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Opinion & Essays - Feb, 2001 Issue #78 

Parent Retreats:
A tool for a New Beginning 

By Kristie Vollar
(208) 267-5550

I want to begin this article by thanking the many parents who took the time to respond to my Internet post asking for suggested topics for articles. I received some great ideas, many of which I hope to cover over time. One question that appeared quite often was: “What is the parents’ role in the growth process, and how important is it for them to grow and change with their child? What changes should they try to make within themselves to make the whole process a success?” I will only touch on the subject in this article, with an example of what I needed from my parents. 

My experience was that I needed my parents to grow and change with me; I agreed with the viewpoint that the child usually isn’t the whole cause of the problem. The cause of the problem usually stems from the dynamics of the “whole” family; one cannot put the blame on the parents or any particular person. 

One of my issues was that I could easily manipulate my mom, and she enabled me to get “what I wanted when I wanted it.” In order for progress to be made, I had to address this issue with my mom and work with her to find solutions. A helpful medium for this in the program I attended, was the Mother-Daughter Retreat. Many programs offer similar processes for parents and students to work on their issues, such as parent visits, or “retreats.” These provide a safe place for children and parents to be able to address some of the behaviors and issues that their child has been working on. It also is an opportunity for parents to gain insight about how they can begin their own changes so that when their child comes home, old behaviors can’t resurface. 

Parent retreats are seldom one-on-one. Usually a group of students and their parents gather to work in a group. This provides both safety and accountability. The students who have been working on their issues together are able to help guide each other through the sharing process, where they lay all their cards on the table, and tell their parents not only what they’ve been doing secretly, but also why. One of the toughest things for a child to do while in a program is to open up and honestly share their feelings. On the retreat with my mom, I was able to describe some of my behaviors, and give an honest account of the reasons for my actions. I was able to admit that I could easily manipulate her and that I needed her to be firm with me. I asked her to tell me “no” in situations where she didn’t feel comfortable. 

To my surprise, my mom wasn’t angry with me for pointing things out; she supported me and agreed that she was easily manipulated and had enabled me to act out my issues. Her courage in confronting her past behavior took our relationship to a new and honest level. We both recognized that she needed to work on that issue. Admitting that you are part of the problem is the first step. 

Later, when I thought I wanted to leave the program, I tested her, and found she was stronger than she had ever been before. She firmly told me that I wasn’t going to manipulate her into supporting my leaving, and remained strong throughout the phone conversation. She made it clear that she didn’t support my decision to leave, and wasn’t going to enable me to do so. Her strength gave me the strength and courage to stay and continue my progress. The retreat had given her the courage to look at her behaviors as an enabler and motivated her to begin making the needed changes. 

Parent retreats are sometimes selective; my larger issues were with my mom, so my mom was the parent we worked with more. I feel though, that I would have also greatly benefited from a Father- Daughter Retreat. The main issue with my dad was that I played my mom against him. I tried to drive a canyon between them so that I could continue to manipulate my mom into enabling me. Since he was my step-dad, he was practically powerless over any decisions my mom made about me. I tried my best to keep him from communicating with my mom about the problem. A Father-Daughter retreat would have brought these behaviors out in the open so we could work on them together. 

Parent retreats are a helpful tool for beginning the healing and growing processes. A parent retreat can break the ice between the child and the parents so that each side can begin working on their own issues to create a positive growth experience for the entire family. 

This article copyright © 1999-2001, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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