Monday, December 20, 2010

How I’m Coping During the Holidays

I previously wrote that it’s not easy making it through the holiday season when you have problems in your family. Many shows represent some ideal we’d like, not the reality that a lot of people live.

I’d like to share how I’m getting through and hope you share your tips, too.

For the past 3 ½ years, I have been estranged from my son. I miss him like crazy and do have hope for the future, but that doesn’t make it less hurtful, stressful, sad, difficult, and so on. I wrote him another note recently and hope it's given him something to think about, something to keep the door open.

When people ask me what our family is doing, I talk about what my husband and I are doing, using the generic “we.” “We’re going to a movie.” “We’re having dinner with Mom.”

For those who know me and ask about our son, I say that he has other plans. If they know me well, I’ll just say we’re still not speaking and change the topic.

Now here’s how I’m coping: I’m taking deep breaths, doing things I enjoy doing, keeping up with family and friends. Sometimes I allow myself a little time to wallow in sadness or self-pity, whichever hits me, but I try really hard not to stay there.

I do things for other people and write encouraging notes to clients and friends. Helping others really helps me get my mind off of myself and it does something good for another person.

What are you doing to cope?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Her Own Terms: Making Amends: Ringing the Bells That Still Can Ring

This particular link may not seem related to my topic at first glance, but read the post, think about two wounded people at young ages and the arc of 40 years. I loved the part about apologizing and forgiveness, about recognizing why they were in a particular relationship and what was learned.

Her Own Terms: Making Amends: Ringing the Bells That Still Can Ring

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Holidays are Tough for a Lot of Families Struggling with Strained Relationships

For everyone going through the holiday season without the “normal” family, this one’s for you! This time of year is filled with possible joy and emotional pitfalls.

Many television shows, commercials and many movies celebrate the sentiment of being surrounded by a warm and loving family. We all feel things differently, and for me, the greeting card commercials with all of the images of family and love wound me. I miss our son.

I’ll watch Modern Family or some other show with people and their quirks and love, but intentionally sappy family stuff isn’t what I want to see right now. I want to protect my own emotions.

These shows and commercials shape our view of the way things are or should be, and if our own families aren’t like that, there’s something wrong with us.

I know many people with happy families that are functional, at least for the most part. Then there are all the other people I know: single, widowed or divorced, people with unhappy and strained relationships with family members, and people like me, estranged from their children. There are a lot of people who are alone, hurt, angry, afraid and worried.

Each time I read or hear about some teen or young adult who is in trouble, I think: maybe there is a heartbroken parent at home. I’m not na├»ve – some families have a history of violence and many repeat those patterns, but I believe that most parents want their kids to be okay in this world. We want them to be educated, have good jobs, form good relationships and make good choices. We want them to be happy and successful.

If you’re fortunate to have an intact family with good relationships, I’m very happy for you! I hope you can extend understanding and sympathy to those who don’t have this. Extend a hand, a shoulder, a tissue to someone who feels emptiness and loss, and withhold your judgment. You rarely know what’s really happening in another person’s home.

For those of us who are just getting through the holidays: hang in there, try to do things you enjoy, visit kind people, volunteer somewhere, get out of your own way and start walking toward accepting the situation and developing hope for the future.

Many people wrote to say that my book has helped them, and there are several ways you can purchase it. You can read more at

If you need personal help, please review the resource page . For personal help, the United Way site links to organizations around the country. If you go to, you just insert your zip code and find an agency near you.

Best wishes for a better future for all.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Barbara Blomquist: 24 Years of Estrangement and a Repaired Relationship, Part 2

Barbara Taylor Blomquist is the author of “Insight Into Adoption” and “Randy’s Ride.” In the second of a two-part series, she relays the story of her relationship with her son and their 24 years of being estranged. If you missed Part 1, please click here.

"Back in contact

One day when our son was 40 years old, he emailed me and asked how everyone in the family was. I emailed back saying that it was hard to cover 24 years in one email, but I gave him a brief update and mentioned I’d just had a book published. He emailed back that he wanted to get a copy and I mailed one to him. I didn’t hear back for several weeks, but then I received the message I’d prayed for, but at times thought I’d never receive.

He said he realized in reading “Insight Into Adoption” that he had been loved all along, but his anger was so strong at being given up at birth that he couldn’t see or feel any love. He realized he was normal and all the feelings he had were shared by many adopted youth. He was no longer alone. It was difficult for him to read “Insight Into Adoption” because it brought up so many emotions, but he later said it was instrumental in cementing him back into the family.

A visit home

Shortly after reading the book, he said he wanted to fly home for Mother’s Day. We were apprehensive, of course, but said we’d been waiting years to hear those words. He’d left as a boy and was returning as a man. The three days we spent together were like a Walt Disney movie, no deep conversations, but just a reconnecting of love, and an appreciation for each other as human beings who had all suffered. I felt no blame toward him. He felt no blame toward us. It was what it was, over and done with.

During the next year, he flew home five times. He still flies home several times each year and is in regular, wonderful contact by phone and email. He openly shares his joys and his challenges.

Aftermath and a strong beginning

It’s been eight years since he came home that Mother’s Day. There have been times when his anger has shown itself. We’ve been calm and tried to help him deal with it. Each and every time after a few days, he’s said he overreacted. Perhaps old habits die hard. We always say we understand, and we do. We tell him it’s no big deal. These episodes are getting very rare now.

He has many regrets which we tell him are understandable, but not important now. In taking this journey he became the outstanding, understanding, loving soul that he is now. He reconnected with the innate qualities he had as a little boy when he was sensitive and compassionate.

He has an appreciation for life which many people would envy. They wouldn’t envy his method of achieving it, however. He is similar to people who have come back from a life threatening experience. They never look at life the same way again. Their priorities change and their appreciation and gratitude are enhanced for things they used to take for granted.

Our son has said he would be dead now if it weren’t for us. Somewhere deep down he must have known that we would not only eagerly take him back into the family, but would do so with no questions asked. All we care about is now. He’s mentioned that some of his friends can’t believe we’ve been so loving and accepting after what he put us through. I couldn’t imagine being any other way.

How we’ve all grown

We all are different people after going through this. I think when we “know” we are right about something, we have a tendency to judge others, silently or openly. I no longer do that. When I see a behavior on someone’s part that is distasteful or even abhorrent to me, I immediately think “He’s doing the best he can.” A feeling of sympathy overwhelms me and I want only the best for that person who is obviously suffering. They are being motivated by fear or frustration or a feeling of being lost. I no longer take the position that I am better than that person. Instead, I feel gratitude that our son has taught us not to judge or label people. I’m sure people judged him for his negative behavior. That’s human nature.

We have all found a deeper meaning to life through this. First of all, not ever to judge people, but also to genuinely love people for who they are, warts and all. I know in my heart that our love for our son was a factor in bringing him out of his lifestyle. It took way too many years, but if people knew him years ago, they would know he’d die an early death. He proved them wrong. He dropped out of high school and never could stay in college, but he’s worked hard in his field and is greatly respected for the knowledge he has which he’s learned on his own. He is sought after for his knowledge and paid handsomely for it. He dedicated himself to getting himself out of his messy life. His very bad credit has improved to the point where he is now a homeowner.

His life now is calmer and he takes justified pride and joy in how far he’s come from his previous years. I think we as parents feel even more happiness in this. We know the outcome could very well have been different. I had prepared myself for one day hearing that he had died. At least I thought I had. Now what we are witnessing is a second birth of a beautiful human being who accepts love and gives love.

Bitterness versus understanding

We have several friends who have had problems with troubled sons who have devastated their lives. I’ve heard them say they would never take their sons back after what their sons did to them. My heart goes out to these families because they will never know the ongoing joy of knowing the power of parental love. They express anger and resentment and are living daily with that. I did for some time until I realized that stance was hurting all of us.

Even if reconciliation never occurs, an attitude of forgiving and understanding love enhances your own life and allows bitterness to be non-existent.

We couldn’t be more grateful and prouder of the person our son has discovered he is – and was all along."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Barbara Blomquist: 24 Years of Estrangement and a Repaired Relationship, Part 1

Barbara Taylor Blomquist is the author of “Insight Into Adoption” and “Randy’s Ride.” In the first of a two-part series, she relays the story of her relationship with her son and their 24 years of being estranged.

