Winter holiday times are joyful for most of families but for parents of troubled teens they are often full of anxiety, grief, and fear. We look at happy pictures of ‘normal’ families, read and hear about their joy and anticipation, and we wonder: why not me? What have I done to deserve it? Can’t we enjoy just these few days like ‘they’ do? These are the days when online support groups for parents of struggling kids get many postings. Some parents share their desperation and pain, some ask for advice or just look for kind words of support. I know that pain, grief, and desperation. It often makes us feel lost, defeated, and hopeless. It is OK to spend some time wallowing in it, but then we have to remember that we are parents, and it means we never stop fighting for our kids. Start owning it. We are not the ‘normal’ families, this is our reality, we need to accept it and deal with it. Sit down and try to figure out the situation. Think back one year and compare what you have today with what you had then. Sometimes one tantrum about gifts, privileges, grades that your kids throw around this time can make you feel that all is bad. Try to be as objective as you can. Assess their environment: friends, influences, how they spend time and what is ‘normal’ for them. Assess your family relationship. Is there communication? Who is in control and in what situations? What works and what does not? Take into account any progress: has it been for the better or for worse? What about drugs, alcohol, self-harm, abuse? The bottom line, this assessment can help you understand the dynamics in perspective. Think about yourself: are you better at handling the situation, worse, or no change? When you have a more or less clear picture of where you are, take a break and return to it again in a day or two. Talk to someone close who knows your situation and listen to their input. Then is a good time for The New Year Resolution. If you lost control, you can think about how to regain it. Parenting classes make huge difference. Parents who chose to join such classes generally feel like they gain control over their lives. They learn tools, see patterns and directions. If you need support, it is time to start actively looking for it. Online groups are good to supplement real communities. There are churches, community and therapy groups, mental health networks, support groups for families with addiction and self-harm… Start looking and don’t stop until you find what you need. Think how you can take better care of yourself and start right now. Yoga or meditation, movies with friends, book club or that hobby you never had time for – the time is now. By showing your children that taking care of yourself is important you set a valuable example. If you see that your situation is getting worse and your child is rapidly heading for a disaster, stop looking for band aids and start looking for long-term solutions: rehabs, programs, living arrangements, therapy… Talk to several specialists, make a plan, and follow it. Parenting a struggling teen is one of the hardest tasks. But even if you feel that there is no hope for you, there is a strong chance you might be wrong. I know of many teens’ lives turned around. Take time and assess your situation, make a plan, and start with small steps. This means taking control, fighting for your child. We are not likely to become ‘them,’ the normal happy families smiling at us from billboards and TV screens. Many people around us won’t understand our struggles, but hiding in the dark and pretending that all is well will not help. May your New Year’s Resolution become your turning point so that in one year time you will look back and think: I cannot believe the progress we have made!
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