Category Archives: Empathy and Compassion

Parental Alienation in Divorce: Don’t Shame or Blame the Kids! (Rosalind Sedacca, CDC)

The needs of children should be an important consideration, always. In this timely article, Rosalind Sedacca, founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network, shares six valuable tips for effective co-parenting following divorce. Acting on them can make a lifetime of difference.

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Parental Alienation in Divorces: Don't Shame or Blame the Kids!, Rosalind SedaccaDivorce can take its toll on anyone, especially parents. Many parents feel justified in raging about their ex after the divorce and vent about the other parent with their children. However, the results can be devastating.

Sure, divorce conflicts between parents can get ugly. But too often we forget this effects not only the “targeted” parent, but also on your innocent children! This becomes a form of parental alienation, a serious and complex set of behaviors that are designed to win the favor of one parent against the other. Most often, that parent feels they can validate their behaviors and doesn’t see the harm in the alienation.

Of course, the biggest consequence is that the children get caught in the middle and are often confused by hurtful and disrespectful messages about their other parent. In time, children learn to manipulate both parents – pitting one against the other in ways that are destructive for the child’s socialization and sense of self-confidence.

This is dangerous territory with long-lasting consequences. How you handle the situation can affect your family for years to come and play a crucial role in the well-being of your children.

To help heal your relationship with your children should you be a targeted parent of alienation, here are some valuable strategies to consider:

Child-Centered Divorce Network, Rosalind Sedacca*Remember, your children are innocent. Don’t take your frustrations out on them by losing your tempter, acting aggressively, shaming or criticizing them.

*Avoid impressing or “buying” the kids’ affection with over-the-top gifts and promises. Spoiled children create a lifetime of parenting problems for everyone down the road.

*Strive to maintain contact with the children in every possible way. Use all the newest technology tools available to talk, text, email, share videos, play online games, etc. Take the initiative whenever an opportunity presents itself.

*Don’t waste precious time with the children discussing or trying to change their negative attitudes toward you. Instead, create new enjoyable experiences and reminisce about past times together that were fun.

*Temping as it may be, refrain from accusing the children of being brainwashed by their other parent or just repeating what they were told. Even if this is true, chances are the children will adamantly deny it and come away feeling attacked by you.

*Don’t ever put down or disparage your ex in front of the kids. This only creates more alienation, along with confusion and further justification of your negative portrayal to the children. Be the parental role model they deserve and you will be giving them valuable lessons in integrity, responsibility and respect.

The effects of parental alienation will not be transformed overnight. But by following these suggestions you are moving in a healthy direction on behalf of your children and laying the foundation for keeping your relationship as positive as possible. And remember: never give up. As children grow and mature they understand more and often want to seek out their other parent to rekindle the relationship.###

Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is a Divorce & Parenting Coach, Founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love! For her free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting: Success Strategies for Getting It Right!, her blog, coaching services and other valuable resources on child-centered divorce, go to: www.childcentereddivorce.com.

 

Teaching Kids Happiness and Innovation (Guest: Mike Ferry)

BTRadioIntWhat is it, really, that creates and sustains happiness in ourselves and in our children? Listen in to this program from our archives as Mike Ferry, banking on his research and experience in working with young people, offers valuable insights into this important and fascinating topic.

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Some define happiness as a positive by-product of success. In other words, if you are successful enough, you’ll be happy.

Teaching Kids Happiness and InnovationBut that definition doesn’t square with the fact that there are plenty of folks who have the appearance of success, yet they are NOT happy. Evidence and research at this point indicate precisely the opposite position: Happy people tend to be successful people, and they conduct their lives and relationships in a manner that is sustainable and consistent with their closest-held values.

Author and teacher, Mike Ferry, defines happiness as an optimistic, communal and disciplined perspective on life. Every part of that definition makes sense; it’s worth sharing with our children as a major lesson in life.

Happiness and Innovation Mike FerryIn this valuable and informative program, Mike discusses authentic happiness and how it can be combined with innovation and a growth mindset to give our children a strong base, a platform for managing life in a world containing more than its share of challenges. Mike’s here also to suggest how we can encourage our kids to develop and demonstrate other valuable attributes like gratitude, perseverance, mindfulness, purpose, tolerance, collaboration, faith and creativity. All of these will contribute to their happiness and a life well-lived.