"Background of a failed/revived relationship

Our strained relations with our son erupted 32 years ago when he left home at age 16. We were devastated. We felt helpless. He had been into drugs for over a year and that put him on a downward path which only got steeper and steeper. He was doing all of the typical things drug addicts do at that age: lie, steal, cut school and more.

I won’t go into details of his life for the next 24 years (he came back to us after that time) because I don’t know a lot of the details. He called us every 6 or 8 months and gave us a phone number where he could be reached, but when we called it, it was always out of service. From the time he was age 33 to 40 we didn’t know if he was dead or alive. We had no contact at all.

Process of emotions

During this estranged period – a good many years – I had a lot of time to go through every emotion imaginable. First fear for his life, he was only 16. Then anger that he betrayed all we’d done for him. Then frustration that we couldn’t contact him to try to work things out. Then feeling heart sick at the thought he was throwing his life away. My thoughts were of him constantly. I remember vividly one Sunday afternoon when I was involved in a project for a community cause. I realized at 5:00 o’clock that I had gone 4 hours without thinking of him. This was a first in years. The worst times were waking up in the middle of the night wondering where he was, was he scared, was he in jail, was he cold or hungry, penniless, homeless. I found out later after we reconnected that at some point during all those years, he was indeed, all of those things.

We went on a journey through these years as did our son. Eventually, we ended up in the same place, together again.

Pervasiveness of unhappy years

I found that when my thoughts were of anger and resentment I felt very bitter. I resented my friends’ happy existence with their children. I’d see boys on the street that resembled our son and my heart would sink. I could never be completely happy. The thought of the trouble he might be in was always there to take away any joy that would come into my life. This went on for years and years. There’s a saying that a mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child. That was true for me.

I knew our son felt he didn’t belong to our family because he was adopted. Even though he was deeply loved, he didn’t love himself so couldn’t believe that we could love him. In his mind, his birth mother had given him away and he internalized this to the degree that he thought no one else could or would love him. He set about to prove to the world that he was indeed, a worthless throw-away person.

Survival tactics

After a time, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t help him because we didn’t know where he was, but I had to help myself. We had other children who were being short changed by my attitude. My husband understood, but he could go off to work and get his mind on other things. After all, we had other happy, successful children.

In order to help myself survive, I came to the position that I had to think only positive thoughts about him. He had been a delightful little boy and I kept thinking of those years where his good qualities showed. I made myself believe that the goodness was still there, it was only temporarily covered up by bad behavior. All the loving qualities we had instilled in him must still be there. After a time that became easy to believe. I would send positive messages and affirmations out into space believing that somehow they would help him. They helped me.

I also in time came to see that his leaving our family was not done to hurt us, even though it hurt us to an extent I didn’t ever believe possible. He was the one who was hurting. He left, hoping to find a place in the world where his hurt would go away. Of course, it didn’t.

My last position was that he was doing the best he knew how to do. It was a terrible way for him to handle his life, but I came to see that he was hurting so much that he did a desperate thing in leaving and going out on his own at age 16. A feeling of sympathy took over my being. I could look at him in a loving way knowing that if he were ever to return I would welcome him wholeheartedly because I knew he’d been on a journey of self-realization. He, and only he, could do this. We couldn’t help him.

Survival therapy

During these years I started leading support groups for adoptive parents who were dealing with troubled children. I saw clearly that the core issue for our son and for all these troubled families was that the child didn’t know who he was. He felt he didn’t belong to his adoptive family, but he didn’t know where he did belong. He felt alone and lost.

The parents in the groups encouraged me to write about adoptive parenting issues because we discussed principles none of us knew about years ago when we adopted our babies. The book, “Insight Into Adoption”, was the result. I incorporated our own experience as well as the experiences of many families, and the invaluable experiences of adoptees who are now adults. They shed so much light on how they felt as children. Out of this came solid advice and insight for adoptive families. I wrote it hoping and praying I could save some families from going through what we were going through."

To be continued...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Parent's Path to a Restraining Order

The following note was written in response to a comment made on my post at’s-restraining-order-against-his-son/.

We have five kids; the two oldest are my husband’s, and yes, Robert had some issues, a little more than “teenage” ones, but nothing like this. The others, nothing to speak of….

Sadly, Ben is my own son, although my husband is his stepfather and has been since Ben was four. I was very glad to find your blog, and know I’m not the only one. I mean, I know that, intellectually, but – and I can say that here, Jennifer and others like her just don’t “get it”. Besides the counseling, they seem to think it’s the parents’ fault. Believe me: I dealt with a lot of social workers who outright said the same things.

The social workers kept telling us we were too strict. I was honestly puzzled. How can things like keep your room clean, be here for dinner, be home by 11 p.m., keep us informed of your whereabouts, do your laundry once a week, take a daily shower, and help out around the house be “too strict”? The whole thing about drove me crazy. Eventually, they started to see the light…sort of!

My son was just shy of his 15th birthday when he started skipping class – never a stellar student due to lack of effort, he was bringing home Ds and Fs. One C. He started running away, cursing us, causing damage in our home, and filed several false reports of abuse against us, which were investigated and found unsubstantiated. We sent him to counseling, then military school. He did pretty well, grades came up, politeness returned, behavior improved. Until he came home. He seemed to think he could do whatever he wanted. After a summer visit for a week at Grandma’s, he went on a hunger strike, ended up in the psych ward and then outpatient therapy.

There were questions about a fire at school, alcohol, then he ordered tasers online and used them on other students. Expelled, he returned home just after he turned 16. He didn’t want to go to the alternative high school, and frankly I wasn’t thrilled either. He said he’d work, get his GED, and start community college classes in the fall.

Within a month after returning home, his verbal abuse picked up, he ran off a few times, and then assaulted me. We already knew most of the police force, due to numerous calls before he went away to school, and since, and he was taken to detention. For three weeks. He came home, on probation, and was well-behaved for 24 hours. Within nine days, he was removed again to detention.

He called me that night, at midnight. He asked me to pick him up and I said no. The next morning, he told the detention officers that my husband had beaten him and they put him in a shelter for a month, then foster care. The family court judge realized what was going on and kept my son in care for six months. The rest of us, including our now-12-year-old, tried to recuperate. We all went to counseling. My son was tested, found to have antisocial tendencies.

He came home in October, a month or so before he turned 17. Things were fine for a few days, then got worse, same stuff all over again. He was put on anti-violence meds by a psychiatrist. He lasted, at home, until February of this year. He ran away, was gone for a week, two hours from home. His probation officer insisted he come home. He couch-surfed, he broke into our house a few times, knowing we weren’t there. We finally went back to court, re his probation, and the judge put him back in detention for three days. Then he ended the probation, and told my son there was nothing more we could do for him; he did order him to comply with treatment, and my son did so for a few days or a week. At one point, he stood outside our house, after threatening us, for a solid hour, ringing the bell, beating on the doors and windows, and yelling and cursing.

Several times he went to the family farm, engaged in vandalism, wild parties with girls and alcohol, guns, fires in the buildings, etc. When he first went to “live” there, in the old garage, it was because we’d had an episode at home and he took off. He went first to the police station, told them I’d hit him with a laptop, and when they refused to do anything – knowing he was lying – he went to the ER and told the same story. Again, nothing, so he hotlined me. The investigator came out, talked to me, talked to my son, told me he should never come home.

The last straw was this past May. My son came home occasionally, to ask for money usually, but this time he demanded it and refused to leave unless I gave him some. He was violent, threatening, and not only refused to leave when requested, but blocked the door so I couldn’t leave either.

I filed for an order of protection, the temp [temporary order] was granted; my son came by the house a few days later, and I told him to leave and he asked if I had a PO [Protective Order]. I said yes, and I showed it to him. He turned around and left, went to the police station; they called and asked for info, which I gave. He went to stay with his former foster parents.

