By: Carol Maxym, Ph.D.
Send your child away is one of the hardest decisions you will ever make as a parent. There are so many questions that will run through your mind as you weight the pros and cons, and ultimately decide “yes” or “no.” There is no magic formula, no special test, or an exact strategy for knowing when to say, “Now, it’s time to send my child away.” And yet, you need to make the decision. How will you know?
Let’s remember the frog in boiling water analogy. The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it’s placed in cold water that’s gradually heated, it will not perceive the threat and stay in the pot and be cooked to death. This example is often used as a metaphor to describe the unwillingness or inability of people to react to or recognize threats that occur incrementally.
Here are some quick tips that will help you make your decision to send you child away:
1. How many times per day do you make excuses for your child?
2. How many times per day do you sigh, worry, and try to think about something else?
3. How many times per day do you use the minimizing words just or only?
4. How much of your day is spent worrying about what might happen next, what the next call or text or communication from the school might say?
5. How much of your time is spent trying to solve your child’s problems?
6. How many times per day do you make excuses to others about your child and his/her behavior?
7. How many times per day do you feel you need to make excuses to your coworkers or partner or other children because you are spending so much of your time and energy worrying about and rescuing your child?
8. How much time are you spending googling programs, information about addiction or autism or depression or anxiety?
9. How many times per day do you say, “If only….”?
10. How much of your life is spent trying to make things be different?
11. How much time do you spend researching medications to see if there is the one that would finally just be the right one?
12. How much time do you spend checking out therapists, coaches, tutors, psychiatrists, and all the other many kinds of professionals to find the one who could finally make the difference for your child?
There is no right or wrong answers to these questions—they are really there to help you to organize your thoughts, to help you to see that you have reached the end of the road that you and your child have been on.
Sending your child to a therapeutic wilderness program, a therapeutic boarding school, to rehab, to a residential treatment center, or a young adult life-skills program is not the end of the world. It’s not about your failure. It’s really not about your failure. Sometimes kids and young adults need to change their environment, find more structure, and face some realities that they aren’t facing in your home. Please forget the picture painted by the novel and film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. That’s not what modern, effective, and high quality treatment is about.
I often wonder why parents characterize sending a child away as such a drastic intervention. It isn’t really. I certainly don’t mean to say that you should make such a decision lightly, but sending your child away is really not more drastic than having him or her take mind-altering, side-effect producing medications or street drugs, failing school, being unwilling or unable to get out of bed in the morning, being too anxious to function, or being continuously bullied or being the bully. Please do keep in mind that if your child were suffering from a horrible physical disease you wouldn’t hesitate to do whatever was necessary to help your child to heal and reclaim his or her life. Being emotionally so lost that life isn’t working, using/abusing drugs, being lost in depression or anxiety is really little different because each and every one of these described conditions can shorten life and jeopardize your child’s future.