Mike’s in-depth research and his years as a middle school teacher and father of four all come together in a book that’s the focus of this program. It’s entitled, Teaching Happiness and Innovation. (28:50)

http://www.happinessandinnovation.com

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Should I Talk to My Children about My Mistakes? (Dr. Richard C. Horowitz)

It can be tough talking to our children about the mistakes we made growing up, especially when a direct question deserves an honest and authentic answer. Dr. Richard Horowitz offers some excellent insights and tips on how to handle situations like these.

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Should I Talk to My Children About My Mistakes, Dr. Richard HorowitzDoes talking about the mistakes I make and have made in my life weaken me as an authority figure to my children?

This question speaks to the core issue of modeling. That is acting in a manner we wish our children to act. On one hand, as role models for children, parents want to present themselves as being pretty terrific people. When children look up to us it meets our needs for love and belonging. When children are obedient and follow parental advice the adult’s need for power is met. We associate these interactions with highly positive words like respect and admiration.

However, sometimes being on a pedestal can be a precarious place. We might want to mask our frailties in order to preserve our image of perfection. The fear that our children might lose respect for us if we admit weakness can lead to a loss of ourselves and a model that our children just might perceive as unattainable. A child who feels s/he can never equal his/her perfect parent loses self-esteem and will often give up trying. This is the downside of being the perfect role model. This is especially true for younger children who tend to aggrandize the power of adults in general and their parents in particular.

Adolescents by the very nature of this stage of development are far more prone to question the capabilities and judgment of parents. Parents with adolescents who are dealing with the “hot topics” are especially vulnerable to questions about what they did when they were teenagers. As long as it isn’t overdone, most parents find that their children enjoy hearing stories about what it was like when they grew up. Consequently, our children want to know how we handled the challenges of personal freedom, partying and dating. The challenge is to respond in a way that is authentic and validates the concern of the child without giving them the message that since their parents pushed the envelope and wound up alright, they too can indulge in these behaviors.

Below are some suggested ways to respond. However, remember that the parental response should be sincere and be the product of some adult reflection about our true beliefs and values on these topics. Teenagers have a good sense of what is “real” to them and if we sound too perfect or preachy they will shut us off.

What I did and the mistakes that I made should not be an excuse for your decision-making.

The legal consequences for some of the behaviors I indulged in were not as severe as they are today. (This is especially true for possession of controlled substances.)

A lot more is known today about the physical harm done to our bodies due to tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.

The consequences of unprotected sexual activity can be deadly.

If I knew then what I know now I would have behaved differently.

The price I paid for my excesses were ……………………….

What we really must focus on is how to get your needs for freedom and fun met with few negative consequences.

 

The other side of the coin is the parent who constantly gives voice to his/her own shortcomings. Either through blaming others and/or themselves for things not working out as planned they model a victim or helpless role. This extreme can create a sense of anxiety in a child. The message they receive from the helpless parent is that the world is a scary place with little ability to control what is happening in life.

Family Centered Parenting, Dr. Richard HorowitzThe middle ground is what we should be striving for. Our children need, for their sense of well being, to experience their parents as sufficiently masterful to create a safe place for them. Young children, as mentioned, will naturally view their parents as powerful figures so we really don’t have to stretch the issue with excessive self-praise. However, children do need to develop resiliency – the ability to bounce back from adversity. We learn how to be resilient through modeling and experience. Parents who acknowledge an error or problem then take responsibility for its solution are demonstrating resilience to their children. They have not attempted to hold the impossible standard of perfection as an indicator of self-worth but have modeled the reality that things do go wrong and mistakes happen. The key is not indulging in self-pity and, after acknowledging the fact that something has gone wrong, acting in a way to make things better.

A related issue is how we deal with our mistakes when it specifically regards an action we took with our children.

An illustration might be useful.

Martha came home from work at her usual 6:00 p.m. time only to find that her 12 year-old-son Ron was not at home. There is a standing rule in the family that if Ron is playing at a friend’s house after school he is to be home by 6:00.