I was granted the RO [Restraining Order], but the permanent [order] stated no communication whatsoever; the temp had, as I requested, allowed phone contact. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, filing the paperwork, then going to court. After about a month of my occasionally texting him to make sure he was okay, he blew up and told me to kiss off. I keep up, sort of, on FB [Facebook] and via his sisters. I continue to pay his medical insurance and co-pays, etc. Not sure where to go from here on out.

Ironically, we have five kids and two grandkids and have never had these kinds of issues. I’m also a professional writer/editor and my specialty is, naturally, parenting. Jennifer reminds me of many social workers and students who think everything should be hearts and flowers and rainbows and teddy bears and, if you throw enough counseling at someone, they can be “fixed."

Sometimes, there is no "fix."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Article: Parent Obtained Restraining Order Against Son

I sent out a request to hear from parents who had gotten a restraining order against their child. I received the follow message and I have changed the name of the son.

"Here’s what happened that led up to getting a restraining order last year against my then 20 year old son, “Rick”.

Since he was 14 or so we knew he was drinking and smoking and doing drugs. He had problems already and the drugs and everything made the situation much worse. We took him to therapy and wanted to send him to a therapeutic boarding school but couldn’t afford it. Our part of the country doesn’t have much to offer as far as family help.

He was stealing from us and I mean he took from our wallets, stole the change bottle, took some of my jewelry and sold it. We didn’t know what would happen next. He had took $1,000 or more and that’s just a guess.

My husband bought a safe and we put our wallets and any items of value that we could fit in there. It was ridiculous to have to remember to get your wallet before you go out the door, but at least we knew where our money was.

I heard therapists telling us that we were part of the problem, but I was viewing it that this kid was the problem and we were just good parents who wanted to see him outgrow this and still be in a safe environment. I was scared that if we kicked him out of our house that he might live in the streets or even die. I also felt that we would be branded as horrible parents once he was out, but till then it was our dirty family secret all of the tings that went on at home.

All through his teen years he would be very disrespectful to us and would call us terrible names and if we tried to talk to him, he would yell at us or stomp to his room. Once at his room he might put a hole in the wall or throw a chair. I was afraid of him and afraid to be alone with him.

The last day he was at home, I asked him if he had seen a box I knew had been delivered for my birthday. It was a present from my mom and she sent very expensive things. He said it hadn’t come but the UPS tracker said it had. He went to his room and I started looking through the trash. That’s the thing: he lied and stole and was never good at hiding his tracks.

I found the box and the packing slip said there was jewelry enclosed. I was furious and had really had enough. I called my husband and he came home early.

We confronted Rick and he took his almost full can of soda and threw it at me and then he hit me, punched me hard in my cheek. I was in a lot of pain and just knocked to the floor from that punch. My husband and Rick started pushing each other. Finally Rick was pushed out the door and my husband locked it. Rick was banging on the door and threatening us.

My husband called the police and they came out to talk with us. They were really fast, but the few minutes until they got here were terrifying. I didn’t know what Rick would do and was scared my husband would have a heart attack.

The police said we should file a restraining order. Because there was still time that day, we went to the court and filed the papers. The papers weren’t difficult, but the emotions that went into that day were horrible. We were granted the order and had Rick served. He has to stay away from our home and not contact us, but we could call him if we want to.

We got all new locks and increased our security. We don’t ever park our cars outside and I worry about running into him somewhere. I've seen some of his friends and hear he's out there wasting his life and staying in seedy places. I hate being afraid to run into him.

I am sad, angry, depressed and ashamed and even though I want to talk with him it’s very dangerous. I think one of the worst parts is that when you have this child and you love him, you have a dream about what your life will be and now that dream is blown apart. It won’t ever be all right in our house."

If you are interested in more information about restraining orders (in some states, "orders of protection") you can check with your local police or courthouse.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dore E. Frances, Ph.D.'s Show on LATalk Radio

I was invited to be a guest on Dore's show, and it was a great experience. Dore's full bio is on her website and she has been working with troubled children and families for several years.

I've been a guest on different types of shows, and this was my first experience with blog radio. As with phone-in radio interviews, you can't see the person and it's easy to step on that person's sentence. Because Dore has a weekly program on LATalkRadio, she's used to pacing her questions and listening carefully for answers.

I found her to be curious and interested with an ability to add information when needed for her audience. Because the subject matter can be difficult, parents may hesitate to call as they may be embarassed or want to maintain some privacy. Dore does accept email questions and this is helpful for her audience. I enjoyed our conversation and am booked to return May 16, 2011.

If you'd like to hear our recent interview, you can download the MP3 or go to and scroll down to the August 30, 2010 interview.

Dore’s websites include Horizon Family Solutions and a Facebook page. If you sign up on the Facebook page, you’ll be alerted about her upcoming guests.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Toni Hoy's Update: Suing Illinois for Help for Adopted Son

Toni Hoy was our guest blogger on April 14, 2010. To follow the thread of thought and experience, it's best to review her her blog and slideshow at and then see her guest post.

If you are moved to comment, kindly consider your words before you type.

"Hello friends,

I decided to send this as a group email.

I wanted to let you all know of our recent decision to sue the state of Illinois.

My husband, me, and another parent, will be joint filing a federal lawsuit against IL HFS for injunctive relief from the state of IL for obtaining residential treatment for our children under the EPSDT provision of Medicaid, and return to us, custody of our children. This is a case that has been won in mulitple other states and is slated to be a landmark case here.

We are represented by class action law firm, Collins Law, in Naperville, IL. Of consult is Professor Mark Heyrman, UIC Clinical Law Professor, who is the major mental health influence in our state.

Since June, I have been working with a large group of people, which includes county mental health board presidents, IL mental health stakeholders, state departments, and senatorial staff. In our state, the only kids that get residential are the ones who have drug/alcohol problems. Kids with mental health issues alone, are subject to the ICG grant, which awards residential to 6%-18% of applicants. The rest can sue the school district, or request help from another state dept, CRSA. However few people know it exists and they will not accept cases when another state dept. has taken responsibility. For those forced into relinquishment, the process is futile.

In June, HFS agreed to license RTCs as PRTFs so they can accept Medicaid. Chaddock, where our son Dan resides, is one seeking to be licensed this way. One week later, another family was forced to relinquish, and another may relinquish in October. The other parent relinquished in the spring. She has two adoptive sons. The states attorney is threatening to terminate her parental rights. He does not think that a single parent can manage a boy with schizophrenia and bipolar. Currently she visits her son twice weekly.

A few weeks ago, I met with Michael Gelder from our Governor's office. While he and HFS Director were mortified at what is happening to us, HFS continues to move at a snail's pace. First meeting, they agreed to license the RTCs as PRTF. Second meeting, they are talking a year or so to make it happen, and acknowledged that they have talked about it for 10 years and done nothing. Simultaneously, Michael Gelder agreed to ask Governor Quinn for an Executive Order for an official task force to resolve this issue.

I'd like to ask for support and encouragement from all of you. Many of our allies and support systems have deserted us as a result of taking this step. I have been a little "email lonely" this weekend, but it gave me time to redirect and refocus.

I have no idea what is going to happen moving forward. I only know that my son deserves treatment and his parents.

I received two emails regarding an Oprah show on this topic last week. One from Darcy Gruttadaro, senior attorney from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and one from Mental Health America in Virginia. I don't know who they will select to be on the show. This is a risky venture as it places families in a vulnerable situation subject to be under attack by those who are unfamiliar with the seriousness of this situation. We can all pray that whoever is selected will focus on the issues and approach it in a sensitive and knowledgeable manner.

I'll keep you all posted. Jim, me, and the rest of the kids appreciate your support.

Toni Hoy"

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What is truancy and what are the penalties?

How do the schools define truancy and what are the penalties? A link on the California Department of Education site provides a thorough explanation. I’ll provide summaries and quotes, and you can go to the site for additional information. I was surprised to learn all of the ramifications and penalties for truancy.

Definition of a Truant

If your child misses more than 30 minutes of instruction without an excuse three times during the school year he/she must be classified as a truant and reported to the proper school authority.

