My son was in jail and my daughter
was heading for a life on the streets.
Here's what happened.
I was a single mom with six kids when my household spiralled sickeningly out of control. My 16-year-old was truant and heavily involved in drugs. My 15-year-old was also truant, violent and out of control: punching holes in walls, breaking furniture, and terrorizing his siblings and myself. And my 14-year-old was taking notes for future reference. Oh, and they were all robbing me blind.
Every other parent I knew was doing fine. They all had well-behaved kids who did their chores, were responsible and respectful, followed the house rules, attended school, did their homework, and didn’t smoke, drink or do drugs. What was wrong with me? What was I doing wrong?
I concluded that I was too permissive, and so the pendulum swung the other way: I became a dictator, a tyrant. I made lists of house rules and tried (in vain) to enforce them. I reasoned with them. I lectured. I yelled. I threatened. I stomped my feet and broke things. I cried and screamed. I despaired and gave up. And the chaos escalated.
Everything I did seemed to make things worse. And what really stumped me was how I – a relatively intelligent and loving human being – could be such a hopeless failure when it came to restoring order in my home and raising my kids to be responsible and decent human beings.
I was frantic, desperate – and acutely embarrassed. I stopped having friends over, and I avoided conversations about my kids and my home life. What in the world could I say?! Not the truth!
Here's what family and friends had to say:
- “Have you tried grounding him?”
- “You wouldn’t have this problem if parents were still allowed to spank their kids, but our hands are tied. The kids have all the rights and we have none.”
- “You need to get them under control!”
- “I don’t allow that kind of behaviour in my home.”
- “You need house rules. Everyone should follow house rules.”
- “Maybe if you got him to sign a contract...”
- “Throw her out. She’s 16. You don’t have to put up with that.”
- “I’d be mortified if my kid did that! Doesn’t that embarrass you? You must feel awful.”
In the fall of 2002, with drug dealers showing up at the door regularly, I threw my 16-year-old daughter out, where she excelled in couch hopping.
Then, when my 15-year-old son assaulted his younger sister, I called the police, and stood in the front hallway, paralyzed, terrified, unspeakably sad and embarrassingly relieved, as they handcuffed him and led him out to the cruiser. He spent the first week in juvenile jail, and the next nine months in a Children’s Aid group home.
Now the work began: a parade of agencies, psychologists, therapists, counsellors and social workers rolled up their sleeves and got to work, intent on figuring out what had gone wrong and how it could be corrected. I was hopeful.
Here's what the experts had to say:
“Your son has ADD and conduct disorder. Here’s a prescription.” (psychiatrist)
“We appreciate your situation, ma’am, but there’s nothing we can do.” (police)
“Ms Kranz, this is the school calling about your daughter – again. We need to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.” (teacher)
“What are you doing to improve his self-esteem?” (psychologist)
“She’s depressed. Here’s a prescription for Celexa.” (doctor)
“Everyone needs to learn to respect each others’ personal space.” (social worker)
“Just keep taking things away from him until he gets the idea.” (Dr. Laura)
No solutions were forthcoming, and I wondered if they were more interested in dissecting the situation than in solving it. They were thorough, though, in determining causes for all this chaos:
It was my fault for being permissive and ineffective.
It was my ex-husband’s fault for being angry and abusive.
It was the fault of genetics (both sides of the family had a history of alcoholism and drug abuse).
It was the fault of “mental illness.”
How can teens be held accountable in the face of all that?! And so of course they weren't.
In March 2003, CAS informed me that, because my son was turning 16 at the end of August, either he would return home in mid-July or he would become a ward of Children’s Aid and I would lose all parental rights. At the same time, my daughter had been couch hopping for six months, and I had reason to believe she would live out my worst nightmare and end up living on the street (which in fact she did). I felt like I was living in a pressure cooker.
Then I was introduced to a parent group based on Choice Theory by Dr. William Glasser. For the first time I felt hope and relief, and began to experience real, meaningful, lasting change in my home - and myself. And in July of that year, I brought my son and daughter home.
The results of this approach and the impact on my life prompted me to study Choice Theory and Reality Therapy and become faculty with the Glasser Institute. In addition to facilitating parent groups, running workshops, and coaching, I worked with social service agencies and ran weekly teen workshops out of my home for two years.
I’m excited to share with you what I’ve discovered on this journey, and welcome your questions and comments. It can get better. Don’t give up!