 

Martha is annoyed and starting to get a bit worried about Ron. At 6:30 she starts calling Ron’s friends. On the fourth call she reaches his friend Wayne’s mother. She says that Ron is with Wayne and they are working on something in the garage and she will go get him. Martha is really angry now that her fear has subsided. She tells Ron to get home immediately and that she will deal with him when he arrives at home.

 

When Ron comes in, Martha immediately tells him that the rules in the house, which he agreed to, required him to be home at 6:00. She is quite direct and tells him, “Go to your room until dinner. After dinner we will process what went on.” Ron protests, “You are unfair, I didn’t do anything wrong.” Martha replies, “Get to your room, you are on Shut Down until after dinner.” Ron is obviously furious but complies.

 

After a rather unpleasant dinner, Martha says she is ready to talk. Ron tells his mother that two days ago he had told her about working on the school project with Wayne until 7:00. He reminds her that she was talking on the phone and he came into the room and said excuse me and asked permission to go to Wayne’s the day after tomorrow to finish a science project. He said that she nodded her approval.

 

Martha listens and does remember the incident. She was on the telephone talking to her sister about a relationship issue and was quite absorbed in the conversation. She vaguely remembers Ron saying something about a science project but she thought he said that he had to call Wayne to discuss it. Martha now has a choice. She can stonewall her son with comments like. “See what happens when you interrupt me when I am on the telephone” or she can admit that she misunderstood him and ask for his suggestions on how this type of situation can be avoided in the future.

 

Certainly the admission that an error was made and that she is sorry that she assumed that he had broken a rule instead of first asking for an explanation will serve several purposes. First, Martha models for her son that people make honest mistakes and when they realize it, they will take responsibility for correcting them. Second, the dialogue between Martha and Ron is now problem solving oriented, involves Ron in decision-making, and shows how feedback can be used to make improve a family practice or system. Martha’s admission and willingness to communicate is a good example of putting Family Centered Parenting into practice. ###

 

Dr. Richard Horowitz is better known as “Dr. H,” The Family Centered Parenting Coach. His book is entitled, Family Centered Parenting: Your Guide for Growing Great Families. [website]

 

Life Lessons Learned in a Texas Oil Field (Dr. James Sutton)

Thoughts of Fathers Day (2017) still bring back memories of how my dad once helped me manage a frightening and emotionally extreme situation. Although he was not a professional educator, my father still stands as one of the best teachers I ever had. –JDS

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Life Lessons Learned in a Texas Oilfield, Dr. James SuttonMy first driving lesson came close to killing me and my father.

In late junior high and early high school, I had a summer job of working with my father in the oilfields south of San Antonio. On a slow day, we piled into Dad’s company vehicle (a Dodge) for my very first driving lesson.

Collision Course

I lost control of the clutch, and we lurched into a collision course with a battery of oil storage tanks. As I panicked, my right leg stiffened; my foot jammed the accelerator to the floor.

It was all over; there wasn’t a shred of doubt in my mind about it.

But Dad didn’t panic. He quickly cut the ignition and turned the wheel just enough to avoid hitting the tanks. We plowed safely into the soft, sandy bank of a water pit.

He was not upset; I WAS. I vowed I would never, never, ever again occupy the driver’s seat. I was done … finished!

Life Lessons Learned in a South Texas Oil Field“Jimmy, what’s this car doing right at this moment?’ he asked patiently, certainly sensing my panic.

“Well, uh, well … nothing, Dad. The car’s not doing anything right now.”

“That’s right. And it’s NOT going to do anything. Unless you make something happen, this car simply will sit here until it’s a pile of rust.”

Lessons Learned

We continued the lesson. I learned to drive that day, but I also learned two things that would follow me for life. I learned that Fred Sutton, although not a professional educator, was an excellent teacher. I also learned that knowledge, confidence in one’s skills, and meaningful relationships (certainly including spiritual relationships) are powerful antidotes for whatever the world might throw at any of us.

I’ve often thought how easy it would be for a parent to scream out or yell at a son or daughter caught up in such a situation, especially when that parent is also frightened. Who could blame them; most of us have “been there.” It would be a pretty natural response.

Life Lessons Learned in a South Texas Oilfield, Dr. James SuttonI believe Dad intuitively knew that lecturing me about my driving mistakes would have served no real purpose. True to that thought, he never said another word about it to me. If he figured I had learned that lesson well enough with no need for additional reminders, he was correct.

