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"If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way" ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

From Helpless to Hopeful
Posted by:Jenn--Tuesday, July 05, 2011

We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope. ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Since first grade, Dylan has had difficulty reacting appropriately with authority figures on a consistent basis. At times, he became very angry and out of control. As concerned parents, we took him to therapists on and off during his elementary school years, and we often met with school administrators and teachers to put action plans and consequences in place. Thankfully, there were two relatively peaceful years during middle school, when it appeared that Dylan was outgrowing his behavior issues. But then the intermediate school years arrived, along with the early signs of puberty, and the situation worsened.

A brief clash with the legal system that resulted in 6 months of probation appeared to be an eye-opener for Dylan. However, once his probation was over, his defiant behavior escalated exponentially. He often refused to attend school and/or to arrive there on time, was insubordinate with teachers and administrators but refused to serve the assigned detentions, and was openly unapologetic about smoking weed. He became more and more defiant with his parents, school administrators, teachers, and even the local police. We made numerous phone calls to the local police to “restore the peace” in our home, spent many sleepless nights wondering whether Dylan was going to leave the house to wander the neighborhood, and agonized over Dylan’s choices of questionable “friends”. We had strong support from the school staff and the local police, but throughout it all, we still felt lost, worried and heartsick. There were many dark, dark days. As grown adults who had successful work careers, we were being outfoxed at every turn by an openly defiant teenager who had gained too much power in our home. We were assured by various well-meaning people that we were good parents and were doing nothing wrong, but how could that be true, given the results? We felt so helpless.

An administrator at our son’s school referred us to the Parents Survival Skills Training (PSST) blog, and we began to read some of the postings on the site. My husband (Brad) and I liked some of the advice that we saw on the blog, so we decided to attend a meeting to see what it was like. To be honest, we were skeptical. We are not meeting “groupies”. Airing our dirty family laundry in front of a bunch of strangers didn’t really sound like a fun way to spend 3 hours each Saturday morning. Did everyone go there just to get their problems off their chests so they would “feel better”?? We wanted answers. We wanted to learn how to parent a defiant child whose thoughts and actions were totally foreign and incomprehensible to us. We needed help.

The outpouring of practical advice and encouragement from the Allegheny County Probation and Wesley Spectrum staff who coordinate the PSST meetings has been phenomenal. We are also grateful for the kindness and support from the other parents, whose personal journeys have been both a source of inspiration and a reality check for us. The blog itself is a great source of thoughtful and useful advice.

Acting on sage guidance from the PSST professionals and parents, we pressed charges against our son and told the judge that we did not want him released back into our home. That was one of the hardest things that we ever had to do, but it wasn’t any harder than watching Dylan spiraling out of control. Less than 90 days after beginning our journey with the PSST group, Dylan was ordered by the courts into an intensive inpatient program. Two months have passed since that day in court. It has been very quiet & peaceful in our home. We miss Dylan – we miss his playfulness, his wit, and his ability to make us laugh – but we don’t miss the chaos and anxiety that choked us. We are comforted that he is safe and in a program that can help him gain some maturity and better decision-making skills.

Dylan’s counselor tells us that he is still very vulnerable right now, as he struggles to focus on the personal changes that he needs to make. While Dylan is going through behavioral counseling, Brad & I are in training too. Through the weekly PSST sessions, Brad & I are learning new ideas and skills for dealing with our defiant, drug-using teen. We realize that we have been part of the problem, by not recognizing all the ways we were enabling our son as he pursued a self-destructive and risky path. A couple times each month, Brad and I join together with Dylan and his counselor for family counseling sessions, as we begin to prepare for our son’s eventual release from the program. We know that when Dylan returns home, that we will continue to have strong help and support from his probation officer and therapist, which will be crucial as we begin the real work of rebuilding our family. We recognize that we have a long and difficult road ahead of us, but knowing that we have so much support in our journey is reassuring.

We are no longer helpless and alone. We have an army of supporters at our side, and the power of prayers from our family and friends. We are hopeful – and determined – that we will find the strength to meet each new challenge.

~ Hope is the companion of power, and mother of success; for who so hopes strongly has within him the gift of miracles. ~ Samuel Smiles



Anonymous said...

Thanks Jenn, Psst really does take us from helpless to hopeful and gives us skills we need to save our children. I have learned that no matter what, there is hope for a future now, 2 years ago I didn't think we would survive.

Update, Norton returned and is in jail waiting for the next step.

Ed, had an interesting 4th, because we had a locator on his truck we discovered he was not at his girlfriend's house, where he had permission to go, but another location where his girlfriend's drug friends live. He also missed curfew. Because of the locator on the truck we knew more than he thought when he got home. His drug test showed he was clean. Great!But we still have the problem of him being somewhere he did not have permission to be. We are still sifting through the details and lies to find out how much of this plan he knew ahead of time and how much was the girlfriends lies that sucked him in. Needless to say he cannot see this girl again. Learning to be a good BS detective and Ralph and I on the same page has helped us make it through the day.

So, yes we have hope for the future of both of our boys. We have the support of Lloyd Woodward and Wesley Spectrum, our councellor from Holy Family and the support of our PSST friends.

P.S. This storu has some interesting twists and turns in it that would take to long to put in a comment. I will share them at the meeting.

Sally said...

Dear Jenn,

Thank you for such a well written testimony about the hope that Allegheny County Probation and Wesley Spectrum provide.

Rocco and I also felt very alone and helpless when Cisco was at his worse. With the aid of Juvenile Probation and Wesley Spectrum we have seen improvements in our son's behavior. They came to our rescue, gave sound advice and well thought out plans.

It is quite a long journey and I am very grateful for my traveling companions.

I also like both of your quotes.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your words. The road we are on is not traveled by all, but is traveled by some. You do have friends through PSST. We are here for you whenever you need us. And never forget our Probation and Wesley Spectrum teams. I know I couldn't have the 'power' I feel without their help.


Wilma said...

Thanks for the great post. I, too, felt very alone until finding PSST on the internet in searching for information on teen drug abuse. Most of our friends and family have not had this experience with their kids and unfortuneatly many mean well but just don't get it.

I especially loved your two quotes.


Lloyd Woodward said...

Great post- thanks Jen.

Hope. Without it, we are lost. It's one of things that parents at PSST share with each other. It's different that wishing or wishful thinking.

To me, it's taking the steps that are available and then preparing for the miracle. You know that the miracle isn't guaranteed, but you're gong to take your best shot at it.

Parents come to PSST- they find out there is more they can do. Sometimes lots more. They what they can. Eventually, they are led back to the same place- powerlessness.

Only the teenager can change his/her life or even want to change. But now, since the parent has taken strong steps, it is powerlessness over making the teenager change, not powerlessness over the changes that one as a parent can make.

The resulting empowerment leads to hope. And when we have it- we share it- and it's as contagious as laughter- another thing that we are blessed to share with each other at meetings.


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