I received an email from a parent and the following words impacted me: “Our daughter made it through the weekend without any major incidents, largely because Tirae was there.” Something akin to a sneak attack ensued with my emotions. I knew Leeann and had a great relationship with her. At first I felt warm and fuzzy about the email. As I reread that sentence, my smile vanished and I felt uneasy; what I initially took as praise slowly turned into a cold knot in the pit of my stomach. I searched for Kristi, one of the therapists who work with my girls on Summit North. Kristi is one of the great therapists on campus and I knew she would help me understand what I was feeling. As I sat in her office sorting things out, tears fell. I realized there was a problem and the problem was me.
To put the situation in context you should know that Leeann struggles with attachment. While I thought I was having great success because she was able to form a bond with me, I didn’t realize I was making it nearly impossible for my other staff to build a relationship with her. When Leeann got upset, she would ask for me or refuse to talk to the other staff. I’d take her on walks or step in when she was arguing. In every instance I was able to prevent her from acting out, I felt triumphant without realizing I was unknowingly teaching her that I was the only staff who was safe and the only one who deserved to be respected. Kristi helped me understand if Leeann were to truly succeed, she needed the opportunity to build relationships with many people. That would be the best way for her to build confidence in herself and others. If I didn’t make a change, I would be taking from Leeann the very thing I hoped for her, a chance at a productive life.
At the time it was difficult to process that I was doing more harm than good. It took some time for me to truly understand. In the end, it came down to this – with humility comes clarity. If we can allow ourselves to be vulnerable and ask for help, I believe all benefit, most importantly our kids who need to know there is no weakness in reaching out to others and accepting there is a better way to do things.
Parents can adapt this principle by doing some introspection. Are you allowing your son or daughter to thrive? Are you codependent? Are you an enabler? Put some thought into it and try to find ways you can improve without beating yourself up. Your son or daughter will recognize your efforts, especially if you are able to acknowledge them, change and, when appropriate, apologize.
Another staff member I know wasn’t happy about the way he handled a situation with a student. It wasn’t inappropriate but he recognized that, although he quieted a verbally disruptive student temporarily, there was a better way. Later in the day he pulled the student aside to apologize. The student was curious about what they would talk about, was not at all defiant and when he heard the apology he completely opened up and apologized for the way he had acted. That moment was a turning point in the relationship between that staff and student. It turned into a long term relationship built on mutual respect.