First Notification Mandate

In addition to the reporting requirement, the school district must notify the parent or guardian by first-class mail or other reasonable means, and must include specific information related to the unexcused absences and notes that the parent or guardian must require the child to attend school. The parent or guardian has the right to meet with school personnel to discuss the issue.
Pupils may be subject to prosecution, suspension, restriction, or delay of the pupil's driving privilege. It is also recommended the parent or guardian accompany the pupil to school and attend classes with the pupil for one day.

Habitual Truant Mandate

According to the law, once “a student has been reported as a truant three or more times in one school year and after an appropriate school employee has made a conscientious effort to hold at least one meeting with the parent and the student, the student is deemed a habitual truant. The intent is to provide solutions for students who failed to respond to the normal avenues of school intervention.”


If your child “… is a habitual truant, or is irregular in attendance at school, or is habitually insubordinate or disorderly during school, the student may be referred to a school attendance review board (SARB) or to the county probation department…. The student may also be referred to a probation officer or district attorney mediation program…. The intent of these laws is to provide intensive guidance to meet the special needs of students with school attendance problems or school behavior problems…. These interventions are designed to divert students with serious attendance and behavioral problems from the juvenile justice system and to reduce the number of students who drop out of school.”

Penalties (Student)

“The law provides schools and school districts with discretion regarding student penalties for truancy as long as they are consistent with state law. The penalties for truancy for students … become progressively severe from the first the time a truancy report is required through the fourth time a truancy report is required.”

The first time a student is truant, a written warning may be issued by a peace officer. A record of the warning may be kept at the school for a minimum of 2 years or until the student graduates or transfers from that school. If the student transfers, the record may be forwarded to the new school or any school receiving the school records. A record may be kept by the law enforcement agency.

The second time a truancy report is required within the same school year, the school may assign the student to an after school or weekend study program located within the same county as the pupil's school.

“The third time a truancy report is required within the same school year, the student is classified a habitual truant and may be referred to and required to attend, an attendance review board or a truancy mediation program.”

If truancy is reported a fourth time within the same school year, the student is then within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court and they may determine the pupil to be a ward of the court.

If your child becomes a ward of the juvenile court, he or she will be required to do one or more of the following:

“(1) Performance at court-approved community services sponsored by either a public or private nonprofit agency for not less than 20 hours but not more than 40 hours over a period not to exceed 90 days, during a time other than the pupil's hours of school attendance or employment. The probation officer shall report to the court the failure to comply with this paragraph.
(2) Payment of a fine by the pupil of not more than one hundred dollars ($100) for which a parent or guardian of the pupil may be jointly liable.
(3) Attendance of a court-approved truancy prevention program.
(4) Suspension or revocation of driving privileges pursuant to Section 13202.7 of the Vehicle Code. This subdivision shall apply only to a pupil who has attended a school attendance review board program, or a truancy mediation program pursuant to subdivision (c).”

Penalties (Parent)

"Penalties against parents apply when any parent, guardian, or other person having control or charge of any student fails to compel the student to attend school.” Penalties are:

“ (1) Upon a first conviction, by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars ($100).
(2) Upon a second conviction, by a fine of not more than two hundred fifty dollars ($250).
(3) Upon a third or subsequent conviction, if the person has willfully refused to comply with this section, by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500). In lieu of the fines prescribed in paragraphs (1), (2), and (3), the court may order the person to be placed in a parent education and counseling program.”
“… A judgment granting a defendant time to pay the fine or prescribing the days of attendance in a program shall order that if the defendant fails to pay the fine, or any installment thereof, on the date it is due, he or she shall appear in court on that date for further proceedings. Willful violation of this order is punishable as contempt.” In this case, you may be charged a fine of up to $1,000. If you are in contempt under the law, you may be imprisoned.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I'll be on Dore Frances' "Family Solutions Today" radio show 8/30

Dore Frances has a live radio talk show called "Family Solutions Today". I'll be her guest Monday, August 30 at 12 noon PST.

You can listen live (call-in to talk) or download from iTunes later.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Part 2: Troubled Teen and Truancy

My previous post reviewed a situation with a woman's son. He's 15, had been running away from home, absent for up to 14 days at a time.

She contacted the school, let them know about the situation and asked for advice. Here are a series of edited emails so you can view how the schools approach truancy and what steps parents should take to protect themselves. Please note this is in California and terminology may be different if you're in another location. Terms of note include:

SARB = School Attendance Review Board
SRO = School Resource Officer

"From: [Mom]
Sent: Thursday, May 06, 2010 9:45 AM
To: [xxx High School]
Subject: URGENT - my son

Hi [Vice Principal at High School],

We have not seen [my son] (nor have we heard from him), since last Fri April 30th... we have reported him missing/runaway.

I understand [my son] was at school yesterday Wed May 5th.

I have left a msg at the school office, that if there is any sign of [my son] at school today/Thur, I would like to be contacted ASAP -- as I am trying to have SRO's come talk to him ("if the stars line up right" - kind of a miracle if it happens, which I'm literally praying for!)

The other part of this is that after my meeting this morning, I would like to come to the high school close to 1:00-ish pm today/Thur to see if he is around, and maybe talk with you if you're available.

Thank you very much - each one of you!!
From: [SRO]
To: [Mom]; and [Vice Principal High School]
Sent: Thu, May 6, 2010 1:02:31 PM
Subject: RE: URGENT - [my son]


Thank you for the heads up.

Should [your son] continue to have excessive tardies over 30 minutes or miss school with unexcused absences, you should encourage the SARB (School Attendance Review Board) as a means to protect you and your parental obligation and hold him accountable for the compulsory education law. If this does not occur by the end of the scheduled school year, you will be faced with having to start over next year as it is not a rolling discipline.

The SRO at your son's high school should be familiar with DA Lois Baer (408-792-2777) who reviews and determines the discipline sanctions for truants and willing runaway youth.

Best of luck,

From: [Mom]
Sent: Thursday, May 06, 2010 3:40 PM
To: [VP at high school]; and [school district administrator]

Subject: Re: URGENT - my son

Can you explain what [SRO] is describing (below) ... how does the SARB affect [my son / us]? I would like to understand more about this at your earliest convenience.

Appreciate all of your help,

From: [SRO - school resource officer]
To: [Mom]
Sent: Thu, May 6, 2010 5:42:43 PM

Subject: RE: URGENT - my son

The purpose of a SARB is to adhere to the Compulsory Education Law of California. Every child must attend school until the age of 18 or until receipt of their high school equivalency. Children not attending school is often a result of either of the two following things: 1) The parents are not taking responsibility for their child 2) The child is causing their own demise. The intention of the SARB is to identify which instance is occurring and follow that up with an appropriate sanction.

As we already spoke, [your son] is calling his own shots. A SARB would be directed at him, as you are fulfilling your obligations with the intention to get him to go to school.

From a school standpoint, this would be recorded permanently on his cumulative file. Should he transfer to a different school or seek a higher level of education in the future, this would reflect in any transcript documents.

From a criminal standpoint, this is a violation of the education code and he would likely be assigned an appropriate discipline by [DDA Lois Baer 408-792-2777]. This can include and is not limited to:
1) Civil fines and penalties (escalated by additional violations) on file as a lien against him
2) Community Service hours
3) Probation with terms "must be in school" (Violating this, he could be subject to arrest and placed in Juvenile Hall)
4) Revocation of license until 18 or 21
5) Incarceration at The Ranch monitored by Juvenile Hall
6) EMP (ankle monitoring)

If he is a VOLUNTARY RUNAWAY you are highly encouraged to contact the Police and file a report. You should also contact the school and notify them of his status. If the school reports his attendance as "present", a Police Officer must be called and he will be removed from the Missing Person's System immediately. The responding Officer will contact the parent or guardian to notify them that the juvenile has been located. It is that parent's responsibility to communicate to the Officer a desire to detain/release the juvenile. If detained, the Officer will hold the child for a reasonable amount of time for the parent to pick up their child. Should the child run away from home, even as early at that evening, a separate report will need to be generated with the same directions to follow. Officers CAN NOT decline a Missing Person's Report and it must be filed within 3 hours of taking the report.

By creating a paper trail, you are eliminating yourself from the liability of [your son's] actions. Imagine he is drunk, gets behind the wheel of a car and kills someone. You NEED to eliminate yourself from the liability he might cause by reporting his behavior. If he is willingly and knowingly missing school, then HE must suffer the consequences. If he is 18, you no longer assume the responsibility.

