How do you help a child who has bottled up a lifetime of fear and grief and only knows how to express it as anger?
How do you help a child who worries that maybe one day you’ll disappear like Mom and Dad?
Childhood is romanticized as the easiest, most carefree time of life but that isn’t the case for every child, especially one dealing with family substance abuse that forces them to take on adult worries and adult responsibilities.
Kathy wanted her grandson Andrew to understand the situation he and his little brother and sister are in isn’t his fault. It’s was created by choices his parents made.
The situation is complicated by the younger siblings having a dad who is more involved in their lives than his has chosen to be. It’s hard for him to understand and he still hopes to have a relationship with his father some day.
That is sometimes hard for his grandmother to understand, based on her interactions with the man.
Kathy recently sought counseling for Andrew.
He’s always bottled up his emotions and had angry outbursts, but this time his frustration prompted him to begin throwing himself to the floor and saying something frightening.
When his six-year-old brother came to Kathy and told her 10-year-old Andrew had said he wanted to kill himself, it shocked her.
“He told me it’s not the first time he thought of it,” she said with tears welling in her eyes.
Although Kathy and her husband have been Andrew’s primary source of stability, caring for him off and on for most of his life, six months spent with his parents a few years ago did a lot of damage.
“When a child comes to you and says, ‘Let’s pretend you’re drunk and I’ll arrest you,’ it’s just wrong,” she said. “ … He’s held in so much and tried to be a big brother to his little brother and sister. He’s the one who remembers the most.”
Like many grandparents raising their grandchildren, Kathy has had to focus on meeting the needs her daughter can’t or won’t meet for her kids.
She still loves her daughter, worries about her and hopes she’ll get her life together someday but knows there is nothing she can do for her now.
So she focuses on the kids and getting through the challenges she and her husband face while putting their own lives on hold to raise three young children.
A primary focus of the family workshop Graves Community Counseling and Peaceful Family Solutions brought to Cushing for people like Kathy and Andrew this week is helping kids understand the problems aren’t their fault or theirs to fix and it’s OK to focus on being a kid.
Self care for the caregivers is another important component of the workshop.
Kathy thinks they both got something out of the four-day workshop.
The children’s program offered by PFS, a non-profit counseling center in Oklahoma City, is built on four kid-centered principles:
Children deserve the right to their own recovery and healing
Children deserve to be treated with dignity, respect, value, and worth
Children deserve to be listened to and heard
Children deserve the opportunity to be kids
The ultimate goal is to help children build their resilience and beat the cycle of addiction that plays out all too often, generation after generation.
“The only way to do it is one kid at a time,” said PFS founder Brent Katigan.
Breaking the cycle is also something Hayley and her husband Carl are working hard to do for their blended family of five children.
Hayley saw firsthand what substance abuse does to a family by watching her parents. Now she and the kids see what it has done to her former in-laws and her husband’s ex-wife.
As a teen, she began cutting herself to deal with her emotions. She says it’s an urge she struggles with to this day.
The pale scars crisscross her tanned arms and legs, highlighted by tattoos she chose to symbolize her survival.
She wants to be sure her daughters don’t turn to self-harm or some other destructive behavior as they get into their teen years. She hopes between counseling and the tools they were given this week, they’ll get along better and move toward a healthier future.
Nichole Graves of Graves Community Counseling said she feels good about the workshop and the two counseling centers hope to team up and offer another in the Cushing or Stillwater area this fall.
They’ll also be announcing a series of reunions for families who complete the program.
Learn more about Peaceful Family Solutions at http://peacefulfamilysolutions.org/ and find an Al-Anon Family Groups podcast about how substance abuse in the home affects children at http://bit.ly/2bemcnM.