was happy to see him.

We had some chitchat about what we were doing and then we got into more about what was really happening in his life, how that affected us.  He confessed to some things he had done and he apologized.  I apologized for not knowing what to do to make things change for him.

We talked for about an hour and a half. I have a lot more questions, more to learn, more to share, but I didn’t want to overwhelm him and was very emotional about everything.

He isn’t the boy I saw at 18. He’s a man. He looks a little different. His thought process is much clearer and it’s exciting to get a little insight into who he is now.  He doesn't need me every day and it could be that I won't see him for months.

It’s a start. It’s like going up a 10 story building using the stairs and carrying a backpack of rocks as you go. With each step, you take a rock out of the bag and your climb is still challenging but easier as you go.

This is huge and really a lot to take in. I may write, I may not, but know that there are possibilities in life, that you can go through things that are difficult and come through the other side.

Marcia Stein, PHR is the author of Strained Relations:  Help for Struggling Parents of Troubled Teens.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Son, The Parents, Juvenile Hall and Emotions

I recently met "Lisa" and she told me about her 19-year-old son, "Marc." 

As a child, he was sweet and sensitive, but once he hit his teen years, he was sarcastic and mean with little regard for others.  He thought nothing of disrespecting his parents, calling them cruel names and disregarding their rules.  Once a good student, he was causing trouble at school and was often sent to the principal's and counselor's office.

The parents did not know what to do.  They sought advice from the school counselor, went to family therapy, sent their son to a therapist, but nothing improved.   

They stopped taking him to family events as they never knew what would trigger his anger or how rudely he would treat others.  Family members asked about him but the parents always covered for him, saying he was busy with school or activities.  They did the same thing with their friends and that further isolated them.  They were living with tremendous stress in the household - they had no support and no safety net. 

When Marc was 15, Lisa was doing Spring cleaning and opened discovered a large bag with prescription bottles with various people’s names on them.  This was something they could not ignore and, heartbroken and feeling as they were falling off a cliff, they called the police.

Their son was in a ring of kids who were stealing drugs from their family medicine chests and if visiting extended family or other kids, they'd steal from those people, too.  Marc and his friends were sentenced to Juvenile Hall.  Had he done this as an adult, who knows how long he'd be in prison? 

When he was in Juvenile Hall, he was mandated to attend ongoing therapy and a drug rehab program.  Marc's parents visited regularly and were shocked to learn this was the first extended period of time since he was 11 that he was not high. 

I asked how they felt when he was sentenced and living in another place, how did they cope? 

Lisa said it was devastating and a relief at the same time.  When they had this beautiful, smart, funny and affectionate child, they never could have predicted the terrible turn his life and their life had taken.  Their family dream included family vacations, enjoying viewing his activities at school, and frankly, bragging about their wonderful son. 

Once they started their nightmare with him, all of those dreams had to be shelved and to make things worse, they were afraid of him.  Each day they wondered what would he do next: break things in the house?  Would he harm them emotionally or physically? 

When he was out of the house, they found themselves mourning his loss and the loss of their dreams while feeling relief that the stress and worry of living with him was relieved.  They went to marriage and family counseling and Al Anon meetings to learn what they did to enable him and how to change their own behaviors.  They also shared their story with select family and friends, finding love, support and understanding.  It has made them stronger as a couple and their relationship with their son is mended. 

While Lisa still resents the lost time and hurt her son caused, she and her husband are learning to move forward.   

Marc is in a vocational school, living on his own and working to support himself.

Marcia Stein, PHR is the author of Strained Relations:  Help for Struggling Parents of Troubled Teens.