1. It helps me to cope with my situation with acting out children. 2. Allows me to develop an action plan to start to rebuild my relationship with my children. 3. Allows me to share and listen to others that have gone through and are going through my situation. 4. Gives me a safe place to share my thoughts and feelings without fear of trying to be perfect and of others passing judgement on me. 5. It provides me with a stable routine environment for me to regroup, gather my thoughts, think openly in small group settings. 6. To get out, relax and do something for me and be with others that I can connect with. 7. Provide an opportunity to give back and help others with their situation. 8. Listen for good ideas that I can use in the future to help me with my family situation. 9. Makes me feel that I am not alone in dealing with my out of control children and that it is part of normal life. 10. Have a cup of coffee or a tea with adult friends and catch up.
HOPE has been a positive experience for our family from the very first meeting. We had struggled with trying to change our son’s behaviour for years. Our concerns were both at school and at home. For two years our home was often filled with arguing, swearing, anger, stealing, damage to our property, lack of trust, school suspensions and disappointment. We tried consequences, removal of privileges, rewarding “good’ behaviour, constant meetings with teachers and principals but the behaviour did not change. It was causing stress on our whole family, including our younger child. HOPE helped us to realize it is not in our power to change our son’s behaviour that he had to choose to change it himself. We learned to let go of the responsibility and feeling the burden that this was our fault. We gave the power back to him. We learned to disengage from arguing and struggling with him. He has become more independent and responsible as a result. He is making positive choices in his life and succeeding in school and work. Our home is now, for the most part a peaceful place to live for our whole family. The families we met at HOPE experienced both similar and different issues in their families. It is a welcoming, safe and non judgmental environment to share, learn and belong. It is comforting to meet other parents in similar situations to receive and offer support. After years of reading, attending workshops and struggling day to day, HOPE has changed our lives more than we imagined it would.
We are sharing our HOPE story so that if you are experiencing the same situation, we hope that this will help you . . . We are two parents of acting out and out of control youth. Our situation started when our two teenagers began high school and started down a wreckless and emotionally defiant path. While we would consider our background to be very normal; strong family roots and value, our children were engaged in school and did well, they were active in sports and extra circular activities and both held part-time jobs as teenagers, we would have never imagined in a million years that we would end up with this situation. Before we knew it, in a matter of months, school issues began to mount, responsibilities started to slip and our safe and peaceful home quickly deteriorated into a war zone where every encounter escalated from verbal assault into physical abuse. In a matter of months we sank so low that we became lost and rudderless and did not know where to turn for support. Like most family situations, we were too embarrassed to reach out to friends and family to seek help. We kept thinking this was just a crazy phase we were going through or that these were just isolated events and that we could easily patch the holes in the wall or replace the broken doors and windows and that it would never happen again. In hind sight, trying to keep this under wraps was a huge mistake as things began to escalate further and small issues turned into bigger issues. All we did is delay the inevitable, and in reality things just escalated until they hit a threshold we could no longer deal with alone. As parents, we were having the most difficult time as we viewed ourselves as failures and we spent a great deal of time analyzing and breaking down every detail searching for that “one thing” that must be the reason why this was happening. The biggest challenge for us was managing our own emotional roller coaster ride of trying to find the singular sure fire solution to the problem. We meandered all over the place – ranging from providing tough love and setting boundaries and progressive discipline, (after all, they just didn’t know the rules or were just testing us on how serious we really were) to buying loyalty through bribes and rewards (yes, after all it worked for Pavlov, the rewards needed to be bigger to get the correct response). You name it, we tried it in the desperate attempt to get a positive response – pleading and begging them to change their path, shaming and confronting them in front of friends, trying to be the “cool” parents and letting the rules slide just this once. It was really a terrible time in that there was no stability in our environment, we acted in desperation to get any positive reaction, and all we really did was confuse them even more. We eventually turned to providing direction and advice, thinking that they just didn’t know any better and it was the logic they were lacking or standing up for them when the “system” seemed to be working against them because they were down on their luck or the easy target. We were desperately searching for the “silver bullet” sure fire solution to resolve this situation. By the time we knew what hit us they were out of control and we could not comprehend what was happening and how far we dropped into the valley of despair. It was through the suggestion of the police officers during one of several encounters with them between the Christmas from hell and Mother’s Day that I believe changed our path for the better. We had called the police to deal with the threatening behaviour of our teenagers and when things had de-escalated to the point where the officer could speak with us alone he provided us with the “HOPE” brochure and suggested that we could get support for ourselves. The officer must have sensed our emotional despair and felt that we needed more support than we had been receiving to get through this situation. We remember that day very clearly as the turning point of our situation to get us started down our journey of relationship repair with our teens. We attended our first evening session over a year and a half ago and haven’t looked back since. While we are very thankful to HOPE for the improvement in our situation, we still continue to reach out and give and get support. We have come a long way in that time, but we are still learning and leveraging the experiences of others and still need to continue to grow our relationship with our teens. If we can leave with you one most lasting thought about HOPE when we started – we walked through the door and we knew we landed when everyone shared and described their situation and experience with us. You see, we felt so all alone, isolated and ashamed up to that point that we could not have imagined how many others were going through the exact same thing. We felt that nobody would understand and that we were the only terrible parents that had this issue. Our negative experience was so overbearing and causing us to sink until we found the life preserver in HOPE that helped us stabilize the situation and allowed us to slowly course correct to get us back on track. As one HOPE member puts it succinctly…”its hard work, it takes time, sometime you take 3 steps forward and 1 step back, but in the long run its worth it.” We HOPE this finds you and helps you.