Over the years, I have tried to follow his example, but not perfectly, by any means. Put another way, here’s what I believe it means:

It’s easy to be part of the problem, but it’s so much better to be part of the solution.

Dad passed away in 1998 after a gallant struggle with cancer. Since then, there have been many times when I wished I could climb back into that old Dodge for just one more lesson from a great teacher.

 

A nationally recognized (and now mostly retired) child and adolescent psychologist, author and speaker, Dr. James Sutton is the founder and host of The Changing Behavior Network.

 

 

Will a Juvenile Record Ruin My Child’s Life? (Judge Tom Jacobs)

If a youngster breaks the law, does that mistake have to follow them forever? Not necessarily, says author and former juvenile judge, Tom Jacobs, as he offers insights into options for saving that youngster’s future. We present, “Will a Juvenile Record Ruin My Child’s Life?”

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Will a Juvenile Record Ruin My Child's LIfe, Judge Tom JacobsIn February, 2017, two fifth grade students at a California elementary school hacked into a classmate’s tablet. They posted graphic images and offensive language. The boys involved were both ten years old. There was an investigation by school officials.

Should this act affect their future college applications, employment opportunities, or military enlistment? No. Should it become a teachable moment? Of course.

A Serious Situation

This was the boys’ first offense, but one that could result in a criminal record. Hacking into someone’s computer and posting objectionable content may constitute a crime, depending on existing state laws. The act could be considered harassment, intimidation, cyberbullying, or threatening. Whatever category it fits into, the boys could be charged with a felony, misdemeanor or petty offense.

Diversion As An Option

The school district may have a policy of handling first-time offenses internally. The boys could face suspension or expulsion. Or the school could have a diversion program designed to educate students about the importance of being good “netizens” who practice netiquette every time they use social media. Considering their age, diversion is preferable to sending them to juvenile court for formal prosecution. The purpose of diversion is to “divert” the offense away from the criminal justice system. That way, a minor charge does not become a “record” that could follow the juvenile into adulthood.

Diversion is common across the country for first-time offenders charged with minor crimes. The majority of participants in a diversion program do not re-offend. Their brief brush with the law has a lasting impact.

Ask The Judge, Judge Tom Jacobs

Diversion generally involves community service, counseling, or a class about laws and one’s rights and responsibilities. Once the program is successfully completed, the case is closed and there’s no official record of the incident. There is no guarantee, but usually it would not appear in a background check done years or decades later.

Expunging a Juvenile’s Record

When a case is handled in juvenile court, and the court finds the juvenile guilty of an offense and imposes consequences, a record is created. All states have laws regarding expunging (destroying) a juvenile’s record. It’s a simple process and does not require hiring a lawyer. That’s a decision for the applicant and/or the parents to make. The application is a short form that, once filled out, is filed with the court the juvenile was in. A copy of the application is sent to the prosecutor’s office for review. The prosecutor notifies the court whether they agree with the expungment or oppose it. A judge ultimately decides to grant or deny the request.

If you are a teenager or pre-teen and you find yourself in court charged with a minor offense, it’s a serious event in your life. But, it’s not necessarily life-changing or the end of the world. Once you face the music, make amends, and comply with all court orders, the incident will become history and not affect your future. The U.S. Supreme Court commented in the famous Gault case in 1967 that “the policy of the juvenile law is to hide youthful errors from the full gaze of the public and bury them in the graveyard of the forgotten past.” When a juvenile court expunges a minor’s record, he or she can move out of the shadows of this cloud in their life.

 NOTE: Many courts have Self-Help Centers where the public has access to legal booklets and forms to assist them navigate the system without an attorney. Such may also be available on the court’s website. In addition, some family and juvenile law attorneys offer free initial consultations. If you contact one for advice, ask about this. A brief consult may be all you need to file for an expungment of a juvenile’s record. ###

 

Judge Tom Jacobs spent 23 years as a juvenile judge in Arizona. From his heartfelt concern for young people, Judge Tom, with assistance from his daughter, Natalie Jacobs, founded and moderates AsktheJudge.info, a teen-law website for and about teenagers and the laws that affect them. It stands as a valuable site for parents and educators who want to stay current with issues that affect the safety and welfare of our young people. Judge Tom has written a number of books for lawyers and judges, as well as for teens and parents, including “What Are My Rights?” Teen Cyberbullying Investigated, and a recent book he co-authored with Natalie, Every Vote Matters: The Power of Your Voice.

