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Melina M., Family Counseling

April 4, 2010

Home and family have always been very important to Melina M. “I love being at home,” she says with a smile. “I love to cook. Cooking is my hobby. Even if we don’t always understand each other when we’re speaking, we understand each other when we’re eating!” The mother of five had always been a conscientious parent, so when she began to notice upsetting changes in her oldest son’s behavior, she wasn’t sure what was wrong. “I didn’t understand why this was happening to us,” she remembers. “I was an involved parent, the kind who always walked my children to school.”

The changes in her son, however, were alarming. The fourteen-year-old, who Melina describes as previously respectful and obedient, was suddenly rebellious. When he entered his freshman year of high school, his grades slipped dramatically; after his sophomore year, he dropped out. He began to violate his curfew frequently, often returning home intoxicated. As his behavior continued to deteriorate, Melina began to suspect that he had become involved with a gang. When she pleaded with him to stop associating with gang members, she was horrified to learn that he had already been threatened with violence if he left. She was beginning to feel helpless, increasingly fearful for her son but unsure where to turn for help, when a friend told her about H.A.S.

H.A.S. was able to offer family counseling, which Melina says has helped both her son and herself to understand their roles in the problem and begin interacting more positively. “It’s not always nice to hear the truth,” she states, “ but I think he really understands his behavior better, and the impact that it was having on the whole family.” What was surprising to Melina, however, was that counseling caused her to reevaluate her own actions as a parent. “I thought that because I had their best interests at heart, I knew best about everything,” she admits. Family counseling has shown her the importance of encouraging adolescents to develop their own voices and decision-making skills. “I never thought I was being disrespectful,” she says, “but I learned that I need to respect my son’s decisions. I meant well, but I needed to validate his emotions and let him speak for himself.”

Melina celebrated a birthday recently, an occasion made especially meaningful to her by her improved relationship with her son. “I cried when he gave me my gift,” she says. “He was a little confused, but I was just so happy. It wasn’t the present so much as the thought he put into it, his wanting to show that he cares.” Melina reports that her son now shows increased consideration for other family members and makes it a point to check in with her and let her know he’s safe. He is also making more positive choices for his own future. Now eighteen, he is currently registered with the U.S. Job Corps, a program that helps young people find work as they earn their diploma or GED. He has recently decided to pursue a career in the military and is hoping to join the Marines. “I know it’s dangerous,” says Melina, “but I’ve let him know that I respect his decision. I’ll support him if that’s what he wants to focus on.” Melina, who is now considering taking parenting classes at H.A.S., is grateful that counseling was available when her family needed it. “I feel privileged to participate in the experience,” she concludes. “I’m grateful for the improvement and hope things keep working out!