Our daughter had horrible attitude problems and we were continually arguing, yelling, screaming, crying and walking on egg shells at our house. We learned very quickly at HOPE that we had to change how we were reacting to situations. We soon had a more peaceful house when we started using some of the strategies we learned through the HOPE weekly meetings. We then had a more peaceful home with no yelling, crying and arguing. Yes, our daughter still has attitude problems, but there is peace because we have changed and she has, to a small degree.
I became a member of HOPE a few years ago, on the recommendation of friends on our street, when I began to describe the problems we were having with our son in the early years of high school. I felt I was making all the wrong decisions about his behaviour and really had completely exhausted all ideas of what to do next. When I started to attend the meetings, I learned that I was not alone with these issues. Immediately, I started feeling better. The suggestions offered by the small group sessions seemed to start working, and I have to say that things improved. By changing the way I was reacting, caused a change in the way he was acting. Life in our home is completely different at this point, and I really wish I had found out about HOPE much earlier. I know it would have prevented how situations escalated with our son. Thanks HOPE members, you do fantastic work!
At some point in our family’s experience with our Acting Out Teen, we moved from him being a royal pain, to actually having real fear of him. As a young boy, our son was like a million others, average school marks, average in sports, showing concern for those less fortunate. He expressed love for the Family; he enjoyed family outings. Then, as he chose to abandon earlier priorities in favour of drinking, smoking, taking drugs, and more, he became a Monster we did not recognize. I don’t mean he was a really bad guy; I mean that, when he was angry, he could look at me and my heart would race (even if I was not angry). I’d wonder: What is he going to do? Will he hurt us? Will he reach for a weapon? That racing heart was my body moving into the “Fight or Flight” response. During an incident at his workplace from which he was arrested for stealing a Father’s Day ―gift for me, his boss told me about seeing my son during the investigation at the store, “I didn’t recognize him, his eyes and face were unrecognizable – it wasn’t your son!!” Essentially we were living with a person who could, at a moment’s notice, turn into this Monster, with eyes cold as steel and full of hatred. We needed HELP! We found HOPE. After joining our parent support group, we learned to start living our own lives, including making room for our “other son,” who had been forgotten in our focus on his acting-out sibling. We were amazed, as we disengaged from our son’s actions, how soon the Monster in him left – oh, yes, there were still some outbursts, but the Monster was gone. Why? I think: Because we stopped feeding the Monster in him, with shouting and yelling back. Feeding the Monster with our anger just made him stronger and scarier. I realized our son was not a Monster, but he had one in him, just like we all do. Pushed to the limit, that Monster can come out. So, we encourage you to disengage, focus on your life and on those around you who are supportive or need your support. Don’t try to run your child’s life, run your own, and things will work out, as the Monster in your child leaves. Beware… it can come back… if you get back in there running things.