 

 

Five Ways to Make Your Teen Happier (Mike Ferry)

As author Mike Ferry points out, adolescents today experience alarming rates of depression and stress. He shares five ways parents can help their teen be happier. We present, “Five Ways to Make Your Teen Happier.”

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Five Ways to Make Your Teen Happier (Mike Ferry)Pimples. Hormonal changes. Emotional extremes. Argumentativeness. Romantic relationships. If you have an adolescent son or daughter, you may be living through these and other aspects of the teen years. It’s a period of great upheaval, for kids and parents (not to mention the teachers who never escape the drama of middle and high school).

Stress, anxiety and depression

Adolescence has always been hard, but today’s teens are having an especially difficult time. For a variety of reasons, teens are suffering from higher rates of stress, anxiety, and depression than ever before. Consider this statistic:

17% of high school students seriously consider suicide (22.4% of girls)

That’s unbelievable! Unfortunately, the trend continues into the college years:

54% of college students have extreme anxiety
30% of college students suffer from severe depression

As parents, there are some strategies we can employ to help our teenage children endure this rough patch and emerge stronger in young adulthood. We can practice these “protective factors” at home to boost our kids’ emotional immune systems.

Five Things Parents Can Do

Here are five ways to make teens happier and to promote long-term positive mental health.

Teaching Happiness and Innovation, Mike Ferry(1) Have a consistent home or family routine. I know how tough this can be. My wife and I have four kids; managing their sports schedules and social calendars seems harder than running a federal agency. If possible, try to have at least one family meal per week. You could also plan a family game night once a month and make it clear that nothing will take priority over it.

(2) Promote healthy habits. Our physical health impacts our emotional health. Encourage plenty of exercise and a healthy diet. Sleep is often sacrificed due to homework and hanging out with friends, but it is an essential aspect of sound mental health. Do all you can to help your teen get at least eight or nine hours of sleep every night.

(3) Practice spirituality. Teens are trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into the world. Spirituality offers emotional support and guidance, in addition to a sense of purpose. If your family actively practices religion, help your teen grow in the faith by attending services on a regular basis. Getting involved with your religious community’s youth group strengthens social bonds and creates shared experiences that can sustain your teen in difficult times.

(4) Boost confidence. Many teens suffer from negative self-esteem. This may result from poor body image, stressful social interactions, or feeling inadequate in some way. You can help your teen feel more confident by celebrating his or her victories, large and small. Show your teen that effort leads to results, and that he or she has the power to achieve success in a variety of areas. For more ideas, you can check out my blog post on ways to develop a growth mindset in your child.

(5) Know what’s going on. Monitor your teen’s activities, both in the “real world” and online. Take a peek every now and then at your son or daughter’s social media profiles. Invite your teen’s friends to your house to hang out. Stay in touch with how your child is doing at school and beyond. Often, troubling emotional situations can be avoided by proactive and positive parenting.

Hang in there, parents of teens! It’s a wild and unpredictable ride, but it will be over before you know it. Your child will grow up and leave the nest (hopefully) with the tools needed for academic and personal success. With a great deal of patience and care, we can get our teens on track for stronger mental health in the present and down the road. If you’re interested in learning more ways to guide your teenage child through this tumultuous time, you may want to check out my online course, “The Parent’s Guide To Surviving Adolescence.”

Mike Ferry is the author of Teaching Happiness and Innovation. A middle school history teacher in Richmond, VA, Mike is raising four (mostly happy) children with his wife, Jenny. For more information about teaching happiness to children, visit www.happinessandinnovation.com. Twitter @MikeFerry7

 

Understanding the Contributions and Challenges of Blind People (Guest: Donna W. Hill)

Radio Style Interview, The Changing Behavior NetworkJournalist, performer, author and advocate for the blind, Donna W. Hill, shares her story and offers much-needed insight into issues facing blind Americans today.

