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.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Father Checks Son into Rehab

I received a call from a guy I know, someone with a son around the same age as my son who is 23.  Let's call the man "Joe" and his son "Mike."

Joe had seen his son slide downhill starting in high school.  He knew his son was drinking and smoking pot.  He thought there might be other drugs but he didn't know for certain.  There was a lot of upheaval in their home due to their son's choices, and once Mike graduated from school, Joe and his wife told him to go live on his own.  There is a younger son still at home and he didn't need Mike's bad influence.

They hoped that by living on his own, facing the challenges of expensive housing and minimum wage jobs, that he would soon find he needed to change his life, kick his habits and get back on track. 

It didn't happen.  Why not?  Because Joe is an enabler, and when he saw his son in financial need, he opened his checkbook and paid whatever was needed.  This went on for 5 years and created additional stress and worry, strained the marriage and did not help Mike hit bottom.  It delayed the point when Mike might say he needed help.

Finally, Mike came to his parents and said he wanted to go to rehab and he had found a place.  He is supposed to stay a month and they will help him dry out and get him on the path to a drug-free life.  It's great that he's going, and Joe is aware that many addicts have to repeat rehab.

I asked Joe how he felt about all this, and he said that when Mike said he wanted to go, it really hit Joe what the situation really was and he cried, and for the past week he has felt weepy. 

Being the parent of a kid like this is scary, upsetting, and fills one with doubt.  There are no easy answers and no guarantees.  I hope Mike does stay with his program and stays clean, and I hope his parents get the help they need so they don't enable Mike if he falls out of the program.  It's very hard for parents to stay strong and watch their child suffer but worse if you keep bailing them out.

I am the author of "Strained Relations: Help for Struggling Parents of Troubled Teens."  You can view more information about the book on my website.

Monday, June 4, 2012

I also depend on the kindness of strangers.

I posted this on another blog and want to include the thoughts on this blog.  Blanche DuBois’ famous last line in “A Streetcar Named Desire” is "Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."

Her state of mind aside, I identify that line. I know that at some time I’ll need some small or large kindness and someone will provide it.

A very nice woman in my neighborhood recently called and said her husband had died. She wanted to have a Jewish service for him and needed to find 10 Jewish men to fulfill the requirements. Did I know someone who could attend the next night?

I wrote to a few mailing lists, sent notes to some people I know, and hoped there would be enough people to help. I think there were 25-30 people in attendance, far more than needed or expected. People went out of their way after work to help someone they did not know. I don’t know who most of them were or how they were notified, but they helped a stranger.

It was a very touching demonstration of community, what it means to need help and what happens when you ask.

We live in a particular point in time and in a society where independence is everything, we don’t like to ask anyone for favors and certainly don’t want to ask for help. The problem with this line of thinking is that we all need some kind of help at some time, and then we don’t have the tools to know how to ask, who we can count on.

There are small and large kindnesses, and I wrote recently on another blog about this. It could be that someone holds the door open rather than let it close on me. I appreciate that. Kind remarks, a sincere "How are you?" or "What can I do to help you?" are nice. I recently led a workshop and one attendee stayed and complimented me, then asked if there was anything he could do to help me. Did I have any business goals or needs where he could be helpful? I was so surprised as that kind of thing rarely happens. Usually people just thank me or want to connect on LinkedIn. I noticed that kindness.

It could be a small matter to you but it means a lot to the person on the receiving end. A friend told me he was feeling terribly low during an extended period of unemployment. One of his friends took him out to lunch every few weeks, followed up to see if anyone in his network could be of assistance. He offered friendship and emotional support, and 11 years later, my friend remembered to pass this on to another unemployed friend.

On this site, I address difficult family issues.  Sometimes people write or call with questions or comments, and I think being here helps some people.  I know when I have someone listen to me talk about my own problems, it helps.

The first question is this: what can you do, what small or large kindness or help can you offer to another person? And of course the next question is: are you doing it? We get so involved in our own lives and worries that it's easy to overlook others, but once our awareness is raised, it's time to take action. Go out and make it a great day for someone!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Save Jack From Leukemia: 23 Year Old Needs Blood Marrow Donor

Dear Readers,

I spend a lot of time thinking about the topic of dysfunctional families and the pain those families experience.  Today I want to focus on another topic, a 23 year old with leukemia who will die without a bone marrow transplant.

The story caught my breath as Jack Chin was in my son's high school.  He was a UCLA student and was studying Economics and Accounting.  He started suffering some leg pain last year, was tested and diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  He has been treated with chemotherapy, but his only hope is a bone marrow transplant.  His twin brother is not a match and his best hope is to find someone from the Chinese community.

Jack's websites:
Jack's biography, facts/myths on bone marrow donation and Jack's thoughts on cancer

Will you help?  Please mobilize your forces and respost this information, add to your own blogs, Twitter feed, Facebook and any other way you communicate.



Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Guest Blogger Scott Morgan: Five Tips for Successful Co-Parenting

Today's guest author is Scott Morgan, a a board certified Austin divorce attorney who regularly blogs on the subject of divorce and family law. You can read his blog at

Divorce is an emotional roller coaster for most couples, but the ride usually ends when a judge grants the divorce and the couple go their separate ways. However, for the divorcing couple with minor children, the ride continues well beyond the judge's termination of the marriage. They may no longer be married, but they are still mom and dad, so the parting has to wait until the children are grown.

Co-parenting with an ex-spouse can be difficult, but there are a few simple rules and techniques to help make it easier for you, and, more importantly, less stressful for your children.


Co-parenting involves being part of the decision-making process. Communication is an essential part of that process. Keeping the lines of communication open may have to begin with you making the effort to change how conversations occur. That usually means being the one to set the tone.

If the divorce was particularly acrimonious, the burden may fall upon you to be the peacekeeper by approaching all conversations about the children with your former spouse as if you were engaging in a conversation with a business associate. Keep the conversation on point and free of emotion. State the facts as impartially as possible, make your point, and move on.

Communicating with your former spouse about the children does not mean you must agree. Couples in the happiest marriages do not always agree, so why should a divorced couple be different?

Support Each Other

Children of divorced parents quickly learn how get what they want by pitting their parents against each other. Regardless of how parents feel toward each other, it is important that they not fall into the trap of undermining each other's authority.

If your former spouse set a rule for the children to follow, be consistent by enforcing it when the children are with you. If you have a problem with the rule, talk to your ex-spouse about it. For the sake of the children, the parent who set the rule should be the one to change it.

Keep Each Other Involved

If you take your children to an amusement park, share the pictures you take of them on the rides with your former spouse. It's a small gesture, but it sets an example for the children, and may break down any lingering bitterness harbored by your former spouse.

A word of caution, you might want to omit the photos of the new love of your life. Ex-spouses do not appreciate getting pictures of the new significant other.

Coping With a New Love Interest

Keep telling yourself that this is about the children. People move on with their lives, and at some point, your former spouse will move on as well. Nothing says you have to become best friends with your ex-spouse's new love interest, but do not make that person the enemy either, particularly around the children.

Keeping in Touch With Your Children's Feelings

Don't take for granted the impact a divorce has on children. Young children think they are the ones who did something wrong; otherwise mommy and daddy would still be together.

Talk to your children about how they feel about the divorce. If possible, both parents should be present. Consult with a professional counselor for advice.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Addiction and Prescription Medicine

If you go to the Centers for Disease Control website, you can find reports about the increasing numbers of people addicted to and overdosing from prescription medicine. Here’s a paragraph from an article on their site:

“In 2007, approximately 27,000 unintentional drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States, one death every 19 minutes. Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States. The increase in unintentional drug overdose death rates in recent years (Figure 1) has been driven by increased use of a class of prescription drugs called opioid analgesics (1). Since 2003, more overdose deaths have involved opioid analgesics than heroin and cocaine combined (Figure 2) (1). In addition, for every unintentional overdose death related to an opioid analgesic, nine persons are admitted for substance abuse treatment (2), 35 visit emergency departments (3), 161 report drug abuse or dependence, and 461 report nonmedical uses of opioid analgesics (4). Implementing strategies that target those persons at greatest risk will require strong coordination and collaboration at the federal, state, local, and tribal levels, as well as engagement of parents, youth influencers, health-care professionals, and policy-makers.”

In another article on the CDC site they wrote:

"Overdose deaths from prescription painkillers have skyrocketed in the past decade. Every year, nearly 15,000 people die from overdoses involving these drugs—more than those who die from heroin and cocaine combined.

Overdoses involving prescription painkillers—a class of drugs that includes hydrocodone, methadone, oxycodone, and oxymorphone—are a public health epidemic. These drugs are widely misused and abused. One in 20 people in the United States, ages 12 and older, used prescription painkillers nonmedically (without a prescription or just for the "high" they cause) in 2010."

We’ve all heard about famous people going to rehab for drug and alcohol problems, but clearly these problems are growing in our population at large.

What’s happening?

I had a serious operation a decade ago and was prescribed pain medications to take at home. I took a couple then moved to over-the-counter help and off of all meds as soon as I could without being too uncomfortable. I knew I could live with a little pain and that it would be finite. I had several pills left from that prescription. When I returned for another operation, although I still had pills from the first procedure, I was given another prescription. As I had several procedures within a year, I had a lot of leftover medicine. I was glad to find a place that would take them back for proper disposal.

Following the surgery, there were times when I had aches, pains or even sadness and it might have been tempting to take the leftover medicine just to stop being in pain.

I can see how it might happen that a person receives medicine for one issue, winds up taking it for another and never really copes with the second issue that might not be serious.

It’s way too easy to get too much medicine, for doctors to prescribe, pharmacists to fill and patients to take more than we need, and we need a simple way to return unused medicine so it’s not a temptation to people in the home. A problem with any drug or alcohol is that you don’t know if you have addictive tendencies until you are already trapped.