As we talked about before, you have resources: (in the Silicon Valley)
Bill Wilson House
Bill Wilson Counseling
Parent Project
Tough Love
Children's Protective Services (Children's Shelter is closed)
Alternate family members
Parents Helping Parents

Hope this helps,

From: [Mom]
Sent: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 9:57 PM
To: [High School administrators]

Subject: RE: URGENT - my son

I would appreciate it if [xxxx and xxxx] would review and comment on the email information (below), and let me know how to get the SARB (School Attendance Review Board) in place for [my son]. The information below was sent to me by a [School Resource Officer], who has been helping me understand police and school processes.

The last time we saw [my son] was Sat. May 8th. We have reported him "missing". He did leave a Mother's day card for me on my car on Mon May 10th. Yesterday, Tue May 11th, I checked out the program at the different high school in the district - unfortunately [my son] did not show up.

I look forward to hearing from you, on how to proceed.

Thank you,

Monday, August 2, 2010

Part 1: Troubled Teen and Truancy

I met this very nice woman, a professional who lives near me, and she told me about problems with her son. Because she sent a lot of information, I’m going to share this story in a few entries. Here’s the background:

“Our son, aged 15, had been running away from home during the last three months of his sophomore year and through mid-summer, and would be missing for up to 14 days at a time. We had no idea where he was or who he was with, as he had started hanging out with kids who we knew nothing about. When he was at home, although I would drop him off at school each morning, we were notified by the school's automated attendance phone calls that he was skipping classes, and eventually missing days of school at a time. Many phone calls and meetings with teachers and school administrators became commonplace.

The only times he would come home was when police got involved and cited him for an offense like stealing, shoplifting, or being with someone who was cited for something. Other times, the school would call when he was suspended or there was a behavioral issue at school, which required us to pick him up and bring him home. Of course, he was not happy about having to come home (as it was not on his own terms).

Fortunately during this time, I started meeting School Resource Officers (SRO's) affiliated with his school, as well as with the city we live in. I kept hearing the police and the SRO's say, "you've got to start a paper trail, and report him as a runaway every time he does not return home when expected". "Because of all the classes he is missing, you need to have the school prepare an SARB before the school year ends."

One particular SRO was extremely helpful, and he patiently helped me understand school, police and legal issues. His knowledge of the school system and police policies were critical to understand, and I gladly share this information, so that other parents will understand that the paper trails and documentation are additional ways to protect parents from poor choices their child makes.”

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Lori Chose to be Estranged From Her Dad

Today’s blog post is from a woman who read my blog and is interested in the topic from the point of view of a child who chose to stay away from her father. Living with an unstable father, suffering from his bad choices and chaos that ensued, she made a difficult decision to protect herself and her family. As she wrote to me, “I’m always hoping my dad will wake up, but just when I think he might, he gets right back to his old antics.” Here’s Lori’s story:

People often mention troubled children, yet, there also quite sadly exist troubled parents. I myself have had to deal with an unstable father throughout my childhood and made the tough decision in my 20s to no longer have him in my life. The factors that influenced this go far beyond my parents’ divorce, my father’s infidelities, and alcoholism. Those were merely symptoms of the broken man I could no longer deal with. After years of therapy and determination, I can now say I harbor no anger or hate for him; only pity and forgiveness.

I’d like to point out that my belief in forgiveness means that I bear him no ill will and wish him no harm. It does not mean that I find his behaviors to be right or okay, and it does not mean that I wish to let him back around me to commit the same offenses. Forgiveness in my mind is releasing that person from destructive thoughts while still keeping yourself protected through setting boundaries. I do not hate him; I do not trust him, either.

Until the age of 18 I was a victim. From that point on, I knew I finally had the control and freedom to distance myself from my father’s toxicity and manipulation. It was difficult and scary, but worth it. The specifics of my struggle are not essential to my message; someone always has it worse than someone else, yet what we all have in common is the power to move on.

I know people mean well when they say they hope we can work things out and that maybe one day I’ll want him back in my life. What they don’t understand is that this person is ill, broken, and keeps repeating their same destructive patterns.

Sometimes in speaking with certain people I get the sense that I’m being judged for my decision. It’s been implied that I don’t really understand the impact of my decision and I’ll regret it. What they don’t realize is to come to this decision I’ve already had to accept the situation and mourn the loss of a caring, safe parent that I never had and never will be able to have.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

How do you feel about Father's Day?

This blog is devoted to people who are struggling with their children's behavior, but today I'd like to open the discussion to additional situations.

My dad died when I was almost 13, and Father's Day since that time has been...odd. When my son was young, this day became something to celebrate again. His dad and I separated when J. was small, and again it was odd for a few years. I married Bill and then J. had Father's Day with his dad and then with Bill. There seemed to be a lot to celebrate, but it lasted only a few years.

In his teen years, J. was more sullen than most, difficult at best, unpredictable: would we see the charming and funny son or the one with the quick temper?

J. has not lived with us for 3 years, and the last year he was at home was very rough. We don't speak, although I hope he'll be ready to have some kind of a relationship soon.

I'd love to celebrate the efforts my husband made in being a step-dad. It's probably one of the more difficult and thankless family roles you can be in, and he did try to be a good father-figure. At a certain point, I think he felt it was wasted energy, but he still tried. Being the step-parent means you have rules in your head but sometimes the kid/kids don’t think you have the right to enforce the rules. You’re not the “real” dad.

I know what a “real” dad is as far as biology is concerned, but being a real father is more than biology. It’s caring about that child, loving the child no matter the circumstances, guiding the child and knowing that the child may fall and you’ll have to determine if you help that child get up or watch the child help himself/herself. That’s what parents do.
Some dads have to give their kids "tough love" and watch them fail, take drugs, go to jail, be estranged, and hope for better days.

Today I honor all of the real dads out there.

Here are some questions for you, and I hope you write some responses. What’s your best memory of your dad? What did he teach you? If you’re in a difficult situation, how do you cope?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Barry Bonds' son: what would you do?

In an earlier posting, I wrote about Barry Bonds' son, Nikolai. Today I read that this 20-year-old pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of vandalism and battery stemming from an altercation with his mother.

December 5, his mother, Sun Bonds, asked him about jewelry that was missing from their home. Nikolai then followed her into a bedroom, threw furniture around, allegedly threw a doorknob at her, and prevented her from leaving the house. He also spit in her face, and this is battery.

Sun Bonds refused to cooperate in the case against her son, and this contributed to the decision to reach a plea deal.

Nikolai Bonds will get credit for several days spent in county jail and will serve no additional time, and he must pay a $2,130 fine and undergo 32 hours of anger management training.

In exchange for Bonds' plea deal, prosecutors dismissed misdemeanor charges of false imprisonment, threatening a police officer and obstructing a police officer.

It's one of many different incidents in the lives of these family members. If you were in Sun Bonds' position, would you have filed charges or would you have refused to cooperate as she did? Why?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

What’s of interest to my readers?

Speaking at the library and a private event, I saw some people who had attended some of my other talks. Most of the participants were there due to pain and difficulties with their kids and they want help, they want to feel they are not alone, and several people expressed some interest in forming or having access to a support group. My purpose in speaking is to raise awareness, increase the dialog and, as any author, I want to sell my books.

I look at the statistics on my blog to see what’s of interest or what information you’re seeking. I look at the number of clicks on the pages and what topics have the most hits.

Learning about what’s important to you helps me determine what I’ll write about and what kind of guests I should approach to write for the blog. My 3 most viewed pages, other than the index page, are:

Did the Self Esteem Movement Create an Entitled Generation?
Parents Want to Return Adopted Child
My Book

Some of the most common topics people use in search engines to find the blog include the self esteem movement, family difficulties, difficult or troubled teens, adoption, and restraining orders.

The links people use from my blog also tell me something. I will interview or ask guests to write about restraining orders, the self-esteem movement, and then expand my resources page.

What’s of interest to you? What would help you? Can you help others? You can post a comment and let me know.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

What's "enabling" and why is it harmful?