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Understanding the Contributions and Challenges of Blind People, Donna W. HillVery few children are born blind; blindness affects the majority of individuals as the result of disease or a degenerative condition. For this reason, children, teens and young people know precious little about what it means for a person to be blind, and what blind individuals can and cannot do. That lack of awareness and knowledge can affect them later if they, or someone they know, becomes legally blind. (SUGGESTION: Please share this interview with those who can share it with school-aged youngsters.)

According to Dr. Sutton’s guest on this program, Donna W. Hill, blind Americans remain an under-served minority as they continue to be affected by low expectations. She shares in this interview, for example, how there are still issues with Braille literacy, as well as major concerns regarding meaningful employment and careers for blind individuals.

Listeners will be touched as Donna shares her own story of being the only blind student in her whole school district. As she explains, that experience came with numerous difficulties.

To her credit, Donna continued her education and earned her college degree while developing her abilities in music, performing and writing. Starting out as a street performer in Philadelphia, Donna later appeared onstage, where she opened for a number of performers and groups, including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. (In fact, this interview concludes with Donna singing an original song, “The Rules of the Game,” from her album, The Last Straw.)

The Heart of Applebutter Hill, Donna W. HillAs a journalist and publicist, Donna has tirelessly advocated for blind Americans. In fact, she was the first blind representative of a radio reading service to receive national press credentials to cover a presidential inauguration. (Note: Donna has prepared an informative quiz and fact sheet about blindness; it’s with our free, guest expert materials on this site.)

Donna’s recent book, The Heart of Applebutter Hill, is fiction, but it packs a big punch. In fact, professionals in education and the arts have endorsed the book as a diversity and anti-bullying resource for middle school through college. It’s a story about a young teen named Abigail, a refugee without her family in a new place where some are kind and some are not. While going blind, Abigail must navigate an enveloping plot in this adventure and mystery novel.

Before she moved to the country air of Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains, Donna was a regular guest at schools, universities and other gatherings of young people throughout the greater Philadelphia area. She and her guide dog, Hunter, still enjoy opportunities to inform, inspire and encourage young people. (34:19)

http://www.DonnaWHill.com

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Family Talk: Creating a Synergistic Home (Guest: Christy Monson)

Radio-style Interview, The Changing Behavior NetworkAuthor and retired family therapist, Christy Monson, shares why quality communication within the family is so very important today. We present “Family Talk: Creating a Synergistic Home.”

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CMonsonphotoEveryone’s in a rush today. It seems that authentic and meaningful communication with others is a vanishing skill. Even handwritten letters have given way to quick emails, quicker texts and hasty tweets.

Few of us have enough time to spend meaningfully with others, and it probably shows.

Families Aren’t Immune

Families are not immune to this “abbreviation” of communication. In many instances, loved ones needing our presence, our time, our words and our support don’t get nearly enough. Oh, families remain intact, but without the strength and bonding that could be there. This is most realized when an emergency or difficult circumstance affects the family.

According to our guest on this program, retired therapist and author Christy Monson, families that focus on becoming synergistic, and put the work into making it happen, not only handle the tough times better, bonds within the family grow stronger and stronger.

A Family Council

Giving a Child Too Much Power, Christy MonsonOne important activity of synergism is the family meeting, or Family Council. When family meetings are scheduled, and the time and effort for having them are honored, children learn how their presence and input matters. They learn the facts of family finances and how to set and realize goals. And they learn that conflicts and problems can be resolved, because walking away is not an option. Indeed, family meetings can teach dozens of insights and skills that children can practice for a lifetime.

In this program, Christy discusses the benefits and payoffs of synergistic families, and she takes us through the steps of establishing, conducting and maintaining the Family Council. Her experience and personal examples will make it meaningful.

Christy Monson

Christy has authored many books and articles that support and strengthen individuals and families. In this program we’re featuring her book, Family Talk: How to Organize Family Meetings and Solve Problems and Strengthen Relationships. (27:48)

http://www.ChristyMonson.com

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A Foster Kid’s Dilemma: Who Gets the Life Raft? (Shenandoah Chefalo)

What happens when youngsters have to make “grown-up” decisions regarding their own welfare? Former foster youth and author, Shenandoah Chefalo, shares this eye-opening, candid account of such an experience and what she learned from it.