We joined our local group on behalf of our daughter, 14 at the time, whose choices (the ones that we knew about) were just starting to freak us out. The precipitating factor? A cross-country connection on-line with a young male who suddenly materialized at our front door. The major concern? Knowing that our reactions were making things worse, not better . . . and also knowing that our reactions were seriously at odds with our basic values of honesty and respect. In our first few meetings at group, we were struck by the sense of welcome; we had entered a room where others were not going to blame us for the actions of our daughter. Of course, with her at the tender age of 14, we were still blind to many of the issues that would surface: we were happily oblivious of (most of) her early forays into drug use, had not yet experienced the run-aways, and did not yet know about the relationships that she would forge with adults, users and abusers. So in our first meetings, it was helpful to know that “there’s no problem too big or too small for us to work on, together.” Although at first we wondered whether “our problems” were meaty enough to bring to group, it was only a matter of time before we had serious concerns of our own. Our daughter displayed many acting-out behaviours: defiance, running away, and aggression first at home, and then at school; self-destructive behaviours such as cutting and burning; and willful destruction of property. Behind these actions we sensed that there must be more to the story; we wanted to find ways to ensure that we could have more than an adversarial relationship with her. Through the help of the group we learned new ways to communicate with our daughter. We found ways to talk to her, without blame, that allowed her to acknowledge her fears and her anger, and to consider possible solutions. Our daughter has made many courageous decisions since her parents first went to group. She has signed herself into assessment programs, and participated in residential treatment. She has also relapsed at times; she is human, after all. At the same time, though, she has found a new confidence in her relationship with us, her parents. She knows when she can rely on us for support, and accepts that we may say no at times. Thanks to the support and the suggestions and the plans that derive from HOPE, we found a “RESET” button for life with our daughter: we have turned around our relationship with her, almost entirely … and of course, since life doesn’t come with a “SAVE” button, we keep on working to ensure that we maintain, as best we can, the newfound understanding that we have built together.
Our challenges began when our son was about 16 years old. The changes were gradual at first, starting with a change in friends, skipping school and dropping subjects that were “too hard.” They progressed to pool hall visits on weekday evenings, staying out very late on weekends, and then failing school altogether. How did we handle these challenges? We talked, lectured, shouted, fought; we tried everything we could think of, but nothing seemed to work. Instead, our son managed to drive a wedge between my husband and myself and we found ourselves arguing all the time or just not talking. No one wanted to come home. Every Friday night we would have a fight, he would go out to party, and our weekend would be ruined. We joined our local community group around this time. On the first night I felt a hope that things could get better, and we decided to give the group a try. Just as the changes in our son’s behaviour were gradual to start, so were the positive changes we were making, but the strategies helped us to cope with what was to come. Our son dabbled in drugs and drinking, had no respect for our property, or us for that matter. He had no use for anyone in a position of authority. He had an anger problem; we walked around as if on eggshells, not wanting to upset him. He was asked to leave a few times, and then we would try to negotiate for him to come back home, with the help of the group. There were parties at our house when we were away, ruined vacations, damage to our house, and items missing. He was caught stealing from his place of employment; this was the start to our many court visits. He ignored the court’s sentence of a fine, and a warrant for his arrest was issued for failure to appear in court. He resisted that arrest on our side lawn, in front of me — it was excruciating to watch. He spent five days in closed custody for that. At the time, it seemed to be a wakeup call for him, so we let him come home. But two weeks later, he committed a crime that cost him two years in a federal penitentiary. We had already been working in group on giving him responsibility for his own life (with school, for example) and on reducing confrontation. Sometimes it didn’t feel like it was working, though, because here he was — in jail. Even though we had backed away from rescuing him every time he got in trouble, he was still making poor decisions. Group members helped us to understand that he may continue to make poor choices, but that those choices are his, and they do not have to have such a big impact on our lives. We did not hire a lawyer, and handed him the responsibility to take care of his predicament. The group supported us through some very difficult years with our son: visiting him in a penitentiary, deciding to allow him back home again after his release, and coping through a backslide into unacceptable behaviour. Our son is 22 years old now and is still making some bad choices, but we have found the strength to let him live his own life, and get back on track with ours. This includes maintaining our relationship with our other son, who is now 19 and in university. I’m sure it was difficult for him, growing up with all that turmoil. HOPE has helped us realize that we can have a life of our own and not be totally wrapped up in our son’s problems. The group helped us to remove the wedge he was driving between us, to get control of our house and our lives, and to have a relationship with our acting out son. Without HOPE, I don’t know where we would be today.
