Article contributed by Clinical Therapist, Brian Carr.
Open Sky was founded with the desire to actively engage parents in their child’s therapy experience. To pursue healing for the family system, parents with children enrolled at Open Sky are encouraged to look inward, to engage in their own work through Open Sky’s Family Pathway Workbook and to utilize the many resources available through our Family Services department. Though every family is unique, each parent shares a common desire to have improved trust, greater connection, and a healthier relationship with their child. How is this achieved? And how can parents effectively engage in the healing process?
There are many reasons Open Sky parents may be hesitant about being honest with their child. Perhaps they have been reluctant to have honest communication with their child out of fear that doing so might exacerbate destructive behaviors. Perhaps, as parents, they have been hurt too many times and don’t want show vulnerability or open themselves up to greater pain. Or in many cases, parents simply dread the potential conflict that could result from such honesty.
Despite the challenging nature of honesty and transparency, I believe that parents deserve to be heard and represented fairly in their relationships with their children. It often means sharing thoughts or feelings that may be hard for their child to hear, but in the end, it’s important that he or she hears them.
Wilderness therapy provides a safe container to work through conflict, as we are able to hold an emotionally safe place to support and facilitate a constructive resolution while ensuring the safety of the child. Open Sky parents and children are on a parallel journey, learning communication and mindfulness skills that ease the sharing and receiving of honest thoughts and feelings. Opportunities to obtain and practice new skills are abundant. These skills also help to ground each family member and support better outcomes when conflicts arise.
Step back, exhale, and take a fresh look at the bigger picture. Being open means adopting an attitude of curiosity when it comes to self and others. It often means listening to what others say when they are being honest with you and actually feeling the emotions that come up in those moments. This can come easy in some situations, like when a parent knows he or she doesn’t have all the answers and has the courage and humility to seek help from others. In these instances, the parent is naturally more open to feedback. What can often be challenging for parents is hearing feedback from a child or partner about any past hurt or disappointment. This is part of the healing process. Being open to having difficult conversations is a way to invest in relationship with each other while building trust, intimacy, and connection.
This is where the rubber meets the road. We encourage parents at Open Sky to be proactive by modeling for their child how to make an effort and show up in their work and relationships. It takes courage, just like it takes courage to be honest and open. For parents, being proactive often includes trying new roles, new attitudes, and new behaviors. For instance, if one parent is typically the boundary-setter and the other is more relational, I may encourage them to try switching roles. The boundary-setter gets to focus more on his or her relationship with the child and the more relational parent gets to practice setting boundaries.
In general, being proactive means engaging in the work alongside their child: trying mindfulness, practicing communication skills, and utilizing the resources the therapist offers to provide insight into self-awareness and relationship patterns.
As I was working with a family during their Family Quest™ intensive, one Open Sky parent said that being proactive means “getting in the boat with my child instead of only trying to steer it.” It takes courage to ‘get in the boat’ and try new things. These efforts speak volumes to the child and lead to a healthier family system.
Family involvement in wilderness therapy provides ideal opportunities to lean into struggle and conflict to grow and heal. Open Sky allows students and families to learn and grow through challenges within the boundaries of a safe space. In my experience, the families that get the most out of their time at Open Sky are the ones that are honest with each other, open to hearing from each other and others, and willing to proactively and courageously try new things in moments of challenge.