I don’t follow a lot of celebrity gossip but sometimes hear about something that strikes me, especially when it pertains to my interest in dealing with difficult offspring.

This week I was channel surfing and landed on a Larry King show about Linsday Lohan. I’ve seen her in a couple of movies and this is a talented young woman. She could have a long future in the entertainment business if she survives this stage of her life. She’s apparently had a lot of different problems, and because she is famous, it unfortunately plays out in a very public way. I suspect that compounds the access to trouble and it’s immediately noted whenever anything questionable arises.

The guests on Larry King said she is estranged from her father but close to her mother. Apparently, her father had his share of problems and is now clean and sober. He has been asking for help, asking his daughter and the courts to send her to a treatment facility, asking that the family go to therapy together. The guests indicated that the mother is not on the same page.

I’m sure someone out there follows celebrity gossip and knows more, but only the individuals involved know the whole story.

The details of this case are less important to me than the fact that this is a family that needs help.

It struck me when two of the guests said that when the parent who is close with the child is an enabler, it’s hard to change the pattern.

So what’s an “enabler”? This is a person in the troubled person’s life who contributes to that person’s bad behavior, alcoholism or drug addiction. It could be a family member or close friend who means well but winds up causing more problems by rescuing, lying for, making excuses for the troubled person. These people mean well, they want to help but wind up causing additional problems.

There are two interesting websites about this topic:

I don’t know the Lohan family but I’ve heard similar stories from people who’ve talked with me about their kids and the family dynamics.

Do you/did you have enabling or codependent behavior in your family and what will you/did you do about it?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Speaking at Campbell Library 5/13, 7 pm

I'll be speaking at the library Thursday night and I've really been looking forward to this opportunity. A PDF flier about the event can be viewed here.

The last time I spoke, we had around 20 people in the room. Most of the people had a son or daughter who going through a terrible time, and the adults were worried about how to handle the situation.

I can't provide the answers, just some experiences from my life and the interviews from my book. I also mention some of the calls and emails I've received. There's some comfort in knowing you're not alone in this situation, and it's helpful to know many kids grow out of that terrible stage and that there is help.

If you're in the Silicon Valley, I hope you can come to this event. If you know of another venue interested in this topic, please contact me.

Friday, May 7, 2010

When You’re Not Looking Forward to Mother’s Day

I’m one of those who would like to skip Mother’s Day. It’s not because I’m opposed to it: it is due to my life circumstances.

Mama died in 1973. I have a wonderful mother figure in my dear Aunt Polly, and she has served in that role for many of her nieces and nephews who have lost their parents.

I am fortunate to have a terrific mother-in-law, and I call her “Mom”. She’s been such a wonderful addition in my life, so warm and caring. She welcomed my son and me into her life with open arms, has taken care of us when we needed help and has been a wonderful friend to me. I know how lucky I am.

Then there is the most important part of Mother’s Day for me, my own role as a mom. As my son and I are not on speaking terms at this time, and this brings me the most pain of all of my losses. There is no describing the love I have for him, the worry and the loss I feel.

It is my dearest hope that we will reconcile in the near future. I’ve opened my heart, opened my arms, and have invited him to talk with me. The next step is his.

Until then, I think I’ll do what I’ve done for the past few years: honor my mom, aunt and mother-in-law, hope the day passes quickly and that next year will be different with my son.

You’re welcome to share your thoughts and experiences.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Guest Blogger Barbara Neafcy, RN: Everyone is a Victim

I exchanged several emails and talked with others regarding the recent return of the adopted boy to Russia.   Barbara Neafcy is an RN who specializes in the care of disabled children. She is a public speaker on FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) and is married to an adult with FASD, Stephen Neafcy, who is author of "The Long Way to Simple" a book that describes what life feels like from the perspective of one who has it. This book is the recipient of the Mom's Choice Award.

“Reports on CNN indicated the birthmother was an alcoholic and that his behaviors fit the behavioral profile of someone with FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder). I feel strongly that we need to educate our adoptive parents on two levels. If this mom understood what services were available for her new family, this outcome might not have happened. If she had been informed at the outset that her new son had been exposed to alcohol in utero and has abnormal brain development as a result, she may not have signed the papers. If she did sign to become his mom she probably would have taken the commitment very seriously and worked with professionals to improve the child's chances for a successful life.

This is a tough situation for child placement agencies in Russia. What it would require is honesty on their part toward the parents, and a likely significant reduction in adoptions, which they desperately need for their kids!

94% per cent of individuals with FASD have some form of mental illness. In those who are shuffled around in foster care or orphanage type settings, the incidence would be much greater.

This mom was alone and scared with her experience and reacted in a state of panic. The result is that the worst possible scenario occurred for her son. He was rejected again, as he has felt all of his life. If he has attachment disorder, his resistance to all bonding will grow more rigid and thicken the fortress walls he has built around himself.

There are only victims in this very sad story, but the greatest victim from conception to today is that little boy who has no clue what love can do for him, and hasn't the healthy neurotransmitters to help his thinking. Society around him is likely to suffer from the anger and bitterness he will carry everywhere with him.

The interesting thing is, FASD is the most prevalent and preventable disability that exists on the planet today. In fact, it is 100% preventable.

For more information about FASD please visit This site contains worlds of information and insights on this troubling disorder, offering hope for those who have it or love someone who does. My husband’s book can be seen at and at”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Toni Hoy, Guest Blogger: Custody Relinquishment for the Sake of Mental Healthcare: Answering Objections and Offering Solutions « Strained Relations

Toni Hoy is in a unique position to comment on the return of the Russion adopted child. Please see her blog and review her slideshow at I understand this is a controversial topic, and if you are moved to comment, kindly consider your wording before you type.

Every time there is a major news story about a parent leaving a child at a psychiatric hospital or disrupting an adoption due to severe mental health concerns, there is a public outcry. People assume that a family can live in the same home with a dangerous child or that mental healthcare is easily accessible. There is vast sympathy for the child and blatant criticism for the family. There are no criminals and no crime here. There is a mentally or emotionally sick child without access to appropriate mental health services. By providing access and funding for intensive and residential treatment when required, to eliminate “lockouts,” “psychiatric abandonment,” and “disrupted adoptions” adoptive families can be preserved.

Families are seeking treatment, but in most states, you can get out patient treatment, or short term in patient treatment, but not longer term residential care. This care is excluded from family policies. Either families don’t qualify for Medicare or if they do, it does not cover the child’s diagnosis. For domestically adopted children, residential services are excluded from adoption subsidies. There is no coverage at all for the $400 per day fees.

Families face severe stress and emotional strain, often becoming victims of secondary trauma in trying to function while living with a dangerous child. They exhaust every treatment they can find and spend every waking moment dealing with severe emotional trauma. They do not have access to the same tools as residential treatment centers have such as; three shifts of staff, seclusion rooms, and sedation medications, yet they are expected to manage the child’s behavior far less equipped than required.

Society feels sympathy for the child and criticizes the parents. How horrible to leave a sick child! Society neglects to consider that the parents were not offered any appropriate alternatives and in no way, desire to abandon their child. They simply want treatment and custody, which if available, would negate the need for abandonment.

Departments of Children and Family Services “exist for the protection of children.” They “err on the side of the child.” Yet, when a family is forced to abandon a child at a hospital to protect other children, the family is also “erring on the side of the children,” all of them, yet state departments are quick to charge families with neglect for taking the same steps they take every day.

“Child with RAD Burns Down House Killing Family of Six.”

How would society respond to that headline? I would imagine it would be something like; Why didn’t the parents do something? They knew the child needed treatment. Why didn’t someone help them? Should we wait until it happens? Or should we help them now, while the child is safely housed in a psychiatric unit?

The solution for biological families is to provide them with the services they need instead of the ones they don’t need that are forced upon them by the state. Afford them the same rights as parents who have children with cancer. The solution for domestic adoptive families is to include residential treatment into adoption subsidies for pre-adoptively traumatized children. The solution for internationally adopted children is intercountry agreements which have a long term plan for children with RAD (reactive attachment disorder) and FASD (fetal alchohol spectrum disorder).

