We just had our 16 1/2 year old son’s six month review with the residential treatment center (RTC) where he has been since the end of September. Overall it was good. Progress is being made, even if it is slow at times. He is making friends and his peers enjoy him and his sense of humor. He is respectful to others and he follows the staff’s prompts when given. He might even be described as one of the “chill” kids at the Ranch (I’ve been told that’s good). He is participating in his many assigned therapy sessions: Social Skills, Processing, DBT (Dialectical behavior therapy), Intervention, Drug and Alcohol, Ropes Therapy, Equine Therapy, and Adoption Group. Those meetings take place over the course of four days in his week and the rest of his time is filled with PE, his new Cross Country 5K team practices, daily chores, his latest job as “Chores Assistant Manager”, study time, school and meals. Whew! Sounds exhausting, right?
He has shared with us that he has at least one thing per day that he looks forward to. He writes us weekly letters (they are obligatory), writes in a daily journal (also obligatory), does his own laundry, including changing the bed sheets on Saturdays! We have a weekly Skype therapy call with him and his therapist. He has begun to keep a small piece of paper in his pocket with some “TO DO” items that he has written on it. Progress!
He is taking baby steps towards re-establishing his Level 2 by fulfilling requirements of “having meaningful conversations” with staff and getting signatures toward that goal. By taking a look back at the paragraphs above, one might think “I couldn’t do that”. You might be right! Making changes in ourselves can be uncomfortable. We may move the needle on the ticker only slightly, but it is moving. Most of us would respond in a positive manner to some type of external motivation. My son has always been a challenge in that department.
I remember when he was little, I read that if you offer kids “stickers” for cleaning their room then a parent will see success with that chore. Nope, didn’t happen. At a time when money might seem like a motivator, I offered matching funds for whatever he put into his savings account at the bank. Nope, later I discovered that he drained that bank account without my knowledge. We tried good ole fashioned bribery. Nope. If you do this, then that “good thing that you like” will happen. Nope. Nothing we could connect as a “carrot” was enough. It was frustrating and head scratching! I even had years of experience working with kids (granted, they weren’t my own!) as a sport coach to draw from. Not much worked.
Well that motivation piece stands out today as one of the continuing goals at the RTC. He knows that when he gets back to Level 2, he will get his permanent retainer back in his mouth-the one with the teeth on it. He will also get to participate in additional Cross Country practices OFF campus. He will get to do what they call “Short Trips” into town to get a burger or ice cream. He will get to go to the Music Room to listen to music or learn to play an instrument , and he will be allowed to have some FREE TIME. He knows all of this, yet he is on his own time clock in getting things done.
So, we tried a different approach this week. We let go. Our weekly letter to him was loosely based on a blog post I read from an awesome website/blog I recommend called: Hands Free Mama by Rachel Stafford. The message was simple. We love you today. We are proud of you and how you are handling your current environment and surroundings. We told him that he shouldn’t take our continual encouragements as our disappointment with him, but use them as a reminder of what awesome possibilities he has inside of him! We wrote that we know he will contribute his many gifts to the world!
We will visit him next week for his “two day” Spring Break recess. We have no idea if he will be a Level 1 or 2. We have no idea if we will stay close-by to the Ranch for daily visits (from 9am-9pm) or if we will visit some of the amazing National Parks, like MOAB in Utah. We know for today that we will get another chance to be with him! We will have fun together as a family, sharing time and conversation and delicious meals. We also know that his level advancement will come in due time. His retainer WILL happen. He will DO school, whatever the form of completiton happens to be. It’s all good. And at the same time, he IS growing up!
His motivation will most likely be internal. He may focus on details, or he may not. The journey is his. Ours may be parallel, but it is different. We can not become solely outcome based! We need to enjoy the progress we have all experienced and recognize that we have an awesome son! We love him TODAY! He is beginning to believe in himself and that is worth celebrating!