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Shenandoah Chefalo, A Foster Kid's Dilemma: Who Gets the Life Raft?Writing for my blog is sometimes problematic for me. I try to be as transparent as possible and talk about the things that are truly affecting my life in the moment. I want it to be honest, of course, but sometimes that means discussing emotions and feelings that are difficult or painful to put into words.

An Unexpected Answer

Recently, I was at an event and a woman asked a question that I hear often: “How did you overcome the abandonment of your mother?” My answer is burdensome and often shocking for audiences. The truth is, I never felt abandoned by my mother. Instead, I felt that I had abandoned her.

I had spent much of my childhood taking care of my mother, worrying about her, and making sure she was okay. When I was 13, she disappeared for a few days, then a few weeks. It wasn’t shocking to me; it was my “normal.”

When she still hadn’t reappeared, and my grandmother was going to be evicted from her housing, I knew I had to call social services. It was a difficult call for me to make; one that I would wish, time and time again, that I hadn’t made. Making that call always felt like I was watching a life raft for one float by, and I selfishly took it for myself.

When people hear this story, I can see a bit of shock come across their faces. It is difficult to put into words the loyalty I felt for my mother, and the betrayal I carry in my heart. As an adult, I cognitively understand my decision, and most do, also, but the betrayal I feel I caused hasn’t lessened.

Garbage Bag Suitcase, Shenandoah ChefaloA Matter of Loyalty

After the most recent presidential election results started coming in, I was struck with the notion of loyalty and how the weight of that emotion can be viewed, oftentimes confused for betrayal. As defined, loyalty is a strong feeling of support or allegiance to someone or something. It is a feeling or attitude of devoted attachment and affection. As a society, it is a trait we hold in high regard. In fact, any sign of disloyalty is often met with cries of one not being patriotic, a traitor, a crybaby, or various four-letter expletives.

And, that is why, after not seeing my birth mother for over 27 years, I still have feelings of disloyalty toward her and feel as I am the one who betrayed her. Abandonment was never my trigger or emotion. It is also why I have difficulty discussing those feelings; any sign of estrangement or retreat creates feelings (and brings accusations) that I was wrong in my decision to save myself.

Complicated

These emotions are complicated when children enter foster care; old families, new families, changing families … the feelings and questions come to the surface:

How can you be loyal to everyone? Can you ever?

Whom do you betray?

How do you protect yourself?

Is it ever OK to be disloyal? If so, who decides who gets the life raft?

Sometimes you just need to pick up the phone.

Shenandoah Chefalo is an advocate and a former foster youth. She is the author of the memoir, Garbage Bag Suitcase, and co-founder of Good Harbor Institute, an organization focused on ensuring sustainable, implemented trauma care within organizations and individuals. You can learn more about her and her work at www.garbagebagsuitcase.com or www.goodharborinst.com

 

Five String Recovery, Part 2 (Guest: Phillip Wadlow)

A 16-year-old musician wins a national bluegrass championship while secretly battling addiction. Here’s the second of his two-part story about his recovery, his music, and his message to young people.

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Five String Recovery, Phillip WadlowThis is the concluding part of 5-String Recovery with guest, Phillip Wadlow. In this part he tells of moving into adulthood with his drug and alcohol addiction, and how it affected his marriage, his children, his work, and his health. He also shares how he came to realize he needed treatment, and he tells of that experience. Throughout the interview, Phil plays some of the music that was such a significant part of his life, and shares how he’d like to use his music as an avenue for reaching out to young people. (Dr. Sutton, the interviewer, plays back-up guitar, except for the sad, but appropriate, guitar solo that represents one of the lowest points in Phil’s life.)

The original message of this interview was a cassette tape program, thus the reference to the cassette near the end of the program. Because Phil did move around quite a bit over the years, it is not know exactly where he is now, but life goes on. His children are grown now, of course, and it is know that he has remarried and, at last word, he and his wife were managing an apartment complex in Missouri.

There is a powerful message Phil wants young people need to hear, and this is it: Although one can recover from drugs and alcohol and work a program of dedicated sobriety, the costs of addiction impose many losses than cannot be recovered. Unless one takes responsibility for those losses, instead of blaming others, complete recovery is difficult, indeed. (20:40)

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(START/STOP Audio)