The solution is Family Preservation and Adoption Preservation that does not cut the cord for the most severely afflicted children.

For more information, see Toni Hoy’s blog and videos at

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Teen Rejected Parents: Fears of “Coming Out” « Strained Relations

I was talking with the mother of a gay man, and she said they had incredible family stress for several years. Once her son was around 15, he became sexually active. She and her husband had hoped he would wait until he was older, was worried about him taking precautions to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, and worried that some of his peers or others would beat him up or even kill him.

They tried to discuss their concerns with their son, but instead of really hearing all of their fears, he only heard that their concern was that he was gay. The parents did not care that he was gay and had already received information about parenting gay kids.

Meanwhile, he felt his parents were rejecting him and he left home at age 17. He stayed at friends’ homes and even on the street for awhile, eventually tiring of the experience. When he came home, he was much more mature and ready to both talk and listen. He learned his parents loved him and worried about him all along, and they were able to gradually repair their relationship.

Have you had an experience like this as a parent or a child? What happened, and were you able to resolve your family relationship? How did you do it?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Man’s Restraining Order Against His Son « Strained Relations

Today’s email included a note from a parent who had taken out a restraining order against his son. I asked if I could include some of his story as I know others are interested in this topic.

“Jack” read my book as he was looking for information about being estranged from a child. He wanted to know he was not alone.

Jack and his wife had been living in fear of their 17 year old son, “Tom.” This son had been stealing from them, and they couldn’t even estimate the amount missing as it was in the hundreds of dollars. They were also missing jewelry and other expensive items. They had gone to family therapy and tried many different therapists to help Tom.

When they found a stash of pills in his room, they told him he’d have to either stop or leave home. Tom picked up a chair and threw it at them, and they ran to the bedroom, locked the door and called the police. They were terrified of what would happen next. Tom left before the police arrived, but they completed a report and then filed a restraining order, also known as a protective order.

Jack said this happened a few years ago and they have not seen their son since that night. They constantly worry about him; this is their only child and it’s been hard on them. Family and friends ask about their son and Jack and his wife say Tom is working and studying. It’s easier to lie than describe the nightmare they are living.

When I interviewed professionals for my book, I spoke with a lawyer about restraining orders. Here is a quote from Jerome Wisselman, J. D.: “There are some situations where people have brought proceedings to get orders of protection against their children, so that if the kids continue to act in the way they were acting, parents could actually have them arrested, if necessary. Often the parents want to restrict the child from being in the residence under the influence of alcohol, or drugs, or other situations. I have seen situations where the children assaulted the parents and a restraining order would address the assault issue. Sometimes the kids stay at home while they’re under the order, and sometimes the kids don’t want to stay in the house. They just go and stay with friends or relatives.”

If you are living in an abusive situation, you may need to file a restraining order. You can research help in your own state/country, often by contacting domestic violence agencies.

We did not experience this, but I can understand how things could escalate. I think it’s more important to protect your life than worry about embarrassment. I’m sure there are many other parents who have been in a similar position.

Do you have an experience to share?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Cheri’s Adoption Experience & Some Parenting Advice

Following my last post, I received an email from a distant cousin. She wrote the following:

“As an adopted child, it all depends on how the adoptive parents handle the situation. I was told about being adopted when I was very young, in the form of a story. As I got older and began to question my parents, they honestly told me what they could (Ohio has sealed records). My dad encouraged me to look into my past, but my Mom, for many reasons, did not. When she did pass away, I wrote to the court in Columbus and received ALL the paperwork about my adoption. Probably because everyone associated with the process had passed on. I was never made to feel any different form the Ungerleider side. My mother’s family was quite the opposite and could never understand why I didn’t like them! Adoptive parents shouldn’t be upset at the above questions, it’s normal. I said that too. But, if they never told the child about being adopted in the first place, then they need to become very upfront and honest with the child immediately. Assure them that they are special and were “chosen” by their parents and are loved.

Parents are so stupid these days- think they have to be buddies to their kids or have to allow those kids to say and do anything for it might hurt their “self esteem”. My kids were always to told that we would love them no matter what, but we demanded their respect and gave it back to them in return. We always told my kids that no matter what, we would be there to defend and fight for them when needed. I also told my kids, when they were in their early and late teens, that I wasn’t their pal, I was their Mom and could be their very best friend or very worst enemy- it was up to them. When they each turned 25, they came to us and said we were the best parents any kid could have had. Guess we did it right.”

Would you like to share your thoughts or experiences? All you have to do is send me a comment, and I can accept the comment or use it as a post if you indicate I can do so.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

“I didn’t ask to be adopted” or “You’re not my real mom!” « Strained Relations

“I didn’t ask to be adopted” or “You’re not my real mom!” « Strained Relations

Words that strike parents in ways few other words can do.

Certainly, biological kids have their own words that hurt, but this is very different.
Some adoptive parents have open homes, open hearts to kids of all ages and conditions and have a mix of biological, foster and adopted children. Others are like me, people who lived through miscarriages and years of infertility treatments.

For me, adoption wasn’t the last thing I had thought about for creating a family. In fact, since I was young, I saw it as a great way to build a family. Adopted children were special and not “second best.”

We adopted a baby at birth, taking care of him as any parent would take care of his/her child. One day, when he was around 7, he said he didn’t have to do what I asked as I was not his “real” mom.

Not his real mom? I felt faint, angry, resentful, incredibly wounded, like it was an arrow through my heart. Not his real mom?

Here’s what I said, and this is almost verbatim: “Who do you think raised you so far? Who was changing your diapers, getting you food, taking you to the park and reading to you at night? Who plays games with you, makes sure you bathe and brush your teeth? Do you see any other mom here? No. I am your mom and that is that. Now go to your room and think about what I said.”

He never said anything like that to me again, but I wonder if he harbored those thoughts of anger or resentment and just kept them to himself.

I relayed this once to another adoptive mom, and she had been told by a defiant your daughter, “I didn’t ask to be adopted.” This from a child who didn’t want to clean her room, throwing out every excuse until she got to this one that might sidetrack her mother. The mom retained her calm demeanor and said, “You are not to talk back. Go to your room and whatever is not picked up off the floor and put away nicely on your shelves in 5 minutes will be thrown out.” She meant it. The mother took those few minutes to calm down and think about how she wanted to address this with her child.

She waited for another day and took her daughter for a walk, exploring feelings on both sides. What does it feel like to be adopted, and what does it feel like to adopt? Why did you adopt me? Why didn’t my birthmother keep me? There were a lot of questions addressed, and they returned to this topic several times over the years as the daughter matured.

If you’re a stepparent, you may have experienced “You’re not my real mom/dad, and ….”

Have you experienced this? What did you say or do? Do you have advice for others?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Catching Problems When Children Are Young

Here’s a note from a woman who just read my book.

“I like to read different parenting books, and you mentioned your book at a workshop so I bought a copy. My kids are small and they’re pretty good with minor issues, but I worry about the future. I am also curious about what other parents go through. I wasn’t a very easy teenager and wondered about the parent’s point of view. I had a lot of reasons to buy the book.

I expected to find more information about right when they are teens, and I did find that, but I did not expect to have a better look at when things start to go wrong and how fast things went bad in the families. I was surprised and glad to find something about the younger years.

I have started to see some small problems with my older child, and I thought I could let some of it ride, but now I see I have to start now before it gets worse. I really liked the chapter where the person talked about how she stopped nagging her child as she had done to her older kids, and how their home is more peaceful and her son is more cooperative.

I have more insight about what I put my parents through and am sending them a copy of the book. We had a good discussion about it and this was the first time we talked about those years. I had some apologizing to do. Reading about the professionals was really helpful, too.

Thanks for your book and all of the resources you provided there and on your website.”

I love this kind of feedback! It’s always good to know the information is useful, and I hope this parent can avoid some of the problems other parents have experienced. It was interesting to hear that she has a little more insight into her own life and the impact it had on her parents.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Beth Proudfoot, MFT: Teens and Behavior Modification

Thank you, Marcia, for inviting me to be a guest on your blog! May I use this opportunity to get on my soapbox about an issue I feel passionate about?

