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Transitions home: Building the foundation for a new way of being

Updated: Mar 13

(This is based on a response to a question a parent raised in a Facebook group for parents with kids returning from Residential Treatment - NYC Post Residential Treatment Group for Teens & YA

Our instinct is to try and orchestrate as much support as possible in order to bring about the best outcomes, or at least something that doesn't feel as terrifying as before.To start, I can share here what I've learned, and been reflecting on, after multiple challenging attempts to support my daughter’s transition home. I hope it is helpful as just another perspective as you are trying to think through all this.

I've learned that I really need to see her for who she is, which is a young woman who values above all else, and often, it seems, to her own detriment, freedom and having agency in her life.

She is also completely "therapied out", like many of our kids probably are. She is not really interested in turning inwards, processing, and healing in the way that we see it (through modalities, tools that are designed to bring about "healing"). Before I looked into and tried lots of different programs/services to try and provide what she needed, yet my sense is that her healing journey can not be pushed any further through programs or therapists, and the awareness and self-compassion that I would so love to see strengthened in her, may take many years.

Despite what the mental health industry with their magical programs and treatments may tell us, real transformation requires people finding their own path at their own pace. That's just how humans work.

Despite this, I still send her "inspirational" texts, which sometimes she ignores and sometimes I get a heart emoji, and leave books on her bed, by authors I think she can relate to - like Yung Pueblo. Sometimes she will take a look.

So as we've been trying to create structure and support for her, I'm working to keep her need for sovereignty as our touchstone, something to be honest I wish I did more before.

(She also just turned 18, which shifts things obviously) So what does this look like in practice? I have tried to take her desires into consideration starting from returning to City-As-School, which I was really concerned about giving her own addiction issues and a school population that struggles with substances. They also have highly committed, forward thinking staff that "get" our kids. She feels accepted there. They know her, she has a weekly session with a counselor I love, and who connects with me as needed. She’s been placed on an internship in an elementary school with migrant kids who don't speak English and are excited to have her there. It’s an opportunity to give back, and for her to maybe start seeing a glimpse into all she has to offer.

She told me and her therapist in the past that part of her was afraid to return to NYC, as she had, in her eyes, "failed" multiple times, and discussed wanting to move forward in her life. So our conversation remains focused on, "What do you need to be successful, and have different outcomes than the last two years, and how can I help you with this?" She is desperate to have a "normal life" and grieving what she feels she has missed.

As I am trying to align myself with her slowly emerging vision for the future, her responses are not always easy.

She wants to take responsibility for her school, for her social life, for her recovery. So we have just a few hard and fast rules, which are evolving. For example, we started with her having to keep Life 360 on so both her Dad and I knew where she was. She deleted the app within the first week. I was petrified and angry at first, but then realized this was a necessary part of her separation, and my learning to trust. (I’m also relieved to be honest, to not be tracking her all day and night!) She has agreed to share her location with her father. We have a hard no for smoking/substances in the house or garden, which she has respected.

I sense because there are few rules, we’ve been able to reinforce the no-smoking rule regularly, making it easier for to adhere to without it feeling like a long list of tedious limits that are boxing her in.

We’ve struggled with curfew, which she has often pushed until 1:00 am on weekend nights, and stayed with friends a few times, that we didn’t know. This was tough. What seems to be working is focusing on parental need for sleep and fairness, rather than the danger of her being out late.This idea of evolving our approach and responses with what we are observing has been important.

I’ve seen that she has needed to stumble herself, so our stepping up doesn’t feel like overstepping her boundaries. Recognizing her boundaries and need for autonomy has been important for keeping our connection, which I believe deeply is the most essential “support” that she needs.

For instance, we gave her a chance to handle school attendance and grades on her own. I could see her slipping, and knew she was smoking often in the morning and during lunch, etc. (Once she butt-called me on FaceTime and I could see her and a group of friends sitting in a circle in the park across the school at lunch, getting high) I choose to say very little as I know this just distances her from me, and in no way leads to better decisions. When she perceives my hard-earned wisdom as nagging, it has never worked, and never will. When her grades came out she texted me and said, “mama I’ve f-ed up”. She opened up a brief conversation about what she is seeing, about how some kids can use substances and still seem to function, and she can’t. She floated that perhaps she needed to smoke just on weekends. She still hasn’t made any decisions, and she let me know that she’d come to me if she needed more support.

I don't agree with all of her choices, and some of them are downright terrifying. I am trying to work with this vision she has for her own life, coming back to that, and making sure our communication reflects both my acknowledgement of her agency and ownership of her journey, as well as my own boundaries (which I have the right to as much as she does).

For example, as I took a closer look at her dismal attendance (especially during the first period) and just let her know that she will get her weekend money (we’ve agreed to this until she finds a job), only if she has met attendance expectations. She didn’t push back, and last week was better.

In sum, I'm learning that our navigation of this process requires careful and consistent attunement to who they are and what they need, no matter how uncomfortable that is sometimes. We need to manage our own emotions and hold boundaries that are about us and not them. I believe that this approach will build the foundation, while highly imperfect, for a new way of being for them and for us. For us, things can still go up in smoke, but I feel in my heart that this is the path forward.

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