We were introduced to our local HOPE community group in late 2008, around the time we placed our elder daughter in residential psychiatric care after she had been arrested at 3 a.m. drunk, stoned, and stealing from cars. These late-night antics were not out of character: since puberty she had been angry and rebellious at home, inattentive and uncooperative at school, and unruly and impetuous everywhere. She stole money from her mom and younger sister, and had threatened us with a knife. She had started smoking at 12, drinking and toking at 13. Before her arrest she’d already been banned from a store for shoplifting. Her school attendance had dwindled to nothing and she gravitated toward kids who admired and shared her self-destructive behaviours. Even before her arrest we realized we were out of our depth and had been looking for professional help. She agreed to attend psychotherapy counselling, but was totally contemptuous of the therapists and us. Her behaviour worsened. She’d become sexually active just after the arrest. At that time we learned of Youthdale, a Toronto psychiatric clinic that specializes in working with youth. Workers from their crisis team came to our home to assess our daughter and we committed her to a month of residential assessment and treatment. The time at Youthdale detoxified her, and they started her on antidepressants. Her behaviour stabilized. After her discharge from Youthdale our daughter went for a holiday overseas with her mom and sister. She reconnected with a friendship group she had established a few years previously. Within a few days she returned to her self-destructive behaviours, intensifying them with the use of crystal meth. With one parent away and one in town, we worked at having “family representation” at HOPE meetings to work on preparing for her return. When our daughter did return, and with a slight increase in antidepressant levels, she chose to stop the use of crystal meth and made a commitment to reduce the alcohol and marijuana use to what she deemed would be manageable levels. Thankfully, she’s done that. Support from other HOPE members helped us to recover equilibrium in our family after the holiday was over. We worked at our group meetings every week and got lots of helpful and effective advice, encouragement, and friendship. We went through the juvenile court process. We opted to keep our daughter at home while she received more psychotherapy from some of the local community agencies for youth. Our daughter participated in an alternative school-attendance program for Grade 9, which finally convinced her that she really could be successful. She finally cooperated in the assessment of her abilities and possible physiological causes of her difficulties at school. Every week for several months she had interviews and exams probing her mind and body. None of it could have happened without her cooperation; we are convinced we could not have obtained that cooperation, without the suggestions and support we gleaned from HOPE members, together with our ongoing family counselling, and prayer. Today our daughter is almost 17. She had a successful school year last year and is working on another. She still smokes and drinks moderately. She still gravitates toward low achievers, but when one of them seems to be drifting in a dangerous direction she knows how to distance herself. She has a job, and helps at home. We laugh and hug lots. Her mother and I continue to attend weekly HOPE meetings. We no longer fear the night or dread the morning. We thank God, and the group.
Our daughter was very stubborn. We were caring parents who simply did not know how to get our daughter to go to school. We did everything we could think of to get her there. We’d drive her to school in the morning…and she’d go out the back door. Family counselling didn’t work. “Our daughter didn’t want to participate. As far as she was concerned, there was nothing wrong with her. It was our problem. Her behavior escalated. She went from skipping school to being verbally abusive to us. We tried grounding her, but when a child of 14 or 15 uses a four-letter word on you and says they’re going out anyway, there’s not a thing you can do about it. You’re left at home thinking, ‘What do we do now?’ Our daughter was rebelling in every way she could think of. She would disappear for two or three days. We spent time with the police looking for her. It was a nightmare. We felt very alone and blamed by society. We were so ashamed and humiliated. You just think “How am I ever going to get through this”? We didn’t know how to cope. At its worst, the situation at home was “total havoc.” The problems with our daughter were creating other pressures in a kind of ripple effect. Our son – who was into sports and doing well in school – suffered from a lack of attention. The focus was continually on his sister. It can tear the whole family apart if you spend all your time and energy focusing on the child who’s acting out. My husband and I were almost ready to separate. Because you want what’s best for the child, you argue constantly over what to do. If it’s a husband-and-wife situation, you forget your own relationship because you’re so worried about what to do. Joining HOPE made a huge difference – just to be able to talk to other people who could relate to what you were going through. All of a sudden you feel like you’re not the only one. We needed to do something for us – We were entitled to a life. HOPE changed our lives for the better. We live our lives differently due to what we’ve learned. It empowers people. You have to be able to stick to your boundaries, say no and walk away. As a parent, letting go is the hardest thing. But if the ultimate goal is a healthy, working relationship with your child, sometimes it comes down to making some very hard decisions. Lots of kids would like to stay home and play video games all day and party all night. But if you offer them a safe place to do that, you’re enabling that behaviour. We love our kids unconditionally. But sometimes when they become teens, we parents get sidetracked. The group helps them get back on track. I’ve learned to be a better listener because of this experience. We used to micromanage our kids, but now I believe the best thing you can do for your kids is give them their lives back. Let them live it; don’t meddle. You’re doing them a disservice not letting them see the consequences of their actions. Not letting them figure things out for themselves carries on throughout the rest of their lives. The adolescent, our daughter, collected welfare and lived on her own for nine months before realizing she didn’t have the resources to make it on her own. Being told you’re going to fall on your face isn’t the same as actually falling on your face. Now 33, our daughter describes the current relationship with her parents as “a deep bond that’s been forged through the ability to get to the other side of all these difficulties.” Describing the relationship they now has with their daughter is “solid and loving.” But even though the difficulties are in the past, we have never forgotten the assistance we received when we needed it most. It made such an improvement in our lives that we want to continue to give back to other people through HOPE. It makes such a difference when you know there are people out there willing to help. And how did their offspring fare? Our son now 30 is “doing great”. He manages the bar at an upscale restaurant. Our daughter became a lawyer – her area of expertise? Family law.