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What Will the Neighbors Say?

I read an interesting blog post the other day by Lane Filler about tattoos and piercings and parenting, and it really got me thinking. I liked what he said about keeping his own kid guessing about what would make him furious, rather than handing over a guaranteed formula for rebellion. The other thing that caught my eye was the last few lines, which stated “(some) parents are more concerned with having others think they raised great kids than they are with actually raising great kids.”

For many, those are fighting words. Parents are always working to raise great kids – kids who stand up for others, kids who are kind, kids who are tolerant, kids who are understanding. Kids who want to make a difference and make the world a better place. It’s also true that parents have a vested interest in how their child comes across because parents understand that this very presentation has the potential to open, or close, doors of opportunity for their child. All too often a child’s first presentation (dress, appearance, weight, choice in partner, academic performance, college acceptance, career choice) can be interpreted as a reflection of how well a child was raised. (Thankfully, none of us let short-sighted or small-minded people dictate our actions.)

With so many judgments flying around, it is easy to see how things can get pretty messy pretty quickly, so what’s a parent to do – especially when faced with the choice to place their child in a residential therapeutic setting? What will the neighbors say? What about the other parents on the soccer team? What about the moms in the book club or the guys at the golf club? No decision is made in a vacuum, and there’s bound to be social ramifications and consequences, no matter which decision is made. Of course, it’s the confident and wise parent who knows these decisions are made for their child, and their family, and doesn’t invite the neighbors to have a vote.

In my 20+ years of working with struggling youth, I’ve also had the opportunity to work with hundreds of parents and grandparents – most of whom start out the process with some sense of frustration, guilt, shame, and fear that the challenges their teen is facing is a poor reflection on their parenting or how much they love their child, and many believe that they’re the only ones going through the experience. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Parents who are making the decision to investigate residential treatment facilities aren’t the ones who don’t love their kids – searching for the help you and your family needs, even when it’s hard, is one of the ways you’re demonstrating your commitment to your family. It’s true, you might still hear “Oh, well, I could never send my boy away, no matter what he did” but just remind yourself that what you’re hearing are simply hexes and hedges, like knocking wood, or as Lane Filler puts it, “superstitions, meant to ward off parent fears.” You’re not sending your child out like the dry cleaning, to be spun and pressed and picked back up with a ticket once that pesky stain is removed. Rather, you’re choosing to engage in a family-wide process of growth and healing, some of which will take place for your child in another setting. The friends and neighbors that are important will be there to support you. As for the short-sighted or small-minded ones, you will have to practice ignoring their naiveté. It’s part of your work getting healthier.


About the Author

headshot of Jake WeldJake Weld holds a masters degree in education and has over twenty years of experience in traditional, LD, and therapeutic schools, adolescent and young adult programs, and conventional, wilderness, and residential settings. He has served as the Executive Director of a therapeutic boarding school, the Assistant Headmaster of a specialized LD boarding school, and as the Academic and Program Director of various schools and programs.  He is currently the Director of Admissions and Business Development for Mansfield Hall, a specialized college support program in Burlington, VT, and Madison, WI.