As a member of the admissions team, I talk to parents in distress who are considering residential treatment for their daughter. I hear things like, “I’m not sure it’s bad enough. Our daughter only self-medicates with pot a couple times a week, she’s had three suicide attempts, but we know she’s now safe because she spends 10 hours a day in her bedroom.”
While I understand that this has become their “normal”, it is not normal for a teen to be in this situation. I truly believe that most parents do the best they can with the situation they’re in. I hear a lot of shame in their voices as they tell me how they’ve failed at this thing called parenting. I think it’s a process, not something that you wake up to one morning and realize you’re suddenly in this situation. As a mother of four, I was never given a manual on raising kids when I was sent home from the hospital with each of my little bundles.  Every day you evaluate and re-evaluate if what you’re doing is right. Some of those decisions pay off and others, we wish we could delete, go back in time, and have a “do-over”. There are many differing opinions about do’s and don’ts.
After talking to parents every day, I have a pretty good idea of the roller coaster they’re riding on, but I wanted to get an honest opinion from a mom who’s daughter graduates from Sunrise RTC in one week. Here’s what she had to say about their decision to enroll in treatment:

What was the best thing about residential treatment?

This is a hard question to answer because there were many positive aspects to treatment that we experienced individually and as a family. I think the most important was that it gave our family time to heal and grow stronger while knowing our daughter was in a safe place getting the help she so desperately needed. We lived for several years in crisis leading up to treatment. We were tired, stressed, and deeply rooted in the dysfunction of focusing most of our time and attention on managing the motions and safety of our daughter. This left little time for our marriage and three other children. Treatment gave us space to grieve, refocus, and communicate in a healthy and productive way. We really appreciated the value placed on the family unit recognizing that healing was not just needed for our daughter, but was necessary for our family as a whole.

What was the hardest thing about treatment?

The hardest thing about treatment was letting my daughter go. I had been so hyper focused on my daughter’s emotional health and safety for so long, that I had become her emotional regulator. My daughter was in so much emotional pain and I couldn’t help her. I was so tired and weary. After admitting our daughter, we were asked to communicate only through email for the first few weeks and during that time I felt lost. I knew my daughter was hurting, scared, and alone. My daughter was on and off suicide watch for the first couple of months. My heart was broken, and I knew that in order to get through the next season, I had to come to terms with the reality that I can’t fix it. I went through a deep grieving process in those early months.

Do you have any regrets or things you change?

I don’t really have much in the way of regrets, because I know I did the best I could, with what I was capable of during the season of crisis and treatment. I had to remember to be kind to myself. The one thing that I would change is my attitude. After years of crisis and then a season of peace at home, I began to see my daughter as a threat to our stability. My attitude began to isolate my daughter. I had to face the fact that my attitude was sabotaging the goal of restoration and I had to trust that my daughter was capable of applying the skills she was learning in treatment as well as our family’s ability to communicate and hold boundaries. It became a choice to believe the best about my daughter and I had to soften my heart toward her.

Do you have any advice to parents considering residential treatment for their daughter?

First, let me say that there is nothing easy about considering a residential treatment center for your daughter. That would mean that you most likely have come to a point that you recognize you as a parent cannot help your daughter with her pain. You come to a point where you realize that your dreams for your daughter have shifted. You are now holding onto hope that your daughter will just live another day. You’re not alone. When our family went through the decision of treatment it felt so isolating. We felt a lot of shame and brokenness. I would encourage you to reach out and find a good support system. There is nothing in the parenting books that you read when your daughters are little that gives you advice about when she attempts to hurt herself or take her own life. There is no way to prepare you for the way you feel as a parent, that it’s all your fault and you can’t fix it(not true, by the way). Let me just say that there is hope, which leads to my second point.
My advice to parents would be to do your research. There are many treatment facilities available and it’s hard to find the best one, especially when you’re currently living in crisis from one day to the next. I would highly recommend hiring an Educational Consultant to assist in finding the treatment facility that best fits your daughter. You may have only one chance to find the most appropriate place that fits the needs of your daughter and your family. When we hired our Educational Consultants we felt like someone was finally looking at our daughter as a whole individual, instead of bits and pieces of a puzzle. They cared for our daughter and her story. They were very educated in what options were available and which one would best fit our daughter. Our daughter was also interviewed by the consultants and she felt like she had a say in where she would go. She felt that her opinion mattered. I know that there may be a situation where your daughter may need to be transported against her will because of safety and necessity. There is no shame in that. That was not the case with us. Our daughter was tired of working so hard just to survive another day and she felt relief in knowing she would finally be getting the help that she needed. I would say that, if you can, be as honest with your daughter as possible with your decision to look at treatment so that she doesn’t have to spend the first few months working through resentment and broken trust. No matter what leads you to begin the process, please be kind to yourself and have hope. Sometimes that’s all you can hang onto.
Here at Sunrise, we work hard to restore that hope. We realize that this isn’t an easy decision to make. We’re here for you every step of the way and hope you’ll find peace in that decision.

By Marcy Clark, Admissions Counselor at Sunrise Residential Treatment Center