Parenting teens, as all of your readers know, is a challenging and complex job, and unfortunately we seem to have this idea in our culture that if parents could only do the Rewards and Punishments thing right, then the problems would be solved. Frankly, I’ll bet that all of your readers have tried Rewards and Punishments, and they haven’t worked. There’s a reason for this, and it’s not because the parents aren’t tough enough or aren’t doing it right.

I was a psychology student at Stanford in the late ‘70’s when Behavior Mod was all the fashion. My goodness, we had some well-trained pigeons in the basement! Unfortunately, since then, the idea that rewarding behavior we want and punishing behavior we don’t want will actually change the behavior of humans has been overwhelmingly disproven.* People, it turns out, just really don’t like to feel coerced.

Now, most people, if the punishments aren’t too severe and the rewards are pretty good, will get with the program and comply, because they see that following along is actually good for them in the long run.

Your rebellious teen is not one of these people. For a rebellious teen, anything with a whiff of coercion, even when it’s a great reward, will have to be rejected in order to prove “you’re not the boss of me.” Setting up a system of rewards and punishments with a rebellious teen will always fail.

I think the reason the Behavior Mod concept has had such a long life, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, is because it’s so simple. We’d like to believe it was this easy! Unfortunately, teens are not pigeons. They need the space, outside of a power struggle, to foresee the consequences of their actions and make choices in their own self-interest. Figuring out a way to create that space is challenging and complex. Darn it!

*Please see Alphie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards, and Murray Strauss’s Beating the Devil Out of Them, for extensive reviews of the literature on this.

Beth Proudfoot, MFT, is a child therapist, parent educator and parenting coach in Los Gatos, Ca. Her website is

Difficult Kids: Sometimes it’s the Parents’ Fault

I’ve written before about consistency in parenting, and I was thinking about that when talking with another woman.

This woman and her husband divorced several years ago and the kids are now teenagers. Both of the kids are wild: running around with a bad crowd, drinking, smoking, doing drugs, mouthing off to the parents and disrespectful toward authority figures at home and at school. Both are on the verge of failing school, and the mother does not know what to do next.

She is going to counseling to find out how to deal with them in more effective ways, but the kids’ dad will not go. He’s part of the problem as there are no rules at his house. He wants to be a friend, doesn’t want to challenge them in any way as he says he’s fearful of losing contact and he’s not involving himself as a parent.

Kids need consistency. It’s not easy for both parents to always be on the same page, even when they’re in the same house, and it’s so much harder when the parents live apart. It’s easy to overlook bad behavior just because you want to see your child. It’s hard to punish the child at your house for something serious she or he did at the other parent’s home. But is has to be done.

A good system of rewards and punishment can help a lot, and there are many books on the topic.

As hard as it may be to come to agreement with your former spouse, you have to try and try again. Some people can come to agreement and others never will. The kids pay the price if you don’t.

Please see my resource list.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Difficult Kids: Sometimes it really is the kid, not the parents.

A woman I met talked about her heartache when her son was in Juvenile Hall. I didn’t ask what specifically had brought him to that point, but she said he’d been in and out of trouble since he was 9 years old.

Although the parents and child went for counseling, nothing was turning this child around. She knew she wasn’t a bad person or a terrible parent: they had another son who was polite, a good student, had lots of hobbies and interests. It helped them to know that it wasn’t all their fault.

When their son landed in Juvenile Hall, she went to visit every day at lunchtime. The first few months, she didn’t see any change in him, and maybe it was worse due to his anger and frustration over his situation.

Around 6 months in, she started to notice small changes. He finally understood that there are consequences in society, that his parents truly did want the best for him. He was locked up for over a year, and when he came out, he needed a lot of help. This time, he was ready to listen to parents and teachers, ready to talk with a counselor who could help him.

The family is still recovering from this trauma and have some tough work ahead, but are working as a family to address them.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Update: “Meth Kid” Was Kicked Out of Home

I recently wrote about a family with a 20-year-old son on meth. You can view the posting at

“Jane” called to update me. She and her husband, after seeing several therapists and talking with former addicts, decided to tell their son to leave. She said that making this decision was the hardest thing she’d ever done. They didn’t feel safe in their home and it was breaking their hearts to see what their son was doing. They told him to leave right after Thanksgiving, and had hired a security guard to be onsite. They were scared of his reaction and possible responses.

Once he left, Jane and her husband went into the guest house where her son had been staying, and it had been “trashed” in a literal sense. There was garbage everywhere, opened cans and bottles all over the place, burns in furniture, and the carpets were ruined. She hired a cleaning service and a contractor, repaired the guest house and changed all of the locks.

Jane said that December was horrible, and the timing with the holidays increased the sadness and worry. She hears from her son now and then via text, but he won’t call at all. She understands he’s been staying with friends and worries about him.

He has been told repeatedly that when he’s ready to go for help or rehab, they’ll help him. They have done their research and have some options in mind. Their biggest fear now is that it’s too late, and one of these days they’ll learn he has died.

Do you have any experience with this or insights and comfort for this family?

Monday, January 25, 2010

An Encouraging Story: Turning a Teen's Life Around

I met a man at a professional meeting: let’s call him “Jeff”. When I talked with him about my book, he said he could have used it a few years ago. He and his wife would have liked the reassurance of knowing things would work out.

Jeff’s daughter “Beth” was a wild teen: drinking, smoking cigarettes and pot, hanging out with much older boys although she was repeatedly told she wasn’t allowed to see them. She’d react with anger, screaming and yelling, cursing her parents and bullying them.

By the time she was 15, Jeff and his wife had endured enough. They were terrified for her, afraid of her, and had finally reached a decision. They needed help and relief and had to do something. They found an educational consultant who tested Beth and had many forms for the parents and teachers to complete. She was bright but angry with no respect for her parents. The consultant recommended three different boarding schools and helped Jeff and his wife through the process of selecting a school and sending their child away.

They sent her to a boarding school for troubled teens in another state, not providing a real explanation to family and friends other than to say she wanted to go to a boarding school. They didn’t tell the truth: it would have been humiliating to share how horrible it had been in their home.

Once Beth had received a lot of therapy and started to mature, they started to repair their relationship. While she was away, the parents went in for counseling each day to cope with their situation, not blame each other, and learn how to be parents.

Beth was away until she turned 18. Having earned her high school degree she was ready for college. Jeff and his wife had used her college savings to pay for boarding school, so she went to community college while working full-time, earning her associates degree last year. She’s off at college now and on-track in her family relationships.

Jeff said just a few years ago they didn’t know if she’d make it to age 18 but now her future is bright.

It’s an encouraging story, isn’t it?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Barry Bonds' Son & Restraining Order

An article in the local paper caught my eye a month ago. Nikolai Bonds, Barry Bonds’ 20-year-old son, “was booked on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, vandalism and other crimes at the home of his mother, Sun Bonds.” During their argument, he allegedly threw a door knob at his mother and caused around $400 worth of damages. He also allegedly spit in her face, blocked her from leaving, and threatened an officer. He was released after posting $50,000 bail.

The court granted a restraining order, barring him from contacting his mother or coming within 100 yards of her.

I can’t imagine what was going on in that household that precipitated all of this, but if it all happened as charged, it must have been pretty scary. It’s got to be horrible to have to get a restraining order against your own child, but sometimes you have to protect yourself against your child.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Family on the Mend Following Loss and Arrest

Her son, James, died two years ago. He was 17, drunk and alone in an accident.

When Jim turned 15, she saw the same attitude, language, bad crowd, laziness in school, and out all night drinking that she saw with her first child.

This time around, Jim was taken to the police station and he called her.

It’s a terrible call to receive, but it’s better than the last time she was notified.

Because Jim understood what real tragedy, heartbreak and loss was like, and she knew he missed his brother tremendously, she thought he would be immune to this same path. She brushed off some of her concerns, overlooked others, and didn’t deal with his situation.

The court mandated a drug and alcohol abuse treatment center for Jim, and it was exactly what he needed. Meanwhile, she and her family started attending therapy and Al-Anon meetings so they could change their family dynamics.
She said there was significant improvement in their home life, their communication, and their kids’ attitudes as a result of this work.
You can find Al-Anon meetings at