However, even though I am naturally an Older Kid Mom (I recall the Baby Years and get the shakes), I also recognize that my kids thus far – and I do mean thus far – have operated somewhat in the middle of the pack. While they aren’t skipping grades and ending world hunger, neither are they struggling with extreme behaviors, so my experience is fairly ordinary. We are in the middle of the bell curve.
But parents, do you know how many teens are in crisis? In the throes of addiction or self-harm or mental illness or depression? MILLIONS. So do the math: that means millions of parents are suffering alongside teens that are self-destructing.
I want to talk today to the parents in the deepest trenches, absolutely battling for their children’s loyalty or health or even their lives. First, you are not alone. Hear that. Parenting troubled teens often involves silent suffering, which can trick you into thinking you are isolated. An easy target for judgment or shame, so many families in crisis struggle alone, afraid or embarrassed or just too damn exhausted to reach out. Society expects three-year-olds to act like lunatics, but we don’t know what to do with a teen that cuts or abuses or destroys or hates herself.
Because we are a people who like to blame, so often parents get the side eye: What did you do wrong? What didn’t you do right? What could you have done differently? The truth is, teenagers are whole human beings and they get to choose their steps. So many troubled teens are beloved, they come from good families, they were rocked and read to and cheered for. There is no parenting formula that ensures any child’s path. Families in crisis don’t need a jury of their peers; they need a community of support. A parent can virtually do everything right and their child can still disappear. What’s more, a parent can virtually engage every good intervention, and their child may stay gone.
Then there is the very real reality of mental illness, addiction, emotional disorders, and trauma that many teens are battling. If our child had liver failure, we would go to the ends of the earth for medical care, the best doctors, the strongest intervention, the greatest support network, and all the earth would rally to our side to fight for her wholeness. So many of our teens are physically broken in their minds and hearts, and the magnitude of their hurt completely overwhelms their capacity to overcome on their own, but instead of a chorus of support, their families receive silence or judgment or disappointment which compounds grief and lays a heavy yoke on those who are already suffering.
I want to introduce you to my friend Amy and her son Landon (name changed). This is my dear friend who has struggled mightily for over 10 years with her teen. And I mean mightily. The grace and courage she exhibits, well, I just don’t even know how to talk about it. I am so proud to be her friend. She agreed to tell a bit of her story. May it be an encouragement to weary and heartbroken parents.
When did Landon begin struggling outside the parameters of "ordinary disobedience"?
We first started seeing changes in Landon when he was around 5. That's when he really started to show some defiance. He became very pessimistic and lacking empathy for others. And worst, no remorse. We started getting calls from teachers about 5th grade. By 6th grade we were called to the principal's office. Now he is in 11th grade and it's only gotten harder. His high school principal joked that he needed to put us on speed dial. He's on probation for the 3rd time. Thankfully, nothing serious - just a lot of really stupid choices that he didn't get away with.
But, let me tell you, seeing your child in an orange jumpsuit handcuffed is HARD. Just typing that makes me cry. Seeing him in pain because of his choices is so hard as a parent to watch. But we have given him the necessary tools, guidance and resources to make the right choices. We have had to step back and let the natural consequences play out.
And, if you want a dose of humble pie - go sit in the waiting room at Gardner Betts Juvenile Center waiting for your child's probation officer while every other person that walks by knows your name! Very humbling. I look at the other moms in the waiting room (we all look like we all need to go to the spa). We give each other the I-can-relate-exhausted-look. No matter what part of town we live in, how much money we have in the bank, we are on the same battlefield: fighting for our kids.
What have his teen years been like? What have you been through?
To say his teen years have been difficult is a major understatement. We have cried buckets of tears through these years. We have screamed at God. Pleaded to God.... This was NOT what I envisioned our family of 6 would look like. We never wanted to spend these teen years concerned about suicide, going to court hearings, spending hours at counselors, having random visits from parole officers. And we are still right in the trenches. Still pray every morning that Landon makes it through the day without getting arrested, killed or hurting someone else.