8: It Takes a Village

8: It Takes a Village

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

It Takes a Village

A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.

~Oprah Winfrey

The downward spiral began the summer before my daughter’s senior year of high school, when her boyfriend experienced his first overdose. Then there was a second overdose. She cried, and he made promises he couldn’t keep. Time passed without any visible signs of focus or drive. Instead, there was a plethora of denials and lies.

I paced the floor, wept in bed, confided in her high-school guidance counselor and trusted teachers, and sought every therapist and support group in a thirty-mile radius. My daughter and her high-school sweetheart had dated for well over a year, so when he went down the ominous road of drug use, her emotional investment in him was established and strong. My fear was that she would follow his lead into the dark world of addiction. And to be honest, I painfully acknowledge catapulting her deeper into his drug-damaged arms, making my fear even more of a distinct possibility.

“Julia, he’s lying to you! I know he’s just saying what you want to hear. It’s time you wake up. You’re either on this dark road with him, or you are completely naïve regarding the warning signs and lies. But let’s just set the drug issue aside for a moment; he is also emotionally abusing you with controlling behavior. He’s manipulating you by playing on your sympathy. You need to get off this crazy train. Now!”

Parenting Teen Daughters 101 says that if there are red flags regarding a boyfriend, you should strategically ask questions to get your daughter to open up so you can guide her down a healthy path. Never blatantly criticize the boyfriend. It will backfire, as it did for me. For the next year, my daughter’s sole mission was to change this young man and prove me wrong.

As her senior year moved forward, it was nothing like we had envisioned. Julia rarely hung out with her girlfriends; she chose not to go to school dances; and she withdrew from all of her loved ones. I continued to seek guidance from those experienced in handling this type of situation, fully disclosing the error of my ways. It broke our hearts to watch this young man, so full of promise, sink deeper into addiction and refuse all help. And our greatest fear was that Jules would adopt the mindset, “If I can’t change him, I’ll join him.” So our family continued to rally behind her, showing love and support at all times. Still, she continued to pull away. It was obvious to everyone, so much so that her teachers voiced deep concern on a number of occasions.

“Hey, Julia, have a minute?” Mrs. Poster called from across the hallway as students hustled to their next class. It was now springtime, and while Julia’s four years at the high school were coming to an end, their paths had never really crossed. Julia had been at the top of her class, taking advanced classes, and this teacher taught troubled students in jeopardy of not graduating. My other daughter, Anna, watched her sister walk over to Mrs. Poster. Within moments, Jules was crying uncontrollably. Seeing her sister cry had been the norm for months, but Anna felt something was different this time.

I was unaware at the time, but the tribe of teachers I had been confiding in had talked among themselves and devised a plan. Mrs. Poster was actually the most experienced at handling situations like Julia’s, and because they did not know each other well, the group of teachers agreed that Julia might open up to her. Just as they suspected, Julia poured out her heart to Mrs. P. They continued to meet numerous times over the coming months. I don’t know what was shared and discussed, but what I do know is that her timing, skill, and grace were nothing short of incredible. And the relationships among Jules and the entire group of teachers strengthened; she genuinely looked to them for support and guidance, and remains good friends with one of them to this day.

Mostly, I know that what my daughter learned from Mrs. Poster and this special family of teachers — outside an academic classroom — will have more meaning in her life than algebraic equations or chemistry properties. I know this because there was a distinct change in my daughter once she started confiding in this team of educators. Her unhealthy relationship ended, as did other unhealthy behaviors. She slowly began to laugh and smile again, and spent time with her family and friends. It was nothing short of beautiful to see this young lady go from being withdrawn every moment of the day to reciting the Serenity Prayer and acknowledging that she couldn’t change someone. Most of all, my greatest fear, that she would use drugs, became a thing of the past.

Jules went off to college and, ironically, majored in psychology. She learned how to channel her kind heart down a healthy and productive path, and is now positively impacting the lives of others. If it weren’t for that team of teachers, Julia’s senior year and beyond might have had a very different narrative, and the people she now helps wouldn’t have her.

That old saying — It takes a village to raise a child — is so true. I embrace every person who has positively impacted my children, but especially Mrs. P and the group of teachers whose divine intervention — which went far beyond their job description — came just when it was needed most. I hope they realize just how much they changed a life.

